The Ultimate Guide to the Best Conference Ever

I’ve been to many conferences run by many different organizations and have come to some conclusions about what makes the best conference. At least in my eyes. Here are the technical specs:


  1. The audience is seated at rows of tables. Round tables means half of people have to turn their seat away from the table and hence must take notes on their knees. No tables at all means everyone has to take notes on their knees. (Thank you CASRO Management)
  2. Each person has access to electrical plugs. These days, everyone has a phone that needs charging every 13 minutes. And, most people also have an ipad or laptop that also needs charging. If this isn’t possible, provide a supervised charging area, perhaps at the registration desk.
  3. Each person has access to free conference wifi. Remember, many people are coming from out of country and so don’t have easy and cheap access to wifi. Make it easy for your tweeters and bloggers to create buzz about your event.


  1. Individual sessions are 45 minutes long. Anything less is too short to share real details and anything longer means the less experienced speakers have run out of material. Then it gets boring and I start tweeting about the brownies I had at break time. Or the brownies I hope to see at break time.
  2. Speakers are abruptly cut off when their time runs out. We DO have other sessions we want to listen to and we DON’T want lunch to be late.
  3. AMA MRMorning and afternoon breaks are 20 minutes long. Half an hour is ridiculous when you realize that there are two breaks plus lunch plus cocktails everyday. That’s plenty of time to see every booth you’re interested in.
  4. Lunch is one hour long. Same deal. Any longer just means people are waiting around for the next session. Any shorter means I only get to eat one dessert.
  5. The day runs from 8 am to 5 pm. I prefer 8am over 9am so you can step outside and catch a glimpse of the city before it gets pitch black. It seems like a long day but I come to attend sessions not play golf and go shopping.


  1. Breakfast is served. Not bagels. Breakfast. Have some fruit, some assorted bread. Sure, I’d love to see bacon and eggs but I know that costs more money. I’ll still complain that there’s no bacon but I really do understand.
  2. I don’t need a sit down, served lunch either. I enjoy the buffet style which lets me be a little bit picky and avoid wasting food I know I won’t eat. (no onions, no mushrooms, no seafood, my list goes on forever.) And it means that people who stink at conversation aren’t stuck staring at their plate for an hour.
  3. Give us somewhere to sit while we eat. We have only two hands so a bowl of hot soup plus a sandwich while we’re on the phone and carrying a laptop just isn’t going to cut it.
  4. Make sure there is water at all times in every room. And don’t let it run out. Even better, have coffee and soda pop always available in a central location. (Thank you MRMW)


  1. CASROTheme, schmeme. I can’t recall a single conference where I remembered what the theme was or could tell from the presentations. Maybe it’s a nice way to market the conference but it really doesn’t accomplish anything.
  2. Variety is the spice of life. So, forget the theme. Forget a focus on consumers or shoppers or online or qual or mobile. People learn more when all kinds of material are covered. Go nuts and get a huge range of speakers.
  3. Don’t have more than 2 sessions at a time. Anything more means people miss sessions they wish they could have gone to. (Thank you Netgain)
  4. Ideally, there is only one stream. Which means I choose my seat once, arrange my phone, my camera, my flip video, my laptop, the phone cord, the laptop cord, my conference guide, my sweater, my drink, my dessert, and then I don’t have to pick it all up and move at the end of every session. And then realize I forgot something in last room. And then I miss the start of the session.
  5. Avoid panels. The organizers like to think panels are exciting and controversial. They usually aren’t. They’re usually just people agreeing with each other about things we’ve all heard before. If you must have a panel, pick people who disagree vehemently with each other, people who will express that disagreement, and people who will be indigent that others disagree with them. In other words, ensure controversy is actually going to result.
  6. If speakers mention any of their brand names more than once, they need to placed on a banned from speaking list. I know these conferences are really just sales pitches but let’s keep the sales pitches disguised as best as possible. The speaker’s presence is their pitch.


  1. AMA MRWe don’t need fancy hotels and fancy rooms. We need quality clean rooms that cost less than $4000 a night. We’re already paying the registration fee, 4 taxis, a return flight, and various meals. Sure, the company is paying for everything it but I still feel guilty racking up senseless bills.
  2. Don’t stick us in resorts where we can’t get anywhere without a taxi or shuttle. There ought to be a variety of restaurants and shopping within minimal walking distance. Personally, I’d prefer next to a national park or historic site but I accept that might be a little bit unreasonable.
  3. Have a central message board where people can post notes or job ads. It’s free and fun, and a good way to help people share cab rides back to their airport or  find a groups of people to have dinner with. (Thank you QRCA!)
  4. Make sure the lighting on the speakers is really good. We want to take pictures and you want us to post good pictures online.

Hmmmm, what else. I’ll add them as I remember. Until then, see you on the conference tour!


4 responses

  1. This list is just wonderful! It will become close to a Bible for us arranging SMRD (the Swedish Market Research Day). Not that we agree on perfectly everything (although we do on most accounts), but because everything is so well motivated and the list so exhaustive. Many thanks!

    1. I’m glad it will be helpful. Some for sure are my personal preferences so I can understand that all of them won’t work. Have fun with your conference! 🙂

  2. Hi Annie

    I think I’d divide your list into general points and personal points. No conference is ever going to give you exactly what you want (or exactly what I want), but I think the conference organisers should at least know what we want and think.

    My key difference from your list would be the length of papers. I think there are very, very few conference presenters who can hold an audience for 45 minutes. One of the reasons for this is that most conferences expect presentations to be new and unique – and there is only so much good stuff out there.

    Most non-Americans would balk at an 8am start for cultural reasons (we are lazier) but also because it means staying overnight at the destination – I can get to Amsterdam or Paris or London for a 9am start, but not for an 8am start.

    I am also doubtful about panels, but I think that one of the secrets to making them useful is in the way they are chaired. The chair needs to push the panel members to reveal interesting stuff.

    Round tables are an interesting point. The purpose of the round tables is facilitate interaction. One of the growing trends is to have interactive sessions where the people on the table all discuss some topic and typically report back to the wider room. Personally, I don’t really enjoy this, I am there, like you, to hear some good stuff from the presenters. However, the post-conference feedback surveys often praise these sessions and call for more interactive work.

    I like, most, conferences to have a clear topic, e.g. qual, quant, social media etc, but I agree withe point about themes, e.g. back to the future, innovation in our DNA. For things like annual conferences I would not even have topics, just a collection of good papers, presented well.

    I am very keen on feedback on the presentations. A few years ago one of the Scandinavian conferences published the ratings of the speakers, on the web, during the day. That sort of thing, if widely adopted, might sharpen people up a bit.

    1. I think most Americans would balk at an 8am start too. 🙂 I’m an early riser so this list is definitely a personal list, not a Canadian/American list. I think making speaker ratings public could eliminate (or at least embarrass) the people making sales pitches. It might also embarrass some of the new speakers but I’d much rather listen to a terrible speaker with great data than a great speaker doing a sell job.

      To all of you terrible speakers: Please keep sharing your awesome research results at conferences.

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