Best conferences I go to have no prepared agenda, no “luminaries” aggrandizing themselves, lots of fascinating up to the minute topics and copious discussion in session. “Papers” written in advance is the best way to stifle all that rich interaction, because it’s a sieve to filter out all those who haven’t yet attained expert status – and I rarely learn as much from experts, since they are usually quoting from their own tired catchphrases rather than original thought in response to others’ earnest inquiry.
Give me the interaction – that’s where I learn best – over the lecture. If I can throw in an inspired idea (or sometimes, a bit of snark) and hear a legitimate response to that, it far exceeds my trying to silently (or long after the monologue has completed, from an over-lit and terribly conspicuous microphone) parse out a heavily compacted or cryptic thought pattern.
Give me intimacy, not hollow echoey halls filled with row upon row of anonymizing and silencing seats.
Give me half-baked theories or simply questions to get the ball rolling, rather than twee or horribly over-thought concepts that are important only to the speaker (because they actualize the speaker’s self-centredism rather than actually enlighten the audience (and maybe even the facilitator).
Give me an unconference, not a conference. Scale is nearly impossible in the former, and often seems the point of the latter. Bragging rights is not how many attendees, but how many smiles and new connections.