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What makes a good conference session?

Over the past several months, I have attended conferences galore to the point where I have (for better or worse) started to develop an opinion on how they operate and what makes a session worthwhile to attend. Now, for the naïve attendee (that was me just five months ago), many panel titles imply sessions filled with awesome tips, insights and, ultimately, strategy! Unfortunately though, a lot of the time, you just end up getting pitched for some sort of service.

So, what makes a good conference session? The right mix of people, content, and timing can go a long way. Keep it relevant and leave the personal pom-poms at home.

Coming from the perspective of a panelist, I definitely agree there is a fine line between explaining a concept and explaining the tool or service that drives that concept — an art, I would say, I’m still trying to perfect.

Recently, the International Data Corporation (IDC) conference hosted a session that speaks to those “good conference session” qualities:  people, content and timing. IDG’s Nigel Wallis (@nigelwallis) put together a social media session in which I joined as a panelist.  Nigel’s moderation skills really brought everything together, and as anyone who has ever sat through a panel session will readily agree, a moderator can make or break a discussion.

I joined two other panelists; gentlemen I had never spoken to before the event. In fact, I only met Phil McBride, of Procter & Gamble (@philmcbride_pg), about 10 minutes before our session. Even with this lack of familiarity amongst the three of us, Nigel was able to keep content flowing and relevant for the entire session, making it one of the better conference sessions that I have been a part of, which I hope transferred to the audience.

What’s more, the content Nigel chose for our session was spot on, and because it was so relevant to each of us, and we were able to speak to the topic at hand, it kept us away from walking down that line of pitching our tools and services. Phil, David Bradfield (@dbradfield of SapientNitro) and myself all had so much to say on the session topics, and that made for a much more substantive discussion.

The best part for me was that I learned a lot just by participating. Each of us had different perspectives to offer for each question asked — Phil, coming from the corporate/product world, David coming from the PR/marketing world and me, from the social media monitoring/statistical side. I think that’s a reflection of IDC’s ability to create a strong conversational atmosphere.

The synergy between the panelists, moderator and crowd; an engaging topic; and the flow of content made for a great panel discussion – elements that all conference panel sessions should encompass.

Thanks again to David Bradfield, Phil McBride, Nigel Wallis and IDC!

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