I just got home from CSI 2008, and I have to say, I’m incredibly impressed. The more I speak at these things, the more I’m realizing that there are qualities in conferences that make or break the experience, and this conference has crystallized some of those qualities in my mind.
One of the qualities I saw at CSI that I now recognize as a critical factor, is that there is a core expert community who are re-occuring, recognizable faces. CSI reminded me of The Experts Conference (formerly DEC) in this area — both conferences have this group of friendly, accessible people who are around throughout the conference, speaking but also participating. These are the people who can transform a group of complete strangers into a community that interact with and learn from each other. You need the big names that jet in, speak, and leave – but those big names are in some sense sterile – they have no community context or history, they have no understanding of what else might have been said – they speak in their own vacuum, and generally the message is a one-way broadcast. The message may be valuable – but it often doesn’t build on previous conversations.
From a conference organization perspective, I think that the CSI setup was revolutionary. Every morning, the entire conference assembled for a series of short keynotes which acted as introductions and advertisements for the themes of the day. Once the keynotes ended, attendees could choose separately-titled individual talks, or they could attend one or more parts of a multiple-timeslot “summit” created around that day’s themes. Within those summit sessions, speakers still gave presentations, however emphasis was not on slides, but on two-way conversations. In the summit sessions I attended, all of the speakers were up-front for all of the conversations, so it ended up being a very interesting mix of slides, panel conversation, and audience input. The keynotes at the beginning of the day gave the speakers a chance to pique the interest of attendees in a way that a conference agenda title just can’t accomplish, and given the theme of this conference, “security reconsidered”, it made perfect sense that the keynotes be constructed to interrupt the status quo. I’d like to see this kind of interruption become the focus at more of the conferences I attend.
Thank you CSI, for the invitation and for the experience, it was extremely positive!