Some Strong-Ass Opinions About Conferences

 

Hi,

Jen here. I founded The Bullish Conference in 2013, when Bullish was just a blog and social media was in its infancy. How did I even get people to come? Megaphone? Telegram? It’s hard to remember. Did I write invites in cursive on notebook paper? Probably.

Since then, not only have I produced six conferences, I’ve been to a lot of other conferences. Ladybiz conferences, blogging conferences, e-commerce conferences. Conferences where everything is pink and beautiful but you’re not sure what the topic of the conference is. Or, once, a business conference that had so few female attendees that a camera crew chased me around begging me to do a testimonial. And I have some OPINIONS.

When I founded BullCon, one of my main motivations was that I had attended some VERY STUPID panel discussions. Panel discussions are what happens when no one prepares a speech. Or a handout. Or an exercise we can all do together so we can learn. If the people are very famous and you just want to be near them, fine, but I’ve never learned anything from a panel. I want a freaking SLIDE DECK from someone who has organized their thoughts into an outline structure. I want something worth taking notes on.

Speaking of famous people, I wildly groan when a conference about, say, blogging, announces that its keynote speaker is, like, a major A-list actress who … does not blog. I guess you are very fancy because you know someone who knows Jessica Alba? I mean, sometimes it’s nice to get away from your normal life (bills! boring town! kids! being a beleaguered intern! etc.) and be in the same room as a famous person, sure. But that’s not the kind of conference I’m interested in running. Some of my favorite conference speakers have been people I would consider peers — who have gotten incredibly good at one specific thing.

I once came into a conference right out of the rain and it was cold and there was nowhere to put coats and there were no soft surfaces anywhere, just folding chairs, and I was like … no. I am interested in absorbing content but we all live in delicate human bodies and … just no. This is one reason I like to hold conferences in hotels, or very near to them. People who need to breastfeed can comfortably do so in their hotel room. (Oh, I was once at a conference where I was invited to pump in a pop-up tent off the side of the stage, as though this were some clever backstage for my lactation-themed burlesque routine.)

I once went to a conference that had an extreme number of phone charging stations, and I was like, ah, yes, this is very conscientious of you all! A+. I have attempted to emulate this as much as the available outlets will allow.

A lot of conferences seem to think that women (?) do not eat hot food or food not made of, say, seeds. I am a fairly healthy eater, but I want that to be my choice, you know? Recently at a conference I had to toss out a sponsored oatmeal cup that was mostly undigestible seeds. Just hot, hard seeds. We always have vegan options at our conferences, but vegans also don’t just eat seeds, unless they are actual birds, which sounds like a cool conference I guess. BirdCon. Anyway, my belief is: especially when you’re away from home, you need Actual Food.

I recently attended a conference that had fewer seats than attendees, I guess based on the erroneous assumption that enough people would be circulating in the exhibitor hall that not everyone would want to sit down. This was terrible. I mean, it’s one thing to run out of chairs when you’re having an event open to anyone who walks in, but it’s quite another thing to run out of chairs when you’ve sold tickets in advance. Here, I will use math to show how many chairs (C) are needed as a function of attendees (a):

C(a) = a

Or if you really want to get fancy:

C(a) > a

I once confused a very nice hotel event manager when she asked how many people I would be having. I told her, and said, “but put all the chairs that fit.” You want 90 chairs for 65 people? YES. YES I DO. The people have handbags. The people are friendly, but not always that friendly. GIVE US OUR CHAIRS. Like am I trying to look important by squeezing everyone into fewer chairs so I can look “sold out”? No. NO I AM NOT.

The number of sponsors we have at the conference tends to be, like, two. This has worked great. These sponsors have included a female-focused coding school, a savings app, a maker of fashionable computer glasses. That shit is on-point. I’ve been to conferences that had a lot of sponsors and it was pretty cool because the sponsors provided fun experiences and free samples. I’ve also been to conferences that had a lot of sponsors where you’re like, ah, I am at a Mastercard seminar, apparently. I recently attended a conference that got a brand to sponsor the bathrooms, and I admire the moxie, frankly. (You can’t really say something like that without elaborating, right? The hipster tampon company had branded the bathroom doors and nearby walls, and provided large baskets of tampons, and decorated the interior bathrooms with, like, a white noise machine and a jute rug. There might have been succulents? There were definitely plants.) Anyway, sponsors should feel like part of the fun. They should feel like peers. Not like … a corporate parent who is giving everyone an allowance from afar.

And finally, I mean, I get that conference organizers generally want to grow their events. But the more you grow, the more the point gets stretched a little thin. Instead of a conference for bloggers, or small business owners, or crafters, you get a conference for “creatives.” Who should attend? Uh, people who want to be inspired! I’ve seen a few talks that tried to talk about politics while striding the line, talking about “concerns for women” while trying not to alienate some slice of self-involved, Trump-voting lady fucknuts. Some people should be alienated. Alienated all the way into the sun.

The Bullish Conference is a conference for careers and business from a feminist POV. There’s no need to cater to the people determined to destroy the world. If you want to make the workplace and the world better, you have to commit to some ideas about justice and equality. And then you want to sit down, take notes on real, practical, actionable information, and learn something. Inspiration comes from real knowledge. Not from mantras and plants and trendy font choices, all of which are also nice, but they can’t be the whole deal. You want to go home with an exciting and specific to-do list of things you actually know how to do.

If you share some of these beliefs and goals, you should definitely come to The Bullish Conference.