I left a long comment about MeshForum and what we did for MeshForum 2005 as a response to Stowe Boyd's rant about bad conferences.
We tried to address some of these issues at MeshForum 2005 (http://www.meshforum.org)
A few things we did which seemed to work.
- spent a lot of time planning and thinking about the speakers and the order of the speakers to help reinforce each other and minimally overlap
- brought together a mix of speakers - academics, business professionals, consultants, military experts
- though we did have a bit more PowerPoint than I would like to see at future MeshForums, most speakers were introducing new ideas, had a lot of content, and were given enough time to get their ideas across
- we scheduled speakers for a significent amount of Q&A and had an audience capable of asking great questions without giving mini-speeches.
- MeshForum 2005 was a single track - so everyone attending saw and heard the same speakers. We also had a majority of speakers who attended for the whole conference and thus had heard the speakers before them, brought their talks into their own presentations, and were able to later interact with later speakers
- Held the conference outside of the "usual" venues (not a hotel, not a resort, not an auditorium). The flatness of the space with just a low stage, yet a slightly elevated section allowing for great sightlines for everyone, led to a sense of connectedness to the speakers and easy interaction
- We incorporated meals and evening events into the conference, this was critical to allowing people to interact, truly network, and follow up with questions and thoughts for future action
- We ended the conference with an entire day in Open Space. This format allowed for a fully interactive workshop - everyone who attends that portion of the conference sets their own agenda, picks the topics they want to work on. Though smaller than the full conference, the workshop led directly to lots of future action and helped translate the conference environment into one that will lead to ongoing, continuing interactions and relationships.
I welcome feedback about what we did this year and how we can hold the best conference possible next year (our plan is for May 7-9 again here in Chicago), we hope Corante can once again be a sponsor and be an even more active and involved sponsor this year. :)