How conferences can provide more value to Engineers
Conferences provide a forum for industry experts to come together to discuss ideas and share progress. The traditional format of Engineering conferences resemble a series of lectures: speakers first present their work, after which the audience is allowed some time for questions. If the presentation runs too long, it comes out of the question period. This limits the academic potential of conferences, as Engineers are forced to sit and listen, while providing limited ideas or input.
Often, conferences are attended by the same people each year, and have evolved into a forum for embellishing accomplishments. Attendees are not likely to recall the size of the prefabricated element that was erected, nor is this information necessarily useful to them. However, if everyone at the conference engages in conversation about the innovative technique that was used to erect the panels, and how it could be improved, then attendees can gain value from the conference.
In addition, more workshop type sessions should be developed to nurture curiosity and teamwork, in order to inspire one another. These workshops should first introduce the major theme, such as the use of high-performance concrete. Following this, Engineers should be given a problem that must be solved based on the theme of the workshop. Working through and discussing these problems will not only foster creativity in Engineers, but highlight new opportunities or tools that Engineers can use in their own practice.
Change needs to start at the conference organizational level. Organizers need to put less emphasis on big dinners, expensive evening events and venues. This in turn will reduce the cost of attending the conference, allowing more engineers from a broader range of backgrounds to attend. In addition, reducing the number of speakers will provide more time per session for open discussion. Each session should have some main topics of conversation, that are supplemented by specific projects from the chosen speakers. No rehearsed speeches, and no wordy PowerPoint slides. If conferences are able to foster good discussions, they can provide real value to attendees. This will then motivate more Engineers to attend, building a stronger and more knowledgeable community.
Have any thoughts on how conferences can be improved to provide more value for attendees? Please feel free to provide input in the comment section below!