When to Leave Beginners Behind (hint: Never)

Mmm smarty pants.In attending conferences recently, and more to the point seeing people I know Tweet live from other events, I have seen a familiar complaint continue to thrive: “Content is too basic.”

…Well aren’t you just a Mr/Ms Genius Smartypants…

Why is this so, assuming it is true? There are a few possibilities:

  • Conference organizers don’t account for who attends
  • Organizers don’t prepare their speakers and panelists for the proper audience
  • Speakers don’t tailor their content to audiences
  • Attendees are going to the wrong events
  • Attendees need to chill out and stop acting so superior and above all the “basic” content
What has been clear to me for some time now is that there is always an audience for the basic content. I welcome the new faces that show up at established events, because it means that more people want to learn about and embrace social media, even if it means a long-running event has to go back over familiar material, causing some of the older community members to roll their eyes a bit. I definitely saw this in the last couple of years of PodCamp Boston, as a new generation of neophytes arrived eager to learn. I found it to be an opportunity to work on teaching, rather than a regression of the overall content. It’s what you make of it.
I would also agree that more advanced content is harder to find. Why? It’s easy for those of us who consider ourselves “advanced” to teach “101” tenets in front of people who are newer. How hard is it to do a master class? Very. I tend to give organizers a pass if there is flexibility in the format (as there was in many session at the recent MarketingProfs B2B Forum), but is it time we hold feet to fires and see who can serve us all better?

I think we first need to define the source of the problem. Is it the attendees, the material, or the programmers’ inability to match them? Or is it the advanced social media professionals whining that they are tired of hearing it, so therefore it must be banished and we should move on?

  • The Attendees:If someone goes to an event without first vetting the agenda, shame on them. Other than that, I’m not sure why I brought it up. Blame the attendees? No.
  • The Material: By this I mean, of course, blame the speakers. Too many times I have seen speakers go up in front of a group they know to be experienced and cough up a loogey of stuff we already know and don’t need to hear (*cough* BlogWorld *cough*). Speakers need to know ahead of time what they are addressing and do the work. They also need to be able to adjust on the fly – throw away the slides and speak down, or up, to the crowd extemporaneously if they have too. It feels strange to say so because too many of them simply show up without preparing, but panelists often have an advantage in that last regard.
  • The Organizers: Are you sure you are marketing your conference to the right people, and that you are drawing the people you wish? A lot lies on the shoulders of the speakers to deliver and punt where warranted, but setting accurate expectations for both attendees and speakers saves a lot of trouble and complaints.

I simply write this as a humble attendee and occasional speaker. In the end, each party – organizer, speaker, attendee – is responsible for their own experience. I just don’t think, in terms of social media marketing events at least, we’re in a position to leave the beginners behind. What are your feelings on conference content? Feel free to share in comments.

 Photo credit: boptart on Flickr


  1. I see 2 problems here Doug. The first is that there are people who think they are beyond learning anything new and will heckle anything. The second, as you mentioned, new faces are good. I blame organizations like the Boston Chapter of the Social Media Club for not encouraging growth and advancing deeper conversations among advanced folks.

  2. I don’t go to a lot of conferences, maybe a few a year. I find people go to conferences who are not “beginners” way too much. I call them conference whores. After seeing someone speak once or twice that I really get something out of or resonate with or wish to know more about what they do or talk about. I engage them after the fact and either seek specific advice or read their blogs join their online training etc. I think conferences or seminars should be for the beginners.

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