User Group + Meeting = Better Conference

I just got back (well, last week) from Mark Minasi’s forums meeting (affectionally known as the Minasipalooza), and I have to say – if you’ve not considered going, keep it in mind for next year. Originally conceived as a way for his discussion forums’ regulars to get together, chat, and share info, it’s become a mini-conference in its own right. For about $500 plus travel (to Virginia Beach, which is muy inexpensive), folks were treated to a bunch of timely sessions on current technologies, both by forums veterans and by industry professionals like myself, Greg Shields, Jeremy Moskowitz, and The Mark himself. If you’re tired of paying $2000 for commercial conferences (who spend a lot of your dough paying off the money-grubbing hotels and conference venues), give a long, hard thought to Mark’s 2009 meeting. You’ll get much of the same high-quality content, mingle with a great group of folks (attendance is small enough that you really get to know everyone), and spend a lot more time *discussing* technology (e.g., getting your questions answered) than just getting shuffled from room to room and fed bland chicken (sorry, too many conference lunches for Don this Spring). 

Mark treated everyone to a great dinner at the Pungo Grill, including bus transportation from the conference host hotel. A couple of "on your own" dinners provided great socializing options, and Va Beach is honestly a beautiful place to visit (biased; I grew up there), and there are bunches of other things to do if you want to come early or stay a day late. 

Don’t get me wrong, commercial conferences have their place. I speak at TechMentor, and in addition to 5-6 tracks of content to choose from you get a small vendor expo, swag for the kids and/or pets to chew on, and probably a more swank hotel and/or location (San Fran, Orlando, New York, Vegas, etc). But those conferences do come at a cost. 

Mark’s per-person cost will likely creep upward a bit. Right now, the speakers are not only speaking for free, they’re picking up their own travel expenses, which isn’t sustainable. But helping speakers with the modest Va Beach-level travel expenses won’t drive per-person costs up much if the number of attendees can grow a bit – so give it some thought.