This post by Jeff Hurt makes me think that I'm one of the few left who go to conferences mainly for the content; it sounds like a lot of people are shifting their decision-making mainly to who they hope to connect with while they're at the event. Don't get me wrong, I love to meet up with those I only know from Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc., and to reconnect with old friends, but I'm mainly there for the sessions. Might have something to do with knowing I have to write about them later, eh? (All personal conversations are off the record, just in case you were avoiding me in fear that something you let slip will show up in a magazine or something.)
But it does make me wonder if conference planners need to put even more emphasis on the networking, and less on the content, than they did in the past? I've heard that mentioned a few times in conjunction with some meetings industry events, and have to agree that the social aspects could use some bolstering. Especially for the really cliquey events that are so terrifying for newbies. But I wouldn't take anything away from the content in order to do it--it's not an either/or proposition, as I see it. The ideal, for me anyway, would be to thread the content through the networking, and the networking through the content, so conversations and connections happen more naturally and focus more on professional development than the latest gossip or the cute thing the cat did the other day. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but if I spend a lot of money and take the time away from the office, I really do want to learn something.
Update: Extraordinary idea-rouser that he is, Jeffrey Cufaude made a comment on this post over on Facebook that really made me think. Hope he doesn't mind that I share it here. He said: "But I do want us to drop the idea/frame of networking and focus more on the business of connecting: people to people, people to content, questions to answers, and interests to opportunities." Kind of reshapes the whole discussion when you think of it that way, doesn't it?