I got an email talking about a big “post-telecomm” conference happening in about a month.  It’s one of those $1,500-$2,000 type conferences, on a subject I’m interested in and think I could learn a lot from, but it’s not exactly my niche.  As a result, it’s not a conference I can realistically justify and attend as a small business person, no matter how much I would love to meet people in this rhelm and understand what they’re talking about and concerned with, even as someone who just “consumes” these services.

Being a Podcamp organizer, I’ve become spoiled by the richness of information and perspectived that can be delivered at a cross-industry conference.  Podcamp participants are from all walks of life- business people, start-ups, bloggers, media creators, podcasters, journalists, students, educators, developers and hobbyists, to name just a few.  Podcamp is what I would call a post-demographic conference- we get people together with very little concern over the age, gender, profession or any other metric that places people in a box of any kind.  This means Podcamp may not be as focused as an industry conference, but it is democratic in the best sense, and I think we learn more from people not like us than we do from only talking to people like us, who view the world through a similar set of prisms.

Many industry conferences are, by nature, fish bowl events that may function like large support networks.  But I ask you- why are you only preaching to the choir?  Wouldn’t the time and money be well spent asking your customers and/or the public to come to some of your events?  Maybe have an open house day at the conference, so media, people interested in your show, etc. can come in and kick the tires and see what you’re about?  This might help your vendors and sponsors get some additional exposure.  You might find job prospects, students, and others willing to come, from the locality at least, to get a sense of whether this is something of value to them.

The big conferences are expensive to put on and expensive to attend.  The return on investment is usually getting to meet some of the big people in your field.  But wouldn’t the money also be well spent in extending the event to allow you to meet new people, potential customers, and others with new ideas and curiosity about what you do?

Granted, I am the sort of person who pays to take their kids to the Auto Show, Home Show and Flower Show in Philly.  Sometimes we go to the auto show to window shop for cars across dealerships.  We tend to go to the flower show for the displays, but also the great vendors where we buy heirloom seeds to start in our garden.  We like the Home Show, even when we don;t have any big projects planned, just to see what’s what and out of curiosity, along with my husband’s addiction to Lowe’s and Home Depot.

(We’ll sadly miss Home Depot’s Expo stores, by the way- they were like a home show in a store, but visiting one while we’re on vacation doesn’t do them much good.  There was never one near enough to use so that we could have become regular customers.)

I’d love to see some of these big conferences to do some more community outreach and education, drawing a wider audience into their circle, and helping others to understand what it is that they do.  Maybe I watched way too much Mr. Rogers growing up, and continue to find the behind-the-scenes world fascinating- from  Discovery Channel shows like How Stuff Works and Myth Busters to Food Network shows like How’d That Get on my Plate to Unwrapped- show me what you do and how you do it is endlessly fascinating to me.  It does demystify things, true, but it also helps me appreciate much more thoroughly everything that goes into the products I use, by knowing how much engineering, time, materials and care go into the things I might otherwise take for granted.

So for all you conference organizers out there- how can you make your event regular-person friendly?  What advantage might it have for you?  Can you extend your reach?  Can you do small events in the community- maybe have a “Kid’s day” like the NFL has at the NFL Experience with the Super Bowl, where kids from local schools can come find out about what makes you special?  Could a group of high school or college students come and find out more about you?  It may not be possible, but it might also grow an audience who might otherwise not engage at all with your conference and its large entrance fees in a tight economy.

Just a thought.  What do you think?  Reasonable?  Crazy?  Irrational?