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Conference Experiences

As you know by now I attended two conferences in two weeks.

I had a friend ask on the phone yesterday if I had compared and contrasted the two.
I figured I might as well do that here today.

The two conferences were different in their targets but to me they didn't have to be. I don't know if there were many others who attended both so maybe this perspective will be helpful to both sets of organizers. Both conferences were brand new and took place about a week apart so the comparrisons are inevitable.

National New Church Conference- As the name implies I thought it was going to be mainly a gathering of freshly planted churches. I think the organizers went for a target of mainly people who were just getting ready to plant. It was good for that target so in that sense they nailed it. Conference attendance: Approximately 850

Buzz Conference- Buzz had a theme of "Compel them to come in"- Luke 14:23 Basically this conference was about creativity in church planning and executing in such a way as to compell those outside your church to want to come inside your church. A cool added component was some of the inside communication that was focused on as well.
Conference attendance: Approximately 350


I'll divide my thoughts among several catagories: 1. Registration Experience 2. Bang for Buck 3. Worship 4. Speakers and Content 5. Do I plan to attend again?

Here goes:

1. Registration Experience
Registration for both conferences were pretty much the same. They were both done online without much problem. The difference for me came when I arrived at the conference.

For the Buzz Conference I arrived for the Theater forum before the main conference kicked off. I walked into the coffee house, grabbed a seat and off I went. In between morning and the main sessions we grabbed lunch in Union Station. When it was time for the main conference, a few friends and I just walked up to the alphabetically arranged lines and got our passes.

For the National New Church conference the online experience was solid as well. They had one up on Buzz for a while. They sent out an email offering some type of speed pass. If you replied to the email you could register for a fast lane entrance. This was supposed to be a line seperate from the other lines. Well, when I arrived my expectations were through the roof because I thought it was the greatest thing. I get there and there IS NO SPEED PASS LANE. Ben (who didn't sign up for the speed pass) got his registration completed faster than I did.

"Under promise and Over deliver." If you do this, you'll make people happy. Do the opposite and well...

2. Bang for Buck
The Bang for Buck is where I try and describe how I felt about how the conference dollars were used. This is an extremely subjective catagory but I assure you that every attendee at every conference is asking themselves this one. I paid all of my fees out of pocket this year so I was even more aware of this one.

National New Church Conference didn't make me feel like I got very much bang for my buck. On one hand they had a lot of breakout sessions. That was cool and it gave the participant the impression that there was a lot to do (and there was) but it also gave the participant the feeling that they couldn't come close to soaking up nearly as much as they may want. In addition, the breakouts hurt the quality of the main conference. I'll talk about that in the speakers session.

In addition the NNCC didn't provide the attendee with anything to take notes. No book, no magazine, nothing. I used my Tree-O and legal pad but I had nothing in my bag I got at the door.

In addition, I felt like I was at an Amway convention with all of the space taken up by booths. The entire foyer was wall to wall with trade show displays as well as an entire tent out back. Not a small tent... a circus-sized tent filled with people wanting me to buy their stuff. Between my conference fee and the fee every vender should have paid, I should have at least gotten a few sheets of paper stapled together with the word "notes" at the top.

What NNCC did well was give-aways. They had some pretty solid packages to be given to new church planters (which I thought was a great idea). Us old guys weren't in the running but I was completely cool with that. New guys need the love.

What I did get in my bag was more brochures of companies. Some of them weren't companies but rather church planting organizations. I understand. They are trying to help everyone get along so anyone and everyone had the opportunity to advertise to the participants. It just came off overwhelming to me. And ultimately it hurt my feeling of Bang for the buck.

Buzz on the other hand was better. For about the same conference cost I felt like I got so much more out of the conference. For starters, the quality of the lanyard was exponentially better. We each got a honeycomb shaped disk with the conference logo on the front and the conference meeting times on the back. If you forgot where you should be, it was easy to look at. I noticed several of us looking at it during breaks to see when to go back. It was a great idea and it looked better than the clear plastic name tags we got at National New Church Conference.

Buzz also handed out very nice books. They didn't have notes in them but they were basically spiral books with the buzz logo imprinted (not ink but more like machine pressed) on the front. The books came with an elastic loop on the right side that holds your pen. They looked great.

Buzz was a display of "less is more". They didn't have as much going on on stage but what they did have looked great. Here's a quick difference between the two also. The NNCC conference was held in an established church building of a church that is a little over 10 years old (I'm guessing). That was a conference for new churches. Buzz on the other hand was held in the middle of Union Station. Everything they had to do each day was exactly what we have to do as church planters. I'm surprised that Buzz actually came off better (more raw possibly?) than NNCC. The NNCC came off like it was a conference trying to be like the Big Boys. Buzz came off like it was a first-ever church conference at Union Station BUT EXCEEDED any expectations one could have had for them to pull that off.

3. Worship
Both conferences had good worship. Buzz was a little more raw but both were good. NNCC ended up having an older audience than Buzz. Seems odd. I would have thought that the church planting conference would have been more 20somethings. It wasn't. It appeared to be more 35-45 range. The band was more in the range of 30-40. I honestly don't know if that was the house band for the church we were in. It very well could have been. I just don't know.

4. Speakers and Content
I won't beat this horse too much. I really liked the lineup going into the NNCC (Gene Appel / Ed Stetzer / Dave Ferguson / Mark Driscoll / Bob Roberts, Jr. / Ron Sylvia / Neil Cole / John Burke / Larry Osborne / Bob Logan / Steve Andrews / Dave Nelson) It's like a who's who list of cross-denominational church planting and growth.

The Buzz Conference had three main speakers: Ed and Mark and Brad.
Ed is Ed Young from Fellowship Church
Mark is THE Mark Batterson from NCC
Brad is Brad Abare from Church Marketing Sucks

The survey says: Buzz.

Was it that Mark, Ed and Brad told us only things we've never heard? no.
Was it that Mark, Ed and Brad flew down the aisle like superman on wires? no. they didn't
Was it that Mark, Ed and Brad hypnotized everyone with their commanding voices? nope.

What was it that makes me think Buzz did a better job here?
Simple. They let the speakers speak from their core.

Ed Young gave his Creativity talk. Most who read his stuff (I recently finished his Leadership book) will see common themes. The key with him though is that he's GREAT at communicating those truths.

Mark talked through his 10 Buzz Commandments. Again, he's revealed most of them on his blog (evotional.com) but he packs them with so many core convictions that it 'compells' you to get something out of it.

Brad gave everyone a spankin and reminded us not to suck. Not really... but he did have a pretty good talk on not sucking and also had a pretty funny Beer ad to show us. "This is a big ad... a really big add" It was cool. Apparently from South Africa.

So what's the point? How can NNCC learn for next year (which by the way, I know they are aware that I'm not the only one who felt this way and I assure you that they will quickly fix it)?

The trick is to have fewer speakers doing only things they are passionate about. NNCC had 12 speakers and some forced Q&A time. The speakers mostly talked about their experiences. I felt like I was reading their bios for the most part. The only two that really stood out for me were Mark Driscoll and Gene Appel. I could have listened to them the whole time. In fact, they both have their own conferences so they may have known something that others didn't. Driscoll just came off raw and forceful. I would LOVE to have been in Seattle this week for his conference. I'm going to have to plan to attend next year.

Ultimately I think Buzz was much better with speakers but I do think that NNCC will learn and have a better conference next year.

5. Do I plan to attend again?
Buzz ~yes. June 28-29 of 2007

Word on the street is that Tony Morgan and Tim Stevens from Simply Strategic fame will speak at Buzz next year. I got to talk with Tony for a little while at the bloggers breakfast. He's a great guy. I love his blog/books/podcasts but in person he just came off an even better man.

My recommendations:

1. Keep lighting in-house or make them come in for testing a day early. Mark even noted this on his blog so it's not a big deal. I'm positive it will be fixed (and it was fixed between day 1 and 2.)

2. Don't split the conference among video venues if you can help it but if you do, give us a chance to sign up with friends so our groups can stay somewhat together. Big Stuff camp (Lanny Donahoe) does color-coded wristbands for seating arrangements. If you split the conference to video venues, do something like this so everyone gets to rotate to live at some point with their group of friends.

3. Bloggers and Theater church portions could use more time. I LOVE the fact that you guys went after these groups. Next year would be great to have a little longer in both sessions with some discussion between the participants. Maybe a day-long pre-conference on the front end with Theater people and then use this year's theater time for a half-day with bloggers. Brian and Terry (Fellowship Church) will have their book out early next year so they would be cool to have in.

NNCC ~maybe. April 2007
(I may attend if I feel like they get enough feedback and change it up for next year. I mean c'mon... it's Orlando!)

My recommendations...

1. Under promise and over deliver:
I'm sure that the fast registration thing was a fluke.

2. Give the attendees stuff to take home: A book for taking notes would be cool.

3. Lighten up with the trade show booths
or at least spread them out at a larger facility

4. Fewer speakers with longer times.
Make sure they are passionate about their topic also.

5. Expand your target to church plants that are 3 years old or less
(Gary agrees).
This way you'll a. have more potential participants and b. give new churches some help. Don't just have a conference to get people out the door... have one that can help them take their next steps during those first few years.

For the record, both conferences are doing post-event surveys so I think they will both improve next year. Also for the record... The group who put most of the NNCC conference together is a SOLID group who I've only known to do great work in the past. I think their conference was good but could have been better and I have full confidence that they will have an even bigger and better conference next year. No doubt.

posted by Tally Wilgis @ Tuesday, May 09, 2006


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