I’ve been playing in this social media game for a while, but one of the things I don’t really do is conferences. There are a million of them, it seems, and at least once or twice a month, I witness hundreds or even thousands of geeks converging on some (usually American) city for 3 to 5 days of….well I’m not always sure what. What I have seen with many social media conferences is that, though there do seem to be some great keynotes, panel discussions and presentations, not a lot actually gets DONE. People come away saying things like “I got to go to some great parties”, or “that talk by that famous blogger was really inspiring”, or “I got so many business cards!”. But rarely do people seem to leave conferences with actual real things that they put into practice.
This is where I think conferences like PAB are different.
First, let’s clear something up. PAB stands for Podcasters Across Borders, and although when it started in 2006 it was actually a conference about podcasting, it has evolved into a conference for anyone who creates content across any medium (audio, video, photography, text, semaphore, you name it.)
I am relatively new to the world of PAB, though I’ve known the organizers, Bob Goyetche and Mark Blevis for a long time. In fact, if it wasn’t for Mark and Bob, and a couple of other unsuspecting smart people, I probably wouldn’t be doing any of what I do in social media today. My first PAB conference was last year. I had somewhat of a sense of what to expect, but I what I actually experienced was so much more. Here is what makes PAB different from other conferences.
Everyone is equally important.
At some of the big conferences, it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. You see signs and posters everywhere for all the A-list mucky mucks that are speaking. You can’t get into certain rooms because they are filled to capacity, while other, lesser known panels happen in near-empty rooms. There’s a hierarchy, and I’ve always gotten the sense at these events that if you’re not as well known, what you have to say isn’t deemed as important (Podcamps are the exception to this, by the way- I’m talking about the big, expensive conferences here).
PAB takes place over 3 days in one single room. There are usually not more than 120 people there at the most. The speakers are given centre stage and all eyes and attention. Sure, we have people who are more high profile than others – bestselling authors, popular podcast hosts, well-known journalists – but none of that matters at PAB. It’s a level playing field, and everyone is an equal, and each individual’s unique perspectives are embraced. Well known folks hang with less known folks, and nobody cares “who” you are. They only care who you actually are…as a person.
Networking happens organically.
There’s nothing that makes me more uncomfortable than going to a “networking” event. You’re forced into a room, trying to balance your cocktail and a plate of shrimp bites, while people come up and try to shake your hand and ask “what do you do?”, and stuff business cards in the crook of your arm. Ugh.
The great thing about PAB is that networking is a byproduct, not the emphasis. Social events are extremely casual, all participants are more than welcome. It usually happens in a restaurant, bar, or on a boat. There’s a lot of people at PAB who are close friends, but new people are brought in to the mix seamlessly. People are not spending all their time shaking hands and passing out business cards. Mostly they are talking about life, and passion, and media making. We don’t really talk about our jobs at PAB. We talk about what gets us out of bed in the morning. We learn what makes others tick. And we laugh, and cry, and laugh, and laugh some more.
And after the conference is over, we walk away with new connections. Maybe we do business someday, maybe we make new friends. Maybe we do both. That’s how networking SHOULD work.
Suffice it to say, PAB is one of the best conferences I’ve been to, and I think one of the premiere content creation conferences in the world. There’s still a few short hours to register, so if you’re so inclined, and can make it to downtown Ottawa in time, click here and we hope to see you there! You can see the full list of all the amazing speakers here.
If you can’t make it, then I highly recommend you plan for PAB2012. Meanwhile, I’ll be posting about my PAB experience here all weekend and you can follow the #PAB2011 hashtag to get a sense of what it’s all about.