The week before last, I attended the SUNY Council on Writing Conference in Plattsburgh, NY. It was a nice five hour drive from my home with the last few hours skirting around the Adirondack mountains, and the conference itself was a blast. Each session usually had no more than two speakers, and even small audiences tended to fill the entire time with conversation and sharing. In terms of what I came home thinking about, I personally felt like I gained more at this regional conference than I did the last time I attended the national Conference on College Composition and Communication. That can be an amazing conference, but there’s always a moment for me on the second day when I have to hide. The introvert in me gets too overwhelmed by both the numerous ideas swirling in my head and the large crowds racing around me. As I drove home from Plattsburgh, I thought, “It’s official. I prefer regional conferences to national ones.”
For me, regional conferences offer lots of positives. They can feel less rushed because the schedules are less packed. The smaller crowds can lead to greater chances of meeting like-minded peers, which can increase opportunities to share concrete ideas and get specific feedback on our presentations. Also, I tend to encounter less arrogance in audiences and presenters. There have been many times at national meetings when an audience member seems only to care about proving a presenter wrong rather then engaging in conversation, and I’ve seen less of that at regional or local gatherings. Also, traveling within a three-hundred mile radius is often easier and cheaper for me than having to fly across the country.
This is not to say that national conferences do not have clear advantages, though. Often, they are the best way to see the big names in the field speak in person about ideas that will truly shape the field. Also, the variety of presentations often make it easier to find something of interest. These are often the only times we can connect with old friends and faculty from our graduate or undergraduate programs. For graduate students, these meetings are often the best places to meet those who will become your peers in the decades to come. Networking is easier because many editors and publishers are often in attendance in addition to the wide range of faculty and graduate students.
No one format will serve everyone, and even your preferred format will not always be effective. Last October, I attended a regional conference that was rather horrible. Many people seemed to arrive before and leave after giving their papers, and there was little oversight by the conference conveners (our session had no chair, and a woman walked in asking if she could give her paper since she missed her morning session). Overall, though, I think regional conferences work best for me at this point in my career.
What do you think? What do you see as the pros and cons of national, regional, and local conferences? How do these meetings vary by discipline or other factors? Let us know in the comments!
(Photo by Flickr user christian.senger and licensed through Creative Commons)