With two conferences under my belt, SES Chicago 2006 and SMX Advanced 2007, I felt compelled to do a conference showdown with important categories like best lunch, best swag and best brawls.
Lunch: SES Chicago had a rather dry boxed lunch consisting of a half sandwich, apple, cookie and drink. SMX Advanced offered a limited salad bar with several dressing options, cold mixed salads, fresh fruit tray (strawberries, pineapple, grapes, kiwi and with limited filler-fruit, aka boring melons), an assortment of rolls, several cooked vegetable options and finally fish, chicken and beef dishes.
Winner: SMX Advanced by a landslide
Networking Opportunities: The Hilton in Chicago had a spacious lobby, upscale bar attached to the main hall and very comfortable Irish bar and restaurant, which provided plenty of room for the high rollers and interns to mingle. SMX had some terrific parties spaced close together, but no central accommodations, which reduced the random acquaintance factor that was so nice about Chicago.
Winner: SES Chicago
Speaker to Attendee Ratio: When we send our children or ourselves to school we recognize the value in having a low student to teacher ratio. This provides more one-on-one opportunities and room for questions. It also helps you move at your own pace. While SES Chicago had some terrific speakers the mobs overwhelmed them. SMX Advanced was the exact opposite with plenty of opportunities to mingle with the speakers gleaning advice and some terrific memories!
Winner: SMX Advanced
Good Times: SES Chicago was the spring board for where I am today. I was proposed to by a Bears fan in the Irish pub, went to dinner my first night with what turned out to be speakers and had an overall amazing time. However, I was still a little shy and reserved, which is probably why I had an even better time at SMX Advanced. I knew a lot of the attendees, speakers and press and most importantly, they knew me! I also found a decent balance between liver damage, sleep, networking and learning (yes, those are in order of importance). Perhaps because of the short time frame it also felt like we were jumping from party to party. Every night there was something big worth attending, which keeps the momentum going.
Winner: SMX Advanced
Best Schwag: SMX Advanced had some terrific swag, especially from Google. Best items from all sponsors included: T-shirts, glowing stuff, blue bouncy balls, squishy frogs, notepads, sticky notes and pens galore. Best of all was the official SMX one-shoulder bag; very handy and spacious. Unfortunately, I am still in love with my SES Chicago True Local rocket launcher and Google orb. For those reasons alone…
Winner: SES Chicago
Best Brawl: I know there were a few in Chicago (I’m recalling the Organic Listings forum with Mike Grehan, Dave Naylor, Bruce Clay and Todd Friesen), but nothing to write home about. Best brawl of SMX Advanced was Tim Mayer versus Matt Cutts during the Personalized Search session or Duplicate Content attendees versus the speakers. When asked if the material was advanced enough everyone yelled no.
Winner: Neither… I want to see some real blood. Danny and the Penalty Box speakers had the hockey masks, but no serious action.
Speaker and Session Quality: You can only take so many sessions about titles tags, sitemaps and frames before you want to choke yourself with your attendee sash. SES Chicago is just that – a conference built for all levels of marketers whether they be agency, in-house, entrepreneurs or paper-pushers. For that reason it’s a terrific starting point, but if anyone wants to get down to business SMX and PubCon (from what I’ve been told) are the cream of the crop. As for speakers, with fewer sessions there’s more competition for a spot on the panel, which essentially eliminated many of the sales-pitch guised presenters (at least on the organic side) and focused on true authorities.
So, where’s the beef?
OVERALL WINNER: SMX ADVANCED!
My suggestion on how to improve future SMX Advanced conferences or any conference for that matter:
Survey the attendees prior to the conference to determine what they expect to hear. For example, Matt McGee had a great analysis of whether SMX was really advanced or not and the biggest issue was that it’s difficult to determine whether what’s advanced for you is advanced for me and vice versa.
So, my suggestion is that SMX send a survey to a random sampling (or all) attendees that requests feedback on what topics should be discussed, with how much emphasis and what specific questions should be covered (if anyone is willing to release that information). This way no one walks away feeling like they wasted money (which they shouldn’t because lunch was terrific!) and if they do then there’s an opportunity to explain why something wasn’t covered.