People rarely write about how a conference makes them “feel”. Adam Crabtree has written something which makes him one of the rare exceptions.
The most encouraging part of Adam’s story is how in 2 years he went from being an attendee to a speaker and local meetup organizer. Most people don’t know this but the goal of NodeConf, JSConf, and most community conferences is this exact thing!
From the start, community conferences are so named because they exist to “build community.” Being run by the community, or some portion of it, is less important than the purpose of the conference. I’ve said this many times, but a conference without a purpose is like a product without a purpose: useless.
Different events have different realities but many share the same goal, to build community. The reality for conferences like JSConf, NodeConf, TXJS, LXJS, etc., is that these events will sell out, and they’ll likely sell out quickly. The size is kept small, for a variety of reasons, chief among them that a more intimate environment is a better one to build person-to-person connections and that is what strengthens the community.
Conferences of a small size that sell out quickly have an opportunity to appeal to a different slice of the community than bigger conferences or conferences that lack the same level of demand. If you read Clay Shirky or Seth Godin you’re probably very used to how communities and person-to-person networks are structured. A somewhat centralized group of people drive the community forward, and each one of them influences a larger group of people, who in turn influence more people, and on and on. People who advocate the most broadly are supernodes. In the development world our supernodes are bloggers, speakers and organizers of local meetups and conferences.
When a conference is in high demand it’s sure to attract people that are passionate and motivated. If the goal is to strengthen and grow the community then these conferences offer the opportunity to turn these attendees into supernodes.
I view every attendee at NodeConf as a future speaker or organizer, without exception.
There is a lot we do to ensure our environment is conducive to our desired outcomes. While we pay for travel and hotel for speakers, we don’t have a speaker’s dinner. We don’t want the speakers “coupling up,” we want them to be out and about socializing with the other attendees when they aren’t on stage. We do all that we can to make it clear that organizers and speakers were just developers that nobody knew slaving away in a cubicle in relative obscurity before they found a culture they were excited enough about to evangelize.
The best part about all this: it’s working.
In the end, I’m more excited to hear about a new event than I am to hear praise for an event I’ve done. I’ve dedicated a not so insignificant amount of my time to helping others get up and running and it has been deeply rewarding. The end result is that my community is bigger, stronger, and I have many new interesting people to talk to and learn from around the world.