Most conference follow a traditional pattern: Keynote talks, general sessions, panels, and break out sessions. There is almost always a vendor section where you can get demonstrations of software products, meet key users and try out the products for yourself.

Nothing wrong with this.  I run some of these myself and they are a good way to get the new ideas I mentioned in my previous article across as well as to network and explore best practices.  What these sometimes lack is interaction – you receive a lot of information but have only a little opportunity to ask questions or get involved in deep conversation.  And, of course, they are highly structured with agendas, timelines, and people focused on shepherding the crowd.

Often this is okay, but sometimes you’d like to spend more time on one thing or less on another and also give your own opinions or hear what the other participants have to say.

And that’s what a new type of conference is offering.  Started by Bill Boorman, a recruiting guru from the U.K, they have begun to change the way we think about conferences.  His conferences are called TRUs, often labeled as TRU LONDON, or TRU BOSTON or TRU WHATEVER. They are cheap, accessible, and highly interactive.  They have only a loose structure and a flexible agenda. 

While people, called track leaders, are invited to get a conversation started, they are not allowed to use PowerPoint’s or to engage in monologue.  Instead there is an expectation of total inclusion – of everybody adding their opinions, experiences, observations and ideas.  There is a lot of give and take, back and forth conversation and often someone proposes a track that wasn’t on the agenda and the leader schedules it in.  Attendees can leave any discussion at any time and are encouraged to if it isn’t interesting or meeting their needs.  No need to politely sit through a boring discussion. Track leaders soon learn that their egos had better be strong because it’s ideas and the group that lead things.

TRUs are not for everyone. If you are new to a field and want to hear experts, TRUs probably don’t offer you enough structure or learning.  They are really best for experts in a field to come together and enlarge their own thinking.  They are wonderful places for networking as a lot of the time is spent in getting to know people, having a drink with a new friend or sharing a meal together. If you have strong opinions or ideas or want to test out your hypothesis about something, then TRUs are perfect places. People and ideas that wouldn’t get accepted at a traditional conference now have a place to go.

Costs are also low. Participant fees are typically less than $100. The events are held at corporate facilities or at inexpensive venues. Each person pays for their own hotel and food expenses. Costs are covered by a sponsor or two, but these events are not for making a lot of money. They are for spreading ideas and meeting new people. Nothing really is provided except the venue and a loose agenda.  This may sound bad, but it isn’t. It’s actually liberating as you can make lunch arrangements with anyone (or no one) and can eat what you want. It’s also easy to see the value and can be affordable even by the self-employed who are making up a larger segment of our population every year.

Vendors are present at TRUs, but often are on the firing line with people candidly critiquing their product or offering their suggestions for improvement.  Once again, a great place for a confident vendor or for a start-up looking for feedback.

TRUs are reflective of the new generation; they are immediate, authentic, inclusive, collaborative, cheap and challenging.