Optimal Conference Size

RSM’s marquee learning events are its yearly internal conferences. They range in size from a few hundred attendees to over a thousand.

As the firm grows, the conferences have been growing. Inevitably, this will mean either larger venues or splitting up conferences into multiple smaller conferences.

The conferences are well run and well regarded. However, I had a partner in the firm express to me last year that while she enjoys the conferences, she misses the days when conferences were small enough that you knew or could get to know everyone.

That got me to thinking. Is there an optimal size for a conference? I’m aware of the Dunbar number, which suggests that humans struggle with group sizes above 150, but unsure of that number’s veracity or whether it even applies here. I need to do more research.

I think there is something to the notion that above a certain size, gatherings like conferences feel impersonal, easy to drift through and get lost in without connecting. But what size is that? And large, comprehensive gatherings also have advantages: a message of unity, a sense of size and accomplishment, the ability to feature the best and most powerful speakers, the ability to potentially connect with anyone across the firm. How much better does the user experience have to be to make up for these losses? Are conferences-within-the-conference possible/desirable? Do more interactive courses help mitigate some of the isolating effects of huge conferences by helping make connections? In the scheme of things, is any of this worth worrying about? So many questions.

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