When we get together with others, even at a weekly meeting, it either works, or it doesn't. For me, it works:
…If everything is on the line, if in any given moment, someone is going to say or do something that might just change everything. Something that happens in the moment and can't possibly be the same if you hear about it later. It might even be you who speaks up, stands up and makes a difference. (At most events, you can predict precisely what's going to be said, and by whom). In the digital age, if I can get the notes or the video later, I will.
…If there's vulnerability and openness and connection. If it's likely you'll meet someone (or many someones) that will stick with you for years to come, who will share their dreams and their fears while they listen to and understand yours. (At most events, people are on high alert, clenched and protective. Like a cocktail party where no one is drinking.)
…If there's support. If the people you meet have high expectations for you and your work and your mission, but even better, if they give you a foundation and support to go even further. (At most events, competitiveness born from insecurity trumps mutual support.)
…If it's part of a movement. If every day is a building block on the way to something important, and if the attendees are part of a tribe that goes beyond demographics or professional affiliation. (At most events, it's just the next event).
The first law of screenwriting is that the hero of a great movie is transformed during the arc of the story. That's the goal of a great conference, as well. But it's difficult indeed, because there are so many heroes, all thinking they have too much to lose.