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The SharePoint Conferences You Should Attend

Where to go to learn SharePoint, meet SharePoint devs and admins, and hear the latest

“Which SharePoint Conference should I attend?” I get this question so many times that I thought this definitely deserves addressing.

As part of my job, I continue to visit and present at numerous conferences every year. While I don’t think that this makes me an expert at SharePoint conferences, I do have a perspective that I can share with folks who are looking to evaluate the choices out there.

Why Attend a SharePoint Conference?
These days, training and travel budgets are limited. You truly have to convince yourself (and your boss) that it’s going to be worth the time and money to attend a conference. If your company is focused on SharePoint or is evaluating SharePoint as a critical component of your business, it will definitely serve you well to look into attending a conference with SharePoint content.

However, don't substitute training with attending a conference. Conferences are great for getting a feel for a variety of subjects in bite-sized sessions (60-75 minutes each) over a short, two-to-three-day period. Still, when you're ready to dive into a subject, it’s always good to get some real hands-on experience either training on your own with books and video tutorials or by attending a focused training session. It’s hard to beat these modes of learning.

Which SharePoint-Related Conferences Offer the Biggest Bang for the Buck?
I have listed below several conferences and some subjective information about each conference. I hope this helps you when you are deciding on which SharePoint conference to attend.

The Microsoft SharePoint Conference. If you can go to only one SharePoint conference, this is the one you want to attend. It's hosted by Microsoft and usually draws thousands of people to it. The presenters are people from the SharePoint product group, SharePoint experts, and SharePoint MVPs who have been working with the product for many many years. The next Microsoft SharePoint conference is in October 2011.

SharePoint Connections. SharePoint Connections is one of my favorite conferences to attend, and I've been going since 2006. They always provide a variety of tracks for all types of audiences – IT pro, developer, business user. The presenters at this conference include Microsoft folks as well as SharePoint experts in the field. SharePoint Connections is held twice a year in the United States (in Las Vegas and in Orlando) and focuses its content on SharePoint 2010.

Recently SharePoint Connections expanded to offer sessions in a variety of U.S. cities  (SharePoint Connections Coast-to-Coast) and also internationally ( Germany and UK). If you are planning to attend the SharePoint Connections Coast-to-Coast conference, there's a coupon code that will save you $50 off the cost. Use the coupon code Rehmani to get this discount.

SPTechCon. The SPTechCon is held twice a year in the US. Usually, the venues are in Boston and San Francisco. Audiences this event is aimed at include IT pro, developers and business users. The presenters at this conference are primarily experts in the SharePoint field. The focus of the content is specifically on SharePoint 2007 and 2010.

Best Practices Conference. The main charter of the Best Practices Conference is to have presentations that focus on not just "How to," but "How best to" and also "What not to" do. The presenters at this conference are SharePoint experts. This conference is usually held twice a year: in DC and in San Diego. There is also a European-flavored SharePoint Conference that takes place in the UK every year.

Microsoft TechEd. This event is one of the biggest that Microsoft arranges every year. It covers all different Microsoft technologies and members of the various product teams attend. TechEd is not heavy on SharePoint sessions, especially since Microsoft now produces the SharePoint Conference as well.

SharePoint Saturday. These are free events that take place around the world. The basic premise is to have a local event for the community that's free. Many presenters are local as well. In addition, some presenters travel great distances on their own dime to present at SharePoint Saturday.

SharePoint User Groups. Definitely check out and find the SharePoint User Group in your city. There are many good ones. A charter for a well-run SharePoint User Group is to serve the users (usually for free) with monthly or bi-monthly events focused on all aspects of SharePoint. Usually, there are a couple of presentations at each meeting with lots of interaction with the audience. (Caution: Over time, some SharePoint user groups have been taken over by local training or consulting companies, unfortunately, which has shifted the focus to serve more as a lead generation for these companies rather than a true SharePoint community gathering. Check out the user group’s site for these signs before visiting.)

SharePoint Virtual Conferences. In addition to in-person SharePoint conferences, there are also virtual SharePoint conferences and presentations held year round. There are too many to mention here. However, doing a simple search on ‘SharePoint virtual conference’ brings up several of them. More often than not, these are hosted by either SharePoint training or consulting companies. Also, various in-person conference organizers host the virtual conferences as well.

[Editor's note: I think we'd be remiss if we didn't mention that our own SharePoint Pro magazine authors are often featured at various virtual conferences run by the dynamic team sharing our offices. An example of one such virtual event is the upcoming "Cloudy with a Chance of SharePoint," which includes Todd Baginski and Michael Noel. To learn more about Penton Media's virtual events, click here.)]

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