I did some thinking overnight about an offhand comment exchange with friend and reader Shivan Lane. I've been thinking for years about doing some kind of conference (perhaps under the heading of a Rational Review News Digest reader event, or maybe some other hook). Now I'm thinking about it again. Here's what it would look like. Let me know in comments if you find the idea interesting ...
First, the event would take place in a city that's fairly cheap to travel to from most of the US, and in an area of the city that's fairly close to the airport, and at a hotel that doesn't break the bank (e.g. a place that charges less than $100 a night for a decent room, almost certainly includes breakfast -- and by all that is holy DEFINITELY includes wi-fi -- in that cost, and is connected to the airport by "free" shuttle or local mass transit). The first three cities that came to my mind were: Atlanta, Jacksonville and Orlando. Two reasons for that: They're fairly near me, and their decent climates would likely be good breaks for people from up north if the conference was held during the winter.
Secondly, the event itself would be inexpensive (ticket cost as close to zero as possible and certainly not more than $100) because the attendees themselves would be the speakers and entertainers. Each day would -- in my tentative plan -- be split into three parts.
Part one: Event panels in which randomly selected panelists would discuss randomly selected issues (with plenty of Q/A and audience participation). Yes, what it sounds like: There's a jar full of pieces of paper with issues written on them. There's a jar full of pieces of paper with attendees' names on them. The MC draws three names and one issues out of the jars -- "Alice, Bob and Charles, you're going to talk about last week's Supreme Court ruling on abortion. Panel starts at [time], see you then." [The idea here is that panelists have some time to get online and brush up while events before theirs are happening.]
Part two: A lectern/podium/soapbox series. Anyone who wants to talk (or sing, or dance, or whatever -- paging James Weeks!) signs up on a schedule for a 15-minute time segment and gets to go to town. Segments every half hour to allow for slight over-runs and Q&A times.
Part three: Social. The venue will need bars/restaurants either in-house or VERY nearby. Karaoke, anyone? Bonus for these venues not being bank-breakers as well. Family-type buffets (pizza, Chinese food) and that sort of thing.
Maybe a Friday noonish to Sunday noonish event with a "social hour" each of the two evenings and alternating hours of panels/soapboxing on Friday afternoon, all day Saturday, and Sunday morning?