What the Attendees Said:
A summary of the 2006 Alcor Conference survey results
By Steve Bridge
As at many conferences, participants were asked to fill out a survey to grade their experiences at the conference. 68 attendees did so, and the results show just how varied a gathering this was. (A note on the vagaries of conference surveys: this also means than more than half of the attendees did not turn in a survey. We can guess that their answers might have been similar; but they also might have been so excited about their weekend that they didn’t think to fill out the form — or so unhappy with their experiences that they couldn’t bear to fill out the form.)
On the first question, “What was your primary reason for attending?” many people gave more than one response. 47 said “Speakers/Program,” 38 said to “Meet Alcor Members”, and 30 said either to “Meet Alcor Staff” or “Tour of Alcor.” At least one person was there to do research for a possible documentary film, while another was there to promote her new book.
The highest rated aspects of the conference were the “Speaker Presentations” and the “Conference Location”. 42 people said each was Excellent and nearly all of the rest listed them as Good. The “Q&A sessions,” “Overall Program,” “Conference Registration,” and “Staff/Customer Service” were also highly rated. The worst-rated aspect of the Conference by far was the category of “Conference Meals.” About half of the attendees rated the meals as Average, Fair, or Poor. One of the biggest complaints was not enough choices for vegetarians.
The real spread in opinions was on the speaker presentations. People were asked to list their favorite and least favorite sessions (and “Reasons why”). Brian Wowk’s talk on cryobiology research and its connection to cryonics was the leader with 19 people calling it their favorite session and only 1 person voting it for their least favorite. Ralph Merkle was the next most favored, with 17 people placing it first and only 1 person rating it at the bottom. Aubrey de Grey had 13 votes for favorite and 0 votes for least favorite. To show the variety of people in the audience, cryobiologist Gregory Fahy had 9 votes for favorite with comments like “Interesting, ” “encouraging,” and “relevant.” But he also had three votes for least favorite, primarily because they thought it was “too deep.” The futuristic talks of Robert Freitas, David Friedman, and J. Storrs Hall produced strong reactions both positive and negative. It seems that many people prefer the future speculation presentations; while a different sort of attendee may think these presentations are “too hypothetical, ” “too far out,” or “too technical.”
It may always be a problem to provide a variety of speakers that present a balance for the different audience members. And since the majority of responders said that “Speaker Presentations” were the primary reason they came, it seems obvious that your advertised list of speakers will greatly affect which individuals decide that your conference is the one they attend this year.
The recommendations for topics and speakers at future conferences also reflect the wide variety of interests represented at this conference. Several people suggested Ray Kurzweil and Eric Drexler, excellent speakers who have each spoken at previous Alcor conferences, but who are not primarily noted for their focus on cryonics (although Drexler has sometimes oriented his talks that way). Other requested speakers include cryonics physician and researcher Steven Harris, life extension speaker Kat Cotter, cell biologist Michael West, and Steve Bridge (thank you!).
I will quote many of the suggested topics:
— Latest progress/results;
— Plans for overseas training/facilities;
— Summary of recent cryonics history;
— A speaker about whether healthy living affects the quality of the cryopreservation;
— A speaker on life extension in terms of self care, health eating, exercise, and additional approaches (mentioned by several people)
— Talk about wealth preservation trust again;
— Continue to include non-science aspects (i.e., public policy, economics);
— Continue offering updates on cryobiology and include layperson review;
— Offer more up-to-the-minute information and less background material;
— Consider inviting a cryobiologist to debate with Wowk;
— Discuss incentives for others to revive cryopreserved patients;
— Discuss pros/cons of non-profit versus for-profit;
— Discuss protection for cryopreserved patients via third parties;
— Do a life insurance presentation;
— Explain what members can do if another member dies; Discuss end of life decisions;
— Discuss tissue regeneration;
— Discuss funding of Alcor, cryopreservation costs;
— Hold a discussion about neuro versus whole body;
— Need more info for non-US residents (e.g., standby);
— Ask repeat presenters to include new material.
There were many suggestions for “Areas to improve”; but they were very specific suggestions and not easily generalized, such as organizational and scheduling details, increasing the font on the name badges, more announcements needed before the presentations, etc. Most of these were sharp, useful suggestions and Alcor’s staff will be including them in the planning process for the next conference. One important observation by several people is that there weren’t enough opportunities for the attendees to meet and interact with Alcor staff — partly, in my observation, because they were so busy running the Conference that they didn’t have enough time for the important greeting functions. It is easy to forget in the hectic work of handling all of the (mostly hidden) emergencies that pop-up during the weekend that a large number of the attendees came specifically to meet the staff. I will help the staff look at various ways to handle that more smoothly next year.
When asked what was “the most beneficial aspect” of the Conference, the attendees listed these:
— Building relationships and meeting members/people (this was mentioned many, many times);
— Talking to others who share views;
— Knowledge/info on Cryonics;
— Learning about research; Discussion of technical advances and industry progress
— Discussion of Preservation Trust;
— Speeches appealing to general public;
— Open discussion of ideas;
— Good to keep doors from slamming;
— Professionalism of speakers;
— Feel more hopeful cryonics will work;
— Enough time for Q&A;
— Ability to visit Alcor
Finally, when asked if they would be interested in attending future Alcor conferences, 59 respondents said “Yes,” with 9 people not responding or answering “Uncertain.” No one said “No.” That sounds like a pretty successful Conference to me.