This weekend, I volunteered and attended the github conference (CodeConf). Overall, the conference was great: the food was great and the talks were fairly interesting. But most importantly, the people that attended the conference were interesting. Sitting down at lunch I would meet people from various backgrounds. I talked with people ranging from kernel developers all the way up to web developers. It was these conversations that really made the conference for me.
A presentation can be seen on Youtube and you can have the same experience as having seen it live, but you can't have a conversation with a video. The hard part of giving a talk is being concise, and to the point. Many of the presenters at the conference did just that, but others didn't. However, when you're talking to someone face-to-face you can guide them in the direction that interests you most. In a conversation you learn not about a topic that you may or may not find interesting. Instead, you can guide the conversation to a place that you would love to hear about.
Im not advocating that conference style presentations should be abolished, no. These presentations provide a central theme for conversations to revolve around, they make sure that the people attending have similar interests. When performed well, these presentations can even be more enlightening than a conversation. For example, the metrics presentation at CodeConf did just that. However, not all coders are great public speakers, and in this gap there is a ton of knowledge that needs to be spread.
I guess the moral of this post is: don't go to a conferences just to hear a guy speak, its not worth the money. Instead go to conferences to find people that don't speak, but have something to teach you.