Every year, the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) has an annual meeting that covers all topics in microbiology (I'll talk about some of the science next week). It's often in pretty good locations--this year, it was held in San Diego. But attendance has been dropping: a few years ago, over 12,000 people attended (it's a big meeting), and this year, less than 9,000 people attended--which is one of the worst turnouts in memory (and San Diego is a nice place, although I still think Philly--yes, Philadelphia--was the best site they've ever chosen).
I've heard rumors that the format of the meeting is going to change, and that's probably a good thing.
As I see it, the meeting has several problems--and it's not that it's 'too big' (that's one of its strengths, as you run into colleagues you otherwise wouldn't see). First, there's no coherency to the program. Each section (subfield of study) sets its own symposium schedule without coordinating with other sections, leading to a lot of repetition and scheduling conflicts.
Second, I've always found that, due to the schedule, most of the talks I want to hear all occur at the same time. At this last meeting, my 'top six' talks all took place in the same hour (talks are for thirty minutes).
Third, the way posters are planned doesn't work well. Typically, all of the posters in a given topic are scheduled at the same time. This means that many of your colleagues are standing next to their posters and can't stop by yours (unless your poster sucks, but that's a different problem). Poster topics should be spread out over the three days*, so that presenters will, at least, be able to see two-thirds of the posters in their session.
Hopefully, ASM will fix these problems.
*ASM goes for three and a half days. The half-day session on the last day is poorly attended, especially when east-coasters have to fly from the West Coast. Get rid of it.
Sounds like the American Association for Cancer Research meeting, at least the last half day session. I had a poster once on the last day, an the exhibit and poster hall was like a ghost town...very demoralizing.
I agree with a lot of what you are saying - the poster sessions are too big and/or too short. If you want to talk to someone about their work, you have to plan ahead and track them down. I think they should add an poster session and make each one smaller, myself (like maybe 5-6:30, right after the talks). As far as the talks go, I like to go to them, but I personally like to go to things way outside my specialty, so I can learn about something totally off the wall- most people don't present the latest thing anyway (there are exceptions!), so if you are deep in the field it often isn't new. That, and the big retrospective talks or "big think" sessions, which can be fun. I also think the Thurs morning session should be cut. I suspect this year's attendance issues are just hangover from the bad economy, especially hitting academic institutions - not everyone has grant money for travel, a lot of people depend on university travel money, which has shrunk considerably. Even people with grant travel money are probably diverting it to more productive uses...
How was the attendence compared to previous meetings around san diego? poor bastards like me definitely can't attend the meetings when they're on the west coast every other year :p
I think that the easy availability of CE credits from online sources as well as the Web 2.0 savvy-ness of younger scientists also have created the decrease in Registration numbers (IMHO). I have been heavily involved in ASM branches (IL & NorCal) and have seen attendance at the Branch meetings stagnate and drop - even tho we try to get nationally recognized speakers - often times before the topic is reviewed at the National meeting.
I will echo the frustration over having too many talks coincide so that you can't get to them - esp. since most often they are spread out over a huge convention center. The decrease in Vendors exhibiting is also a bit vexxing. I have to admit that I couldn't afford to get downstate for the meeting, and have yet to hear from colleagues (other than you Mike) who attended.
The official attendence at ASM 2010in San Diego was only 6322! (Not including exhibitors and spousal guests).