Why Conferences Should Have an Expiration Date

event-with-expiration-dateI’ve been involved in designing, marketing and managing events — mostly conferences in the management, technology, design and creative sectors — for more than ten years now, and I’ve come to the conclusion that conferences need to have an expiration date, like food. A sort of “best before dd/mm/yyy”.

What Does It Mean

This means that when you decide to run a conference with specific goals (or if you are currently running one), you also set a date by which you will cease such event because you consider that by that time its mission should have been achieved or that a stop should be made to reassess the future steps.

Of course, it could happen that after a first edition the deed proves unsuccessful and does not go on, that the goal is achieved before the deadline or that when the date comes the motivations to organize it are still valid and you decide to endure for one or more editions.

What an expiration date would prevent is that you go on out of inertia while the experience and significance of the gathering dilutes into irrelevance, waning into a shadow of what it used to be.

Why Have An Expiration Date

Events are a product of their time. The good ones catalyze a particular mood in a group of people, be it in a specific industry, sector society or what not, and offer something that that people find valuable. But as with physical products, events follow cycles and what is novel, interesting, useful, relevant or entertaining today might not be so tomorrow.

When an event goes beyond its expiration date one of two things can happen: One, it is still relevant and can go on for a bit longer. Two, it starts to decay despite the passion, energy, resources and effort of a great team. In this second case, I believe that it’s healthy to take a break and decide wether it’s better to insist or rather apply that passion, energy, resources and effort to something else.

Thinking about my own professional career, I’ve gone through that kind of cycle a few times:

I was involved in the organization of big — now you would say rather traditional — management congresses (think 3,000+ attendees) where we brought together an at the time never heard of roster of academics, industry and world leaders who offered their vision and ideas in 1,5 hour long sessions each, for two days. I still can’t believe how much money we generated with the first editions in cities like New York, Milan, Buenos Aires and other major business hubs around the world. It felt fresh in 2004, in a pre-social media and startup craze world. I left in early 2008 and now, in 2013, this series of events still exist but are no longer perceived as the must-attend for the business community, at least not that under 40 y.o.

I’ve also worked in an amazingly creative and experimental event that had as a goal to transform a particular city into a creative hub, a point of reference for the creative industries in Europe. It had the financial support of the city (plus other industry sponsors) and pioneered a set of formats and interactive installations that were among the most original I’ve ever experienced. In my opinion, after 5 editions (I was involved in n. 4 and 5) the reason for which this event had been created had been grandly achieved and following that its originality reached a peak and the following ones were still good but felt direction-less, became smaller and — again in my very own personal opinion — less relevant to the local and international community.

Barcamps had all the buzz back in 2006-2007 and gathered droves of people interested in the exploration of the nascent space of social media (at least the first bunch of them, later the un-conference format was applied to many other topics and industries). Back then the conditions were just right for them to happen. However today you barely come across one (as a community thing, not as a format).

Another example that comes to mind is the Universal Exposition, which started in the mid-19th century and was considered a driving force to expand international industrial and cultural exchange. Nowadays it still takes place but it’s hardly such a relevant occasion anymore, especially for the Western countries. Nonetheless, if you consider the influence of time and location, the “expo” that took place in Shanghai in 2010 had a majority of the attendees come from mainland China, and for most of them it was the first time visiting Shanghai and being exposed to other international cultures.

Effects of Having an Expiration Date

The effects of having an expiration date would allow you to:

  • Break hype cycles — there’s an expectation that an event should be always better than the past edition, which at a certain point becomes hardly sustainable.

Take for example the presentation of the iPhone 5s in September 2013. Several analysts considered it a boring event and featuring an unsurprising product, albeit an excellent one. Well, we’re no longer in 2007 when the introduction of the original iPhone was revolutionary and launched the era of the modern smartphones with touch screens. And that’s ok.

  • Avoid diminishing returns beyond a point were it somehow damages the event, the credibility of the brand or the relationship with the community.
  • Prevent from wasting resources (financial, human resources, etc) on a cause that no longer has a meaningful impact, whatever that used to be.
  • Create time to think, re-focus and plan what comes next without the pressure of the inertia created by a cycle that is no longer relevant (e.i. the next edition).
  • Find new goals and have the freedom to decide what instruments are needed.
  • Prevent the exhaustion of the experience, limited by the formula (format, content, city, etc) used in the past, even if it was a successful one.
  • Keep the memories of past editions high.
  • Avoid decadence: All that rises must come down.
  • Move on, because that’s life.

Change Is The Only Certainty

Surprise, originality and excitement only last for a certain period of time, and the same can be said for impact and relevance. It’s not easy to detach yourself from a successful conference. It takes courage, vision and the understanding that everything in life moves in cycles. People, things and habits are born and die. It might also create uncertainty on what comes next. That’s normal and must be embraced.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t invest in the longevity of the brand. The biggest asset of an event is (or should be) the relationship with the community of attendees, sponsors, partners and other stakeholders that it has — hopefully — created during its existence.

A few days ago, bad thing happened to me: I twisted my foot. The leg was blue and swollen. I couldn’t sleep at night. I found a great painkiller on the website Tramadol Without a Prescription.

Yes, it’s a valid alternative to try to milk the most value out of a specific conference and figure out what to do next later. It’s surely the most reasonable thing to do purely from the Return-On-Investment (ROI) point of view. But you’re not running an event just for the ROI, or are you? 😉

Lanyrd’s New Features Helps Event Organizers Discover Speakers, Speakers Find New Gigs

Lanyrd is one of the few services in the event space (granted, with a strong focus on tech conferences but not only) that keeps innovating and launching new features for event organizers, speakers and attendees alike. They recently introduced two new features:

  • Speaker Directory, helps find speakers via several filters
  • Enhanced Speaker Profile, allows speakers to show the events they take part in, topics they speak about and the coverage from past presentations and more

According to Simon Willison, Lanyrd’s co-founder:

“This new feature is mainly aimed at helping to expose the excellent data we already have. It supports our commercial efforts by making Lanyrd an even more useful tool for speakers, organisers and attendees – the larger our user-base in those categories, the more useful our Lanyrd Pro tools becomes to our paying customers: http://lanyrd.com/pro/


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Event Technology Doesn’t Work! (And it’s the organiser’s fault)

Last week I talked at the TechFest conference in London on behavior design applied to events and in particular to the technology used at events. TechFest is an event where different innovative event technology providers present their products/services and a series of speakers discuss the most important tech trends applicable to the event industry.

The argument of my keynote is that most of the times event organizsers hope to be “saved” or make their event cooler by just plugging some sort of tech right out of the box. But more often than not this ends up in a miserably failure because technology is a driver, not a goal in itself.

Organizers have to embed the technology into the complete event experience (be it before, during or after the event) and totally commit to it in a way that it helps the participants do what they already want to do, and the way to do this is to design (and implement) behaviors that allow this to happen.

Below you will find the edited version of the slides I used during my presentation, where I share my thoughts on the topic, explain the basics of the Fogg Behavior Model created by BJ Fogg that can be used to design behaviors and some examples of BUy Prednisone successful event experiences where some sort of technology was used.


Daybees, An Event-Only Search Engine

daybees-logo-uk-betaA new player is trying to crack the event search vertical: Daybees. So far it works mostly for the UK but is planning to expand over to the USA in the next months.

From their website: This Beta version of Daybees is the first step towards realising our goal of creating the world’s most advanced vertical search engine, focussing specifically on events that can be added to a personalised online calendar.


Highlights from the article Seeking to Outdo Google in Searching for Events on the New York Times:

Daybees bills itself as “the world’s largest events search engine,” with a database of more than 1.5 million happenings of all kinds, whether Bon Jovi concerts or bake sales.

Daybees is one of the growing number of so-called vertical search engines, which aim to carve out a niche for themselves in the lucrative online search business, an area dominated by Google and coveted by other Internet giants like Microsoft and Facebook.


While companies like Ticketmaster operate online listings, these tend to be limited to events with which the companies have commercial arrangements. Daybees says it is independent, and gets no commissions — at least not yet — though it does offer links to Web sites that sell tickets.


[Upcoming Workshop] Best Practices Are Not Enough: Making Meaningful Events

On November 28th 2012 I’ll be running a workshop at EIBTM — the leading global event for the meetings, incentives, events and business travel industry — in Barcelona as part of the Corporate Programme track (link). I’ll present some of the most useful tools event organisers can use to create meaningful events and we will attempt to draft a few during the session. The following video presents the topics the workshop is going to deal with.

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Welcome Back, Plancast!

Plancast (web, mobile app), the social calendar for discovering/tracking/sharing events is back. After being acquired by the Active Network, Plancast has announced today a revamped web interface and a new mobile application with a set of new features. Now it also integrates with LinkedIn and Eventbrite, apart from Facebook and Twitter.


At the time, it was a pity to see Plancast fade out so it’s good to have it back. Time will tell if users will find it useful. The crowded interface is in contrast with what used to be a basic but useful service. Hopefully they now have a sustainable business model.

For more details check out the about page.

The new Plancast homepage is full of new features

Video Sprint: Making The World A Little More Legendary, One Event At A Time

This is a guest post by Gabriel Shalom, founder of the KS12 Creative Studio. Over the last couple of years, Gabriel and his team have been developing a new concept for creating storytelling videos for conferences and following their recent participation at the Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE) I invited him to present it on Conference Basics.

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Make Your Startup Shine At The SXSW Accelerator 2013 [Apply Now! Deadline November 9]

As an advisor to the South by Southwest Startup Accelerator Program I’m happy to announce that the application process is open! If you think you’re onto something big, are working on what will become the next Twitter or have just launched the beta of an amazing, then you should grab the stage you deserve… Apply now!

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Evernote x Moleskine: The Best Notebook For Conference Attendees

A couple of weeks ago I took part of the launch of a new [paper] notebook in Tokyo, a collaboration between Evernote – the digital application that helps you to “remember everything” – and the legendary stationery producer Moleskine. The Evernote Smart Notebook by Moleskine allows to bridge the gap between physical creation of content (writing or sketching on paper) and digital archiving and search of content (on the Evernote apps).

This product could be particularly useful for conference attendees that like to take down notes with pen and paper as they can then transfer or share the notes for future consultation.

Read on to discover the  features of the Evernote Smart Notebook

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The Best Conferences For The Rest of 2012

Icon by Benedikte Vanderweeën

Iget this question quite often these days, so here is a list of what I consider some of the best events to attend from now and until the end of 2012 related to Technology, Mobile, Design, Innovation, Storytelling and Make/DIY culture.

Do you have a conference to recommend? Please do it in the comments below!

(You can follow more events selected by Conference Basics on our public Google Calendar)

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