During 2011 I’ve organized a couple of events, spoke at 5 or 6 and attended in total more than 20 in 8 different countries, big and small, including international conferences, seminars, meet-ups , gatherings and university lectures. Many are still playing it safe in an industry which is heavily influenced by outdated principles of the pre-internet era. The most fantastic ones, those that made it worth it to be there in flesh and bone, were those outliers that are challenging business as usual and creating new kinds of experiences that attract media , smart crowds and business dollars alike.
This report presents the eight most relevant trends from those events that are shaping the industry for better and how you can use them in your own conference. Consider it a Christmas present 🙂
Your vote can take me to SXSW! South by Southwest, the festival dedicated to music, film and interactive technology, gives the opportunity to members of the community to propose panel sessions that will be then exposed to a ponderated voting round by the staff (30% weight on the final decision), the board (40%) and the members themselves (30%).
Until recently, organizing a good event consisted in getting a room, a bunch of speakers and an audience. The scarcity of access to quality or updated content was enough a motivator to make people meet. Now, thanks to the Internet we are meeting (physically) more than ever, but our main drive has changed. The focus has moved to offering a remarkable experience. While content is still important, your event or conference has to also be useful, relevant and/or entertaining.
Event organizers have to bring new abilities to the room and concentrate in the crossroads of interaction design, psychology, technology and customer service. Do you still need a big screen? Do you need to have all the attendees or event the speakers in the same room to generate positive interaction? How important is it to have a functional venue, and iPhone app or offer basic commodities like Internet access, a cheap bag full of meaningless (for the attendee) SWAG or free coffee?
Together we’ll explore some of the challenges and possible solutions to organizing this new breed of events that embrace modern technology and create a new kind of experience.
My presentation aims to answer the following questions:
What has changed in the world of live events?
How can interaction and experience design be applied to live events?
Is content still the supreme driver in live events?
Which constrains from live events have changed and how should we address them?
How to apply technology (Internet, mobile, RFID, etc), social networking and other advancements to events?
Monique van Dusseldorp (web, twitter) has been working as programmer of seminars and conferences on creativity, innovation, ICT and future developments for the last 20 years, launching several successful events like Picnic and TEDxAmsterdam by bringing together international and Dutch audiences and speakers.
During the following video, Monique describes the changing nature of events and that people don’t longer need to go to events just to find information: they can find it anywhere and almost immediately. They attend to meet other people and that’s even more important than before, especially for those that sit behind a screen the whole day.
“Meeting other people makes them happy”.
A strong trend is also related to TEDx-like events where
“People want to go to get inspired and hear about things they are not involved with, that are new stories to them. There you have to find great stories but also great speakers… and most people are not great speakers”.
This kind of events are becoming (or should become) more of a theatre experience, a show.
“Those speakers are rock-stars, those events are performances like you have music or theatre performances”.
At industry or vertical events, it is important to gather those that can share the latest stories and, according Monique, even though you can find all the information online, having a room full of people to talk to brings out more information and makes it more easy to digest that information.
“In the events that I’m involved with what I try to do is that people know beforehand who the other delegates are”.
Attention to Details
“It’s more important now than ever to make people happy so that means: good food, nice location, etc. It doesn’t have to be expensive food or an expensive location. Someone has to put thought in what’s going to happen, it needs attention to detail”.
Attention to detail goes to everything, from the size of your badge, the letters of your name or how long do I have to stand in line to get a sandwich. The key point is to transmit to the attendees the feeling that the organizers care about all these details.
“As a program director my main task is to find the speakers and put it together and then I get on everybody’s nerves because I want to sort out details for all the other stuff […] The event needs endless fussing over details. That’s really big part of the event”.
Gary Vaynerchuck (or garyvee for short) is like a nuclear powered volcano with clear ideas: if you start him up on one topic he will erupt in honest, direct and rather colorful descriptions of what he thinks of it, and you will hardly be able to regain control of him. That is probably why so many people love him (and for the same reasons hate him). I was conquered by his blunt style and the real content he decorates with foul language. His speech at Le Web 2009 was no exception on this (will update this post with the official video as soon as it’ll be available) and he touched several sensitive points that have to do with conferences.
At a certain point Loic Le Meur, founder and main host of Le Web, told him that “[Le Web] is not a conference, it’s a community” to which Gary exploded with this remark “If this is a fucking community, why aren’t we doing Q&A?!” (referring to the fact that his presentation was structured as a talk with Loic on stage and there was no real/direct engagement with the audience). Of course his comment was followed by a powerful round of applause and cheers from the attendees.
I recently met Jeffrey Hayzlett, Chief Marketing Officer Worldwide for Eastman Kodak, at the 140Conf in London and we talked about his vision on The Future of Conferences. Jeffrey, who was one of the keynote speakers during PICNIC ’09, is the rare kind of corporate executive that has embraced social media into his regular business life while keeping his personality.
His main point during the interview is that the “digital experience” should embrace & enhance the “physical experience” of a conference or event: It is all about engagement, being a good performer and a good story teller… and practice, practice, practice.
What is your view on The Future of Conferences? Drop me a line to gian -at- conferencebasics -dot- com
Yesterday I met Peter van Lindonk, director of the PINC Conference during a workshop and I asked him for his vision on the Future of Conferences.
“The human size of conferences will be emphasized more and more and more […] the eye to eye, arm to arm, hand to hand meetings will be far more important” Peter van Lindonk
About the PINC Conference:
“PINC stands for People, Ideas, Nature, Creativity. These themes are the heartbeat of this unique conference held once a year in the Netherlands. An inspiring cascade of new ideas, great stories, and impressive visual presentations delivered by a superb selection of national and international speakers from every imaginable discipline. PINC is a truly extraordinary event. An opportunity to recharge your personal and business batteries.
The presentations are larded with exceptional, visual, theatrical and artistic intermezzo’s.”
The next edition, PINC.11, will take place on May 18th 2010 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
For more info on the PINC Conference visit the website or follow it on Twitter.
Following his series of videos started here, Robin Good further explores what in his opinion is going to be the future of conferences: engaged audiences and extended events.
Robin pitches two ideas for events to move from the classic (and rather obsolete) top-town broadcasting model, where the attendees are just a passive observer, to a participative model, where the audience is engaged and co-creates the conference (eg. by deciding which topics or speakers are more relevant). He calls these events “extended”, and the physical meeting is just a climax point someway in the center of the event’s time-line.
I met Bruce Sterling, famous science fiction author and media guru, last month in Turin (Italy) during a very interesting event; I Realize.
After his participation to a panel discussion on cities, movement and interaction, we talked about the future of conferences, Italy’s ability in pulling out big events and other interesting conferences like ARS Electronica in Linz and PICNIC in Amsterdam (which I now work for as marketing manager, but at the time of this interview was only just a possibility).
Bruce talks about how the near future of conferences lies more on events like Twitter meetups or Flash mob gatherings -with a strong interaction through social networks- that in the classical (boring, might I say?) meeting of audience vs. speakers. He also exemplifies Italian’s capability of organizing big events by pinpointing the Great Jubilee (better known as the Pope’s Jubilee) that took place in 2000.
Let me know what you opinion is on the future of conferences, and why not send me a short video on it!
I asked the famous online entrepreneur Robin Good from Master New Media his opinion on what is going to be the future of conferences.
In this first part he describes how a conference is going to be “extended”:
Starting way before the physical event (if there is one) and lasting a long time after the event is over. Successful events will leverage communication, collaboration, social media and networking not in a top down management style (by the organizers) but through crowdsourcing, engaging with participants before, during and after, combining remote and physical interaction.
The conversation and community build up should be made by everyone, not only by those on stage. The future is for those who want to study, research, experiment and develop this idea of extending the conference and organizers will have to create a dedicate team to build these experiences.