We bumped into a friend on our way home from a conference last week. His reaction to how we just spent our two days was: - Conferences are a waste of time and I don’t get any work done while attending. This quickly turned into an argument since we just had one of our better conference experiences in years. Let us tell you why we think the traditional conference formats are a dying breed.
A top-notch conference has many components that have to be planned and executed with lots of attention to the details: Venue and setup, Speaker lineup, Non speaker sessions, food and drink logistics and hopefully and interesting group of participants. But this is just the very basics, in order to deliver a fresh conference experience to a seasoned and critical crowd you need tons of creativity in the planning phase and an innovative attitude throughout the process. We have seen this approach in some conferences we have worked on lately. Namely: Generator, Next Generation Meetings and now the Conference (yes that is it’s name).
The event in question is produced by Media Evolution and is marketed as the annual media industry meet-up in southern Sweden with the tag line. “The Conference puts you right in the flow of the present media evolution and points an inspiring finger into the future”. Naturally all conferences draw their own special crowd. In this case around 600 participants with a mix of media professionals (lots and lots of these guys), twitter maniacs, media buyers and entrepreneurs. The tree themes running through the two conference days where: Who´s next?, Man & Machine and Creation. All in all the setup and lineup looked good going in.
The first day opened with Paola Antonelli, senior curator at Museum of Modern Art in New York, she shared some success stories on their latest exhibitions. Followed by how China consumed media by Kevin Lee from China Youthology. Before lunch we also managed to squeez in a session on the current media development in Africa. With millisecond news and twitter feeds, ted.com and other great sources it’s hard to find something totally “new” in a conferences session. But going to lunch four hours into the event our heads head where buzzing with new input.
Kevin Lee´s talk on Chinese media consumption
The afternoon was equally interesting with a great keynote on Cyborgs from Amber Case from geoloqi.com. Then quickly onwards to another session on future digital experiences followed by one on Augmented Reality. Running in parallel with all the sessions was an app competition with five programing teams from different organizations competing for a preload on the RIM Playbook. So far we have not mentioned the breaks and all the quick meet and greet moment that occurred there. Good crowd with participants from mainly Swedish companies but also people from MIT and the New York Times.
Day two started with the day’s first keynote speaker, Bill Drummond, shining shoes for free at the entrance, quirky stunt and the big conversation topic during morning coffee. Best sessions of the day was, New business opportunities with disruptive thinking by Luke Williams (Innovation professor, not the boring kind) and Naveen Selvadurai (co-founder of Foursquare). Funding creativity with the crowd, by Simon Close (Pirate Bay Documentary) among others. And finally the big number of the day was the closing keynote given by Riyaad Minty, head of Al Jazeeras social media department. He gave an emotional and personal performance sharing his recipe on how news organizations can leverage social media.
Riyaad Mintys talk on Al Jazeeras social media strategy
So, is it ok to be that guy that thinks conferences are just a waste of time? We don’t think so, be smart instead, critical and picky (really picky) when choosing what conference to attend, or not attend. It might just be your best time investment this year.