Thinking Digital does the conference model really well. It’s a humane accessible version of TED. Small enough to be friendly, big enough to attract the innovators looking for and sharing new ideas.
The Do Lectures do something amazing between a campfire chat and an intimate mini festival. It’s still the most amazing ticketed event I’ve been to and I feel would be extremely difficult to emulate if you were ‘in it for the money’.
SXSW Interactive calls itself a festival but feels to me like the bloated physical manifestation of Facebook. I love the festival model but when it grows for the sole intention to create more profit it becomes monstrously corporate at the expense of heart and soul. If it’s participants can’t see the added value because nothing stands out as amazing on a menu of mediocre. Then it’s just a shanty town of billboards, populated by the bewildered.
If I was going to create something right now, I’d do something similar to the Elevate festival. Set in Graz, Austria, events were ran in all kinds of places from community spaces to the caverns of a hollowed out mountain.
It would start after a lazy breakfast, late enough for conversations and epicurean enjoyment of a shared meal. With more panels than stand up speakers, the audience could see who could talk around their field and not just about their field. A hefty chunk of panel time was given to the floor with statements encouraged as much as questions. The audience switching effortlessly from voyeur to participant.
After the political, environmental & musical discourse came the DJ’s and bands filling laser lit carved rock walls inside the mountain. The music, conversations and partying continued till dawn.
Once again the spaces either side of the timetabled events held immense value. The panels and talks merely catalysing the social side.
We naturally connect with those around us. It doesn’t need to be timetabled in. In fact some people loath the pressured expectation that in between sips of coffee you will be reciting your LinkedIn profile to whomever you can corner or collar in those precious 15 minutes.
I’m not saying the conference model is dead, I just think there is room for more of the intimate festival feel. Less herding from room to room, more of a flow around the attractions.
If you’re looking at assembling a quick and easy gathering of people in order to impart information in a day, then maybe the standard conference model is still for you. Although longevity in the conversations and connections is where I feel value lies.
If you want the ideas planted in the panels and talks to germinate within in your participants minds, let them socialise organically. Take the time to make the space.
Why have a flash of inspiration when it can strobe.