What makes a successful conference?

Although it never seems to actually go away – conference season is now upon us in earnest.

I’ve been to quite a lot this year; as a delegate, a speaker, an exhibitor, workshop holder, documenter and in a capacity it’s hard to capture in a single word, but which I’ll explain more later.

Perhaps I’m in the minority – but I love a conference. There are few better ways to get a feeling for the zeitgeist of any particular sector than attending an event that brings together it’s population and proponents. The variance in mood and tone is fascinating, sometimes there’s a feeling, almost of shyness, that the last thing any of these people really want to do is talk to another human – conversely some events resemble an overpowering, heaving souk. Even the differences in the language people use is very telling.

So, what makes a GOOD conference ? I’m sure it’s subjective to some degree, but here are my criteria : –

  • Be specific, and have a clear title reflecting who it’s for
  • Quality of speakers is imperative
  • Choose an interesting, easy to access, human-friendly venue
  • Be well organised – send reminders and any changes to schedule promptly
  • Make the trip attractive – include links to help with transport and accommodation
  • Don’t underestimate the power of environment – see Nicola’s blog on May 14th
  • Use your imagination – with so many conferences around, find a way to make yours stand out from the crowd
  • Help people to make the most of the event

. . . which leads me to the role I mentioned earlier.

Loads of people who attend conferences do so not just to acquire or sell information and product, they also want to network . . . everyone knows this, networking events abound, there are plenty of resources offering hints on how to network – but how many conferences really help successful networking happen?

changing cultures were asked to fill this exact role for the Creative PIE event at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry, organised by ‘creative enterprise’. Using a combination of pre-event activity on the web, environmental installation and hands-on facilitation, we created an atmosphere which led to some of the most organic, comfortable and productive networking we’ve ever witnessed.

It wasn’t just that our suggested liaisons ( or PIE/Matches as we thematically named them) gave delegates a starting point for their networking activity, it was that our light-touch framing of that activity took away the edge of awkwardness or reluctance which can sometimes scupper these valuable opportunities.

As a result, the whole day had an air of community and generated oodles of positive ways to move productively forward – as well as being much more fun than is usual in the circumstances.

So here’s hoping you have a successful conference season, and don’t be afraid to lift your event experience out of the ordinary . . .  whether you’re an organiser or a delegate!

Photo by jameswallman

Nikky
nikky@changingcultures.org

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