The Emerging Conference


Thanks for your post, and I agree with everything that you said about conferences. I really like what you said about the emerging conference as a “gathering of the tribe.”

It also occurs to me that your four points might be leading us toward more and smaller conference events. Large formal conferences are obviously not going to disappear in the next year, but we might see a continued growth of events like HREvolution, TalentNet Live, Brand Camp, Secret School of Business, etc. It seems to me that larger conferences are hard pressed to accomplish the things that you are talking about, with SxSW as one of the glaring exceptions…possibly.

Smaller events would seem to make it easier to focus on (and possibly be driven by) the tribe, obsess about the experience and make it more interactive and more affordable.

Smaller events also make it easier to get out of those awful, square and sterile conference spaces that we keep putting people in. If we are really going to be about experience design, the look and feel and vibe and smell and sound of the space has got to be a primary concern. Putting people in an art gallery, a children’s museum or a zoo for a couple of days truly puts them in a different place for rubbing their brains together. You can feel the difference.

I also think that social technology provides nearly countless ways to connect and engage the tribe before, during and after a conference…regardless the size of the event. I do not see a lot of events seriously pursuing that potential yet, but it might be that event planning teams need to add some additional capacity to their teams.

I personally, need some variety and am a fan of events that mix it up with their format. For example, I love it when conferences include some Ignite type presentations or some opens space sessions, I think there are multiple benefits to this. I think that open space is a big part of the future of conferences. I also like it when conferences have longer, more intense “deep dives” of 3-4 hours available.

And, I appreciate some mixing it up with speakers as well. With a few exceptions, I do not see a lot of risk taking here. It seems like everyone has to know you and your message for you to get on a big keynote stage…which means by the time you get on a big keynote stage, everyone already knows what you are going to say. Which does not make a whole lot of sense to me.

You can have some fan favorites, and some big names, but I think it is also important to put some new voices on that stage. I think it is important to bring people from outside your industry and I think that there continues to be a stunning lack of diversity on most conference agendas. More experimentation and risk taking is needed with format and agenda.

Like you, I have always liked conferences. And like you, I am needing them to evolve. There is obviously some evolution already underway and it is exciting to think about what the next couple of years will bring.



  1. I agree that the new conferences are a breath of fresh air, but I think there is plenty of room right now for both them and the “traditional” conferences. Plus there are some out here trying to change the traditional model for the better but it is kind of like trying to turn a battleship on a dime.

    Keep up the crusade.

  2. John-
    Thanks for reading and commenting. Completely agree, and I think that one of the points that I did not clearly make in this post is that these characteristics are not just showing up in new events, they are also showing up in existing events that are willing and able to experiment and evolve. Your conference for example, is not new, but you do a great job bringing together an eclectic group of speakers, you use some unique space, you have been willing to put new voices on your big stage, etc. We got to a lot of shows last year, yours was one of our favorites and part of it because you are embracing and rolling with the changing times. Keep on keeping on.

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