Seth Godin has been somewhat of an invisible mentor to UC through the years; and every now and again, he (borderline spookily) speaks directly to us.
“The cost of in-sync time, real-time interaction time, that’s time that we don’t get again.
Time is priceless. But the moments when we have a chance to connect, to be in sync, to bring out the best in each other – that’s time that’s worth cherishing.
Don’t waste it if you can. Treat it like avocado time.” - Seth Godin
It's long past time to start asking ourselves - why are we hosting conferences, really?
Conferences are expensive. They're time consuming. They're exhausting.
And yet, so many are organised without clear outcomes. Meaning all that money, time and effort is, in effect, wasted.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it's that the format of your conference - in-person or virtual - doesn't matter. It's what it’s looking to achieve and actually accomplishes that does.
In every instance we should be asking: what’s the opportunity here in bringing all these people together? We’d argue it’s…
- NOT to sit and passively listen
- NOT to just nod and maybe jot down a note or two
- NOT to walk away with a nice buzz from the networking drinks (when we can again)
A conference isn’t just another event. The power of conferences lies in their interactivity and serendipity. Active participation is what makes the difference. Perfecting plans around how the event will look and what user experience will be are worthless, if participants aren't gaining something from being present.
So to cut right to the chase: if you're planning something that involves an 'expert' sharing their thoughts on a matter, you probably don't need to bother with a conference. You need a recording and a database to send it to.
Which begs the question, why host events at all?
To our mind, events are a precious opportunity to gather a community (and we use that term very broadly) to discuss, debate, decide and DO something. Anything that creates change in some form. Which is needed more than ever, as we exit one of the most tumultuous periods in recent history.
And the reality of this is starting to sink in, driven by a number of forces:
First up, zoom fatigue. Everyone is sick of joining pointless virtual meetings let alone boring conferences that over promise and rarely live up to expectations. But the problem isn't the platform. It's just that they aren't designed properly. It’s clear that too many hosts aren’t thinking about the power that virtual offers and are still applying their knowledge of in-person. And this is damaging the perception of all gatherings, conferences or otherwise.
Secondly, business travel as we know it has likely changed. If the initial evidence is any indication of the future, the days of jetting off halfway across the world to sit at a conference with a bunch of people staring at PowerPoints delivered by ‘experts’ are over. We're all now very comfortable consuming such information at home, in our own time, in our PJs thank you very much.
Thirdly, the bar has been raised. This is an unintended consequence of the 'abundance' that everyone experienced from being invited to (and able to join) events and conferences they were previously not able to. But many of them have been disappointing. Meaning the novelty has worn off. We now need to go above and beyond to even capture attention, let alone persuade someone to join.
The upshot of all this is: if your conference hasn't got a clear purpose that fits with a real need, as well as a tangible outcome that a participant will walk away with, we fear there will be tough times ahead.
But you know what? In a weird way we're happy about such a scenario. Conferences in particular, and events more broadly, are now being seen as the precious resource they are. Meaning hosts are finally paying more attention to what the gathering is for, and participants are demanding something other than a boring PPT fest.
They are demanding their time be treated like avocado time 🥑