From Conference to Festival

We got the same question a few times after our soft launch. It ran something like: “What’s the deal with this ‘festival?’ Why are you changing…is it even a real change?”

Good question.

No. It is not cosmetic. Yes. It is a real change. We’re not just swapping out the word “conference” for the word “festival” on our marketing materials. In fact, we’re swapping out (ok, more like expanding) our entire thought process surrounding the run-up to and production of Health:Further. Among many other things we added team members — Michaela and David — to build out the new model.

The idea to move towards a festival has been part of the long-term vision for Health:Further all along. To explain why, we first need to explain the differences we see between “conference” and “festival.” (This is pretty straightforward so you don’t have to keep reading, but it does help to lay everything out there.)

A conference, at its essence, is a cluster of highly organized sessions designed to present information about a specific topic. You’ll see some conversation, usually at the never-quite-full-enough coffee urns during breaks. There’s usually a networking component, a call from the organizer to hang out, meet new people, look for new ideas and business opportunities. You bring a stack of your business cards in, you take a stack of others’ cards out.

With a few exceptions, these events tend to be fairly awkward. The networking tends to be hit or miss. In addition, the format of the main sessions is not conducive to conversation. It’s one person on stage talking to a dark room, with a couple of minutes for questions. Panel discussions include more people (and therefore opinions) but the overall outcome is the same: they talk, you listen. Then you all shuffle around to the next session without much time to digest the material or run counterpoints by your colleagues and new contacts.

The thing is, this is actually a pretty good system to build an event around. With only a couple of days to update everyone on the state of the [fill in the blank] industry, picking a few high-profile speakers to cover a few key trends is pretty efficient. We at Health:Further not only support this model, we use it. We’re working on our (really exciting) speaker list for H:F2017 right now.

So there are the pros and cons of a conference. They’re good, but not enough. And that’s where a festival comes in to play.

A festival, as we’re defining it, includes the components of a conference but doesn’t stop there. On top of the talks and panels and coffee breaks, a festival highlights the culture and experience of the host city, as well as of the organization putting it on. How many times have you heard, or said, “The conference was solid but I wish I’d had more time to get out and see the city.” A festival gives you that.

This matters because no one is wired to be completely ‘on’ in professional mode for four days running. We need at least a low level of fun to help us recharge. It’s also important specifically for Health:Further as we expand the vision for our community. A festival is designed to make the talks and networking even more effective by putting them in a larger context. In our case, that larger context is the whole point of Health:Further. Namely, how do we help people live healthy lives affordably and sustainably? Part of doing that includes encouraging…well, just living life. Fun and food and entertainment and relationships.

All of that is on tap for August 22–25. We have music and food and fun planned for outside the confines of the Music City Center. That will pour back into the conference itself and help everyone get more out of it. Therefore, by accentuating the great stuff our city has to offer, and by encouraging you to take part, we are both making the conference more valuable and helping fulfill our own goal of helping people lead better, healthier lives.

We’ve been very intentional in creating this type of experience, and will be refining the details over the next six months. Evolving Health:Further towards a perfected ideal has been part of the equation since day one, and we’re excited to continue that process this year with the launch of the festival. In the meantime, let us know if you have questions or comments. The entire team is dedicated to ensuring the experience is as close to perfect as possible, starting now and continuing into and beyond the Music City Center in August.

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