You’ve had enough of conferences (and I think I know why)
Spoiler alert: We crave the ‘in-between bits’
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a conference as ‘a formal meeting of people with a shared interest, typically one that takes place over several days’.
Formal being the operative word.
Often we’re wearing a mask, putting on our best front to impress other people in the few fleeting seconds we get with them.
We go to discover new ideas, get inspired and meet new people. However more often than not we leave with a head full of the same old stuff and a pocket full of business cards that end up in the bin.
“I’ve spent two decades loitering under the unnatural light of conference centres, swigging terrible coffee, pondering which lanyard-scheduled, thinly veiled sales pitch to suffer next.” Jack Hubbard, CEO Propellernet
Most events want volume, they sell thousands of tickets, cram people into an room and then the organisers head off to pat each other on the back at the speakers dinnner.
No wonder why we leave feeling a little hollow.
These are artificial environments for deep learning and human-to-human connection.
More and more of us are switching on to this though.
We’re craving more meaningful experiences and deeper connections than we ever could get in a stuffy, soulless conference centre – no matter how good the content.
So what’s the alternative?
Since launching The Happy Startup School more than 3 years ago we’ve always questioned convention (and conventions).
We’ve never felt at home in normal business settings – networking wasn’t our bag, nor was fighting for attention. So rather than moan about it we set out to do something about it.
Since humble beginnings running a small meetup in London, we’ve now built a reputation for life-changing events around the globe in unusual locations– from our annual Summercamp on a 300 acre farm in the UK, to retreats in the Alps and Tamil Nadu.
Events where there are no heroes, everyone has a story to tell and, crucially, where we feel right at home.
As it turns out we’re not the only crazies:
“At Summercamp I felt like I had found my ‘home’ after feel like a weirdo or an outsider in more corporate environments for so very long.”
So what’s the secret?
We get asked this a lot. So I’ve attempted to distill our learnings into some fundamentals I believe are desirable to create a transformative experience for attendees.
Consider these when creating your own events to foster connections, accelerate learning and tighten your tribe.
1. An environment that inspires
We’re mammals. We’re made to be outdoors.
When we’re in nature ideas flow, we breathe more freely, our shoulders drop and we open up in ways we can’t when we’re sat down indoors.
We need to get the blood moving.
We need space to think, breathe and create without pressure.
We need to pause if we want to be at our most creative and productive selves.
“Innovation doesn’t happen around a flipchart” Mark Sears
The future is free-range.
2. Stories are at the heart
Whilst experts have their place, the tide is changing.
A new model of learning fit for the 21st century is required — one that is more emergent and ultimately effective. Where everyone has their say and the agenda is set by the participants.
Self-directed learning will become the norm in a few years. But what brings out the best learning, the most inquisitive minds, is stories.
Stories and conversations. Not lectures and lessons.
3. A culture that nourishes
The culture you create is how you are. Whilst it’s important that people with a shared purpose or intention, you as a leader will dictate what happens when you’re in the midst of it all.
For instance myself and my co-founder Carlos sometimes bring our kids to work and to our events, and my dog can often be found wandering around too.
Why? Because they’re part of our lives. But there are other benefits too.
It’s hard to fly off the handle at a meeting when you’ve just played fetch or ‘it’.
If you want anything you create to feel authentic, it’s up to you to bring your whole self to it.
We set the tone for our experiences by how we show up.
4. Voluntary participation
This may sound obvious but that’s not always the case. We’re often cajoled into going to a conference or a training event.
Some people are pure academics and thrive in that environment. For the rest of us, we discover learning again later in later life when we find something we’re passionate about and want to know more.
“When there’s interest, education happens.” Arthur C. Clarke
5. Engineered serendipity
Nothing happens by chance.
You can’t always be lucky, but you can increase your chances of getting lucky.
At all our events there is an application process, you get invited rather than just buy a ticket. Sure it’s time consuming, and not always that pleasant to have to turn good people down. But creating a diverse group of people with different backgrounds, skills and experiences means the chance of some sparks happening increases. And sometimes this means sacrificing revenue to get the right mix.
“Don’t chase the dollar, chase the dream.” Biggie Smalls
6. It doesn’t feel like work
Think of your best day at work. Did it feel like work? Or were you lost in time, feeling creative with ideas and energy flowing?
Chances are there was some element of play in action. With play there are usually few rules. Anything is possbile. There is no right or wrong.
Without the fear of failure or looking stupid, we get better outcomes.
At Alptitude last year we put on an unconference. The venues? A hot tub, a trampoline, a ski lift, a 6 seat cinema and some picnic tables.
The outcomes? Better than any ‘real’ conference I’ve been to.
If you’re giving a talk on a trampoline you can’t feel anything other than a big kid. Which frees everyone else up to feel the same. The key to creativity is unlocked.
7. Unique experiences are shared
These experiences are now memories firmly implanted in our minds, never to be forgotten. We now have a bond with our fellow Ashramers that we would never have got otherwise.
Now that’s magic
These are far from exhaustive ideas of what makes a great event and I’m aware that there are no silver bullets.
But experience tells us that incorporating many of these elements have a better chance of something truly transformational, a strong bond between attendees and real long-term value.
I can see the way we learn in the future looking very different when we bring more of these principles into our schools, colleges and organisations.
But try not to force outcomes. Just remember:
You can’t create magic, but you can create the conditions for magic to happen.
Now go make events fun again.
Go build your tribe.
Join our tribe at The Happy Startup School and experience one of our events first-hand.