Blog > Creating a memorable conference

January 19, 2012

I opened a newspaper and there was a photo of Yosemite National Park. I’ve been to Yosemite once, for a few days. The place was instantly recognisable. It strikes me time and again how easy it is to recognise a place that I have physically visited. There is some visceral memory. There is something about place, and relationship to something outside of ourselves that creates, and embeds, memory.

I’m asking myself what makes a memorable conference? If you attend many conferences, what memories come to mind? Which events come back with enormous clarity, and why? What conferences do you talk about long after they were done?

I have a few theories based on a research sample of one.*

Sense of place
Not all venues are created equal. Memorable events have light, space, a vibe, connections with nature, provide an opportunity to stare into the middle distance (maybe even fuelling daydreams) and are a part of the place, not apart from.

Involving all the senses
Hearing and seeing are well catered for in most conferences. Our other senses not so much. Smell – the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee; the smell of jasmine flowers wafting on the breeze; the salt smell of the ocean. Touch – the feel of lovingly crafted and carved talking stick; of a notebook that is bound in linen and embossed. Taste – of the flavours of the place, of freshness. And even hearing and seeing can be enhanced – colours, beautiful pictures, the sounds of nature, singing, silence. The best conferences I remember through all of my senses.

Connection is as important as content
After I’ve been to a great conference I’m likely to chatter incessantly about all the great people I met and what new stuff I learned. Without the connection, and the ability to reference what I’m learning to who I’m learning it from, I’m likely to forget.

Pace and movement
Not too rushed, not too slow, and plenty of time for conversations to develop beyond the superficial. Long breaks. Long enough to grab a coffee, and check messages, and visit the bathroom, and talk to people. And movement, not just sitting all day.

STAR – Something They will Always Remember (hat tip Nancy Duarte)
Something quirky, something unexpected. Like 200 people doing James Bond Aerobics, or group singing on the New York subway, or a presentation that moved you to tears, or ginormous bubbles that did nothing more than make you smile a lot.

What makes a conference memorable for you?

*That would be one person, not one conference.

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