It's Alive: What Makes A Conference Thrive?

It's one of those weeks I love. SES unfurls in our backyard here in New York; the iMedia Breakthrough Summit is on again down south; OMMA Global takes place in L.A. And while you cannot be everywhere at once, circles converge, friends descend, and it's all just a bit more electric. Professionally, intellectually and socially -- it's connective for the community. As we all reconnect, I'm reminded of roots and the future all at once. As it should be. And, given the turbulent times in progress, I find myself focusing again on what it takes to make a conference as valuable as can be.

I have discussed programming before. It's a passion and pursuit of mine. But, when I really think about assuring the value exchange, I realize it comes down to a few key factors. This is true as consumer, participant and periodic cast member. Here are three general movements I have seen in conferences I frequent, that I immensely respect:

  • Mixing it up. As with most professional realms, digital has its old guard: those who have pioneered, capitalized, advanced the industry and certainly their own credentials. This legacy is a core and good thing. But it's always refreshing to see an advisory board that embodies new talent as well as the old. The best content directors know how to use a well-mixed advisory board to evolve programming -- and they know that too much repeat casting on panels and forums can breed complacent talent. The collective brain trust requires the interplay of a spectrum of experience and a fresh mix of talent.



  • Creating scope of content. With an appetite for integrated marketing -- but a realism that knows convergence is a work in progress -- I am always reassured by an expansive scope of content: a broad, flexible view of the material itself. Even conferences that in the past have had a more singular media focus, have begun to take a more sophisticated stance on content. Agendas delving into integrated search, social media, and content make for a more complete marketing picture than do siloed media agendas.

  • Using platforms and tools. The better industry conferences today enjoy an active relationship with the blogosphere and across media. Robust community and conference sites, continual blog commentary, Web radio and social media power the promotional and content engine that hums before, during and after the conference. Some have more aggressively harnessed social media and mobile applications to engage attendees and onlookers, providing them with additional utility. At minimum, it's been a fun development. And when well-executed, with valuable content exchanged, it's a real perk to participation in an increasingly integrated content and communications environment.

    Beyond programming content, there are the the panelists. I often share these thoughts on what I appreciate from cast members themselves. There are several principles that really allow talent and value to come through. The core imperative, of course, is to keep your game fresh. So how can you do that?

  • Listen to new people. I have mentioned this before, but it's since become my lead principle. We all have our circles, go-to mentors, intellectual confidantes and conspirators. But, just as the best casting and content reflect a fresh mix -- so does one's output benefit from fresh blood. Allowing the fresh perspective you uncover to positively color your conference/panel contribution results in a more lively connection with your audience, along with your base.

  • Keep client contact. There are theorists and practitioners -- and there are those who are a blend. It's always powerful to have current feedback from live client or business situations. Even the exalted guru serves his or her base well by bringing living, breathing examples of theory in practice.

  • Prepare. Period. This may sound obvious. But, to those paying attention out there on the conference circuit, it's obvious that not everyone prepares. Many not only recycle their content but also shrug off contact or prep with their co-panelists before an engagement. Whether you are flying solo or part of an ensemble, the on-stage dialogue will benefit from preparation. Never assume that your canned goods are immortal.

  • Communicate. This goes hand in hand with not just showing up and phoning it in. Embracing the cross-platform environment and tools at hand can enhance your own contribution to any given conference. Pre-cast, commentate, communicate and you will do your part to boost the heat around the conference, and garner more usable feedback yourself. Those who play this way will get more adept at applying the feedback. Oh yes, my social media experiment #2 is still on: @alter_ego_kma.

    We know inherently that complacency is pretty treacherous. But, year after year, in light of any number of distractions, it can happen. In fact, when it comes to content and programming, it certainly is a risk if you confuse best practices with same-old, same-old and tired no-brainers.

    During especially heavy conference periods, I find myself focused on what it takes to stimulate a real value exchange. Sometimes, I am disappointed; often I am rewarded. But, as consumers, participants and cast -- we own our roles in the mix. It's chiefly about keeping it real, keeping it current, and keeping channels open. Our best conferences today look and feel like living media: consumer networks with a very audible and timely voice.

  • 2 comments about "It's Alive: What Makes A Conference Thrive? ".
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    1. Mike Kelly from LIN Media, March 23, 2009 at 1:30 p.m.

      Amen Kendall. With "time poverty" taking over our lives it's important that whether we are a presenter or attendee that we are fully prepared. An an attendee we want takeaways that can be applied and to be exposed to new ideas or points of view. As a presenter, we have a responsibility to the conference and it's attendees to deliver what was promised.

    2. Lisbeth Kramer from Identities, March 23, 2009 at 4:15 p.m.


      I LOVE THIS! Having just been at MEDIA SUMMIT 2009 last week, some of these very issues were like "sugarplums dancin' in my head" my mind anyway you make a range of pivotal points.As you say the operative issue, "VALUE." I love the "mixing it up"...the "old" and "new" not only has value from so many perspectives. I also find the moderators can be key to a successful panel...not unlike a great interview is a collaborative between the interviewer and "ee"..even at SUMMIT I felt there were good and bad examples of that.......and most cases the interviewer not feeding a robust "ee" with good stuff to bite into!

      Overall, I would hope the presenters would be as adamant about the standards and the "take away" as the attendees for if there is synchronicity at such points, might all not walk away, engaged(by new contacts), enriched (by new think) and even feel a bit emancipated(released with validation for even their own soapboxes or realizing a community exists around them) ??????...

      Once again, you seem to really view the picture 360 of what's possible and where "old" and "new" can meet to drive future with even greater distinction and success.


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