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Help us out – what makes a great creative conference?

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Opinion: Help us out – what makes a great creative conference?

This week Rob Alderson poses a few questions in a bid to get to the bottom of what makes an inspirational and unforgettable creative conference. As ever you can add your thoughts using the discussion thread below.

Over the last couple of years my colleagues and I have been to creative conferences in all shapes and sizes, in different countries and continents and in different capacities: press, speaker and delegate. From three-day events like Design Indaba in Cape Town and Dublin’s OFFSET, to one-day affairs like the Wired Conference and The Modern Magazine via QVED, What Design Can Do, Typo London, POINT, AGI and Facing Pages, we’ve been treated to a bundle of great experiences.

We run our own conference as well of course, and with Here 2014 just over 10 weeks away we thought it would be good to explore what our readers see as the do’s and don’ts of such events.

Here’s six posers designed to get the debate started:

1. How long should talks be?

This varies enormously from event to event; ranging from short, sharp sessions to in-depth hour-long slots. There have been times when the end of a talk seems frustratingly premature and we’ve been left gagging for more, but there have also been those which have seemed ramblingly interminable. Where is the sweet spot here? How tight does the brief need to be? What if you still hanker for more? Which brings us onto…

2. What value questions at the end?

For the past two years we have not had any Q&A at Here, and when we look through the feedback forms this is mentioned as some people’s biggest complaint, and other’s biggest compliment. Great debate is always to be encouraged and conversation on all platforms in the modern age should be two-way wherever possible. But we have all squirmed during a long, incoherent, aggressive or grandstanding question from the floor. And despite witnessing multiple attempts to glean questions via social media, I have never seen this really work well.

3. What makes a good panel discussion?

I like it when conferences mix up the format with panel discussions and it’s often a great way to change the pace. At OFFSET these only happen on the second and third stages, but at AGI some of the biggest names taking part faced off in a Roundheads vs Cavaliers discussion about modernism in graphic design (think Sagmeister, Bantjes, and the like). But what factors make good panel talks? A strong host? A focused discussion? Dissenting but not ego-driven voices?

4. How important is the right mix?

We are big believers in eclecticism and think there’s a real value in having all kinds of creatives on the same bill. But I also think it’s important that there is a mix of experience on stage too. Of course you want big names but it’s also exciting to see people you didn’t know too much about previously. And it’s also nice to have speakers who don’t present essentially the same talk at every event; however uplifting and inspiring that talk may be.

5. How, if at all, can delegated be encouraged to mingle?

We’ve all been to dinner parties where the well-meaning hosts have planned ice-breaker games; sometimes it can be really fun, sometimes it’s toe-curling. But while we don’t want to force delegates to mix, most people there will have something in common, probably a creative background or set of art and design interests. It seems a real shame if you can potentially sit next to someone all day without realising they are the collaborator you have been looking for.

6. What make s a good venue?

From slick conference halls to atmospheric theatres, rooms that fit a few hundred to auditoriums which seat more than 2,000 people, we’ve seen them all. But what makes a great venue? Comfy seats, good WIFI and enough power sockets always make a difference. But what about ambiance, intimacy, transport connections and staff?

So now it’s your turn; what makes a good creative conference as far as you’re concerned?