Why conferences are king: the not-so-secret formula

C2 team
Why conferences are king: the not-so-secret formula

The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, is currently looking for a bartender and a venue supervisor to staff its new conference space in Toronto. The New York Times isn’t just writing for readers anymore either — it’s inviting them to join reporters and sources to tackle big, burning questions about everything from what’s next in luxury to AI.

What started three decades ago as a series of secret meetings on the future of music has become the gigantic conference/festival hybrid SXSW in Austin, Texas. And TED — which launched in the ’80s as a conference about technology, entertainment and design — has ballooned into a library of 2,000-plus talks in 100-plus languages.

Most famously perhaps, Burning Man’s pop-up desert city — founded on a creative impulse and the core principles of radical inclusion, self-reliance and gifting — has become such a hot destination for the corporate elite that it became gentrified. (Last year, organizers heard rumblings that there were product launches happening and weren’t too stoked about it.)

Swiss researchers are so fascinated by Burning Man’s global expansion —  with offshoot events in 30-plus countries — that they’re in the middle of a $100,000, multi-year research project about it. (Initial findings suggest “Burners” leave the desert feeling more confident and open-minded.)

So, despite fears that we’re all becoming too web and work obsessed in an era of swipes, clicks and snaps, it seems that getting together in real life has definitely not gone out of style.

In fact, it’s burgeoning.

From big brands to small businesses, live happenings are having a(nother) moment. And it’s because — from the branding, networking, revenue– and happiness-generating leads they offer — they are, quite simply, good for business.


Let’s face it: nothing beats a handshake

You might wonder why, in 2019, when we can all just Zoom, Skype or Hangout with each other anytime, it’s still worth it for some of the world’s busiest people to hop on planes and trains to actually meet.For most of us, it’s pretty simple: at a gathering packed with diverse and engaged minds, you might hit it off with your next mentor, partner, best friend or business soulmate. Never underestimate where a good conversation can take you and your company.

It also turns out that we’re not as good at convincing people to do things over email as we think we are. A study, published in the Journal for Experimental Social Psychology, found face-to-face requests to be 34 times more impactful than email ones.

Science also says it pays off to literally reach out. Researchers at Harvard and the University of Chicago found — across four separate studies — that physically shaking hands bodes well for negotiations and is a welcome sign of cooperation to come.

So don’t dismiss the power of being there in person.


Experiences help us connect

Our wallets have spoken: people are collectively more keen to spend money on experiences than on things, and the business community isn’t immune to this.Cornell University’s Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a professor of psychology who studies happiness, explained to Fast Company that one of the reasons we’re all attracted to experiences over things is because we can share them with each other — they help us to connect.

As Huffington Post founder Ariana Huffington told The New York Times, even though digital may rule the day, “the need to actually be live and connect with human beings and listen to people in the flesh” is one of the paradoxes of our age.

Since most industries rely on building and maintaining relationships, IRL situations can effectively set you up to meaningfully meet other people. Who doesn’t love a chance encounter?

A McKinsey report points to three main drivers behind the shift to spending money on experiences

  1. We’ve realized that doing things makes us happier than buying things
  2. We all have intense FOMO (fear of missing out).
  3. Our social media habits are fed by endless tidbits of personal content, so it helps to actually do cool things in order to look cool.


It’s faster than an MBA

Another reason events are popular despite our increasingly time-strapped world is because they pack a lot of learning in. Talks, panels, workshops and masterclasses are designed to teach participants something tangible that they can bring back to the office, and to generate those elusive “ah-ha!” moments.

Walking through someone else’s creative process, prototyping or problem solving are fine ways to get synapses firing and to make important intellectual connections. It offers you a chance to skill-up without going back to school. And the takeaways are pretty great.

Finally, the best thing about attending conferences is that, once it’s over, you can take what you learned or gained from your experience and pay it forward for the benefit of your entire team — and it would be hard to put too high a price on that.


Speaking of which… Do you have a pass to C2 Montréal 2019? Get yours now.

Questions or comments? Drop us a line at editorial@c2.biz