As a general rule, the word ‘conference’ connotes the polar opposite. It oozes formality, stern handshakes, and nametags. They’re stuffy occasions held in rooms full of people wearing suits watching slideshows by other more senior people in suits while sipping on a small cup of lukewarm coffee. I’ve been to a few of these ‘networking’ events and left with my pockets stuffed with boring pallid business cards, Danish pastries and little else.
Oh, and I always seem to befriend the guy who thinks he’s on The Apprentice.
That’s why I don’t do them anymore. Not in the traditional sense of a conference, at least.
Small is the new big. Anything over 150 attendees creeps into a territory I’m uncomfortable with, and a territory I think makes conducting genuine, meaningful interaction unattainable. When we reflect on our lives a majority of us will highlight highly personal experiences shared with a select few as the events that have shaped us as people. There’s really no reason why that level of interpersonal shared experience is unable to transcend into a conference providing its numbers are kept limited.
I went to the Do Lectures USA last year and made some truly amazing friends. The talks were phenomenal. And the most potent element of that ‘conference’ was that they were a shared experience with a small barn full of people I was on first name terms with. I experienced a level of collective emotion that is pretty much non-existent in a majority of other gatherings I’ve attended. Afterwards we got absurdly drunk and forged relationships that surpassed the most common lowest denominator of simply being in the same place at the same time and potentially having an interest cross over. We were able to relax, be completely vulnerable and really get to know each other as human beings (not that pushing the limits of alcohol consumption was an integral part of that experience, but how often do you get to go California and drink an unlimited supply of world class wine!?).
Keeping numbers small breeds trust.
When it was time to pack up and head back to the drizzly shores of West Wales I felt a sense of genuine loss. It’s over already?
That’s why small conferences are the new big thing. They create magic. And small doesn’t mean minnow. It means intimate.
Cut the numbers. Ditch the nametags. Get small. Think big.