Why do you go to a conference? Perhaps to learn more about tactics that have worked well for others. Or to network with people in your field. Often, it’s to educate yourself on cutting edge techniques or tools.
But can a conference help you become more innovative? Can a conference help you think beyond the scope of best practices and industry trends? Is it possible to return from a conference inspired and equipped to do the creative work that will help you reinvent your business?
Last year, C2-MTL, which stands for Creativity & Commerce (the MTL announced the City of Montreal, which is integral to the event) was an experience that took the challenge.
I’ve been to a lot of conferences because in digital marketing the landscape changes daily and you can’t stay current sitting at your desk. Most of these conferences cover topics like “25 things you can do to increase your conversion rate” or “how to have a human voice in social media.” The presentations can be anything bullet-pointed PowerPoints and pep-talks to panels of people discussing a topic. At the breaks the attendees walk the exhibit hall of vendors giving pens or notebooks with their business name imprinted on them.
But people don’t stay in business by being more competent or by simply keeping up. Because of the rapid pace of change we need to constantly reinvent ourselves.
Trying to help people be more creative in business is a rather audacious goal. To be successful, this conference had to reinvent the idea of the conference itself.
Here are some of the ways they did it:
The venue wasn’t an airless, generic, massive conference center but a revitalized 19th century building with character and unexpected architectural features that were put to use to serve interactive art exhibits; casual, comfortably furnished meeting spaces that included sofas, chair groupings, and even a two person swing; play spaces where people could play with Legos or work on other projects at a community table and open air spaces set up like an outdoor poolside lounge with a food bar. There are collaborative workshops and meet-ups and personal guides for attendees, known as concierges.
The schedule didn’t include just individual speakers and panels. There were conversations, interviews, theatrical presentations, and visual storytelling. One of the presentations by architect Winy Maas was something I could not even characterize. Repeating the line “what’s next?” throughout a slideshow of mind-bending architectural photos and renderings, he offered a series of images of extraordinarily bold and unconventional buildings that took the audience on a visual and mental adventure. I’m still not sure exactly what I was seeing but by the end, I think most people who saw the presentation thought, “what’s next –what’s possible—is almost anything at all.”
The speakers didn’t fit into any one category of business or area of business. This wasn’t a conference targeted to marketing people or designers or entrepreneurs but to everyone who wanted to expand their minds to take in new possibilities for the purpose of expanding their business. Speakers for 2013 include Sir Richard Branson, Philippe Starck, architect, inventor and designer; Elle MacPherson, the model who hosts America’s Next Top Model and who started her own line of lingerie, Fred Dust, IDEO partner, and John Mackey, co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods. The only way to classify the speakers is with the word “eclectic.”
The attendees were as eclectic as the speakers. Coming from all over the world they could not be characterized by their job description or appearance. Last year I met a neuroscientist, a person whose agency branded a country (Israel) and a woman whose job was to take care of the needs of the performers at Cirque du Soleil, in addition to several of the people who were named the 100 most creative people in business by Fast Company.
Listening to people tell the stories of the work they do was part of the extraordinary experience of C2-MTL and contributed to the experience of opening up my mind to possibilities.
I was thrilled to be chosen as an ambassador for the 2013 conference after enthusiastically sharing my experience of the 2012 conference on this blog and on my own blog. As full disclosure, I was offered a ticket to the conference this May and an additional free pass for every 5 people who use the code. But I’d be talking about the C2-MTL no matter what, because I believe there is nothing more important and nothing that makes work more enjoyable than being creative in business.
If you are interested in attending C2-MTL in May, please email me (Ilana221 (at) Gmail.com) or let me know in the comments and I’ll forward a code for a 10% discount.
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