Last week I attended the awesome TheNextWeb Conference in Amsterdam. It was organised by TheNextWeb, naturally. The event itself was excellent, high production value and a good bunch of people that made it even more interesting. However, participating in it made me think about conferences and how little they have actually evolved over time.

Clearly people attend conferences, summits and other business focused events for a reason. Usually the biggest reason is related to the other attendees, ie. having the possibility to network, create new connections, keep old ones going and possibly also meet new partners and clients.

Keeping this reason in focus is of course important, but what many events (us included) have a hard time doing is innovating around this. While there have been a few innovative concepts recently attempted, business events at large still follow the same one to many communication routine.

Asymconf, held earlier this month also in Amsterdam by Horace Dediu, did some testing in this space by taking the audience participation to a new level. The conference ran through several topics where the case method was used in analysing the issue. While I was unable to attend the event personally, the feedback online, especially in Twitter, was overall encouraging.

TED is another concept worth mentioning. They have franchised their brand for everyone to use through the TEDx concept. People can simulate the TED experience in their local environment through local speakers and topics that are more important to people there. For TED, this is of course a great way to expand their influence and make the main invite-only event in the US ever more attractive.

Last year I went to a circus that was in Helsinki for a few days. I hadn’t been in one since childhood and it was an uplifting experience. The realisation of how a circus functions was as exciting as the shows themselves.

Each year, the director of the circus goes through hundreds of demo DVDs with performances by individuals and groups from all parts of the world. The director then signs these people up for the upcoming year and tours with them, performing the same show each night, in almost all cities in Finland.

Why wouldn’t something like the circus work in a business environment where the conference or in this case experience, would tour around the world and taking speakers with them to several important venues?

Perhaps one of the reasons is that there isn’t that much entertainment value, compared to a circus for example. Watching the conference talks online doesn’t yield you the same networking benefit, but it enables you to digest the content just as it would in the conference itself. Circuses don’t allow videotaping of their shows, nor do they sell them online as the experience requires a physical present in the tent.

Why does all this matter then? Well, I’m sure conferences in their current form would have a lot of innovation potential to increase productivity of participants and networking opportunities, but also make the presentations more engaging and interactive.

These kinds of improvements would surely increase the attractiveness of business focused events and in doing so, help drive the industry while making the experiences all the more better for attendees.

What are some areas in your opinion in how events should innovate and bring more value for attendees?

Image by Max Roeleveld

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