Wanted: More face time -- but face-to-face.
In the education sector, people need to meet to share problems, find solutions and look for ways forward. But how does one get a community of innovators and creative initiatives, scattered around the world, under one roof?
An effective solution: conferences and conventions.
I recently attended SXSWEdu in Austin TX.. The entire week was filled with serendipitous encounters with like-minded strangers who I would never meet in my daily life. I left Austin with a bulky business-card holder packed with contact information of people, many of whom are now my professional partners.
I am a conference aficionado -- keen to traverse thousands of miles to attend events that weave relevant content with the right community.
But colleagues and friends around me often question the purpose of these conferences, especially when digital tools have paved the way to build new partnership and cultivate networks. After all, the Arab Spring did trigger online.
So why on earth would someone spend so much time, money and energy to attend a conference when technology can do the job? And why would organizers pay millions to gather their community when they can bombard their target audience with online, affordable, targeted messaging?
My answer: the Web connects me to the world, but conferences unite me with my tribe.
Today we live in an “instant world” one where phone calls have been cut short to crisp texts and emoticons, Facebook and Instagram are the new post-cards, Likes and Followers determine influence and latest news no longer breaks -- it tweets.
Indeed Skype, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google Hangouts and email are handy, but they don’t replace conversations over coffee. At the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE), we have seen the online conversations transition to offline collaborations following networking sessions at the annual Summit in Doha, Qatar.
Conferences like the Skoll World Forum and Commerce + Creativity (C2) are good illustrations of platforms that cultivate the right networks for the right cause. Each year, C2 gathers nearly 5,000 decision-makers and creative minds from diverse sectors to shape the future of business. Though 5,000 is indeed a huge number of delegates, the C2 teams astutely construct personalized networking groups to ensure seamless networking among delegates who share the same interests and ambitions.
Similarly, the annual Skoll World Forum offers a rich line-up of speakers and sessions, but more importantly, three days and nights of intensive “speed networking,” for they strongly believe in the power of convening for social change.
In our technology-driven lives, the demands for such events is only going to grow, because individuals around the world want to congregate with their tribe to share ideas, skills, expertize and connections.
The past decade has seen a tremendous rise in the number of global fan fests, thematic summits and global-community gatherings. Moreover, events are not just an effective way to boost clout and communities but also coffers.
Musicians like Madonna continue to release new albums, even though they know that it is a money-losing machine. These albums actually serve as magnets to draw the ‘Madonna tribe’ to record-breaking concerts.
Today nearly every sector from the arts to automobiles, from music to manufacturing, has its very own “must attend” iconic annual event that gathers the crème de la crème of the industry.
TED talks for world citizens to share ideas worth spreading, South by Southwest for professionals connected to the music, film and interactive industries, Comic Con for Comic book lovers for are just a few examples that now appear on the global events’ calendar. Even the Minions hitch-hiked to Villain-Con, their very own version of Comic Con, in search of their new super-villain leader!
These events are also platforms to communicate, highlight our content, share our expertise and position oneself as a thought-leader. Once upon a time, people wrote books to earn hefty royalties, but today individuals write money-losing books to earn robust speaking fees.
In fact, the rise in demand and popularity of content-driven events like TED or SXSW is also attracting non-traditional players.
Take media for instance. Leading media organizations have understood that their audiences are looking for more than just quality content. Nowadays, few subscribe to print versions of newspapers and magazines, but there is a perpetual rat race to attend gatherings powered by well-known media organizations.
Why? Because people are keen to get up close and personal with the editorial team, the opinion makers and thought-leaders.
In France, the daily Libération is not only succeeding in re-engaging its thinning subscribers’ base but is also attracting a new audience through its thematic Forums. In fact, the organization is said to be making more money through its open-to-all event model than newspaper sales. The French media realized that its loyal readership was craving opportunities to discuss current affairs, to hear out opinion leaders live and to share their thoughts too. Even in the world of thought-leadership, Face-to-Face time is more valued than Paper Time.
So, technology is surely bringing countries and communities closer, but it’s live events that are actually constructing bridges to develop veritable global networks that are key to drive innovation.