It's time for `conference.next`

by Michael Bernstein on April 09, 2020

Bad news. One of the best channels for high-tech software companies like the ones we service as Reify clients has just completely blown up. Not only has it completely blown up for the next two quarters, it has completely blown up for long beyond that.

Unfortunately, I’m not writing from some dope alternate reality where targeted online advertising has gone by the wayside. I’m writing from the current Covid-19 reality where in-person conferences are completely untenable through at least the end of the Summer.

If you want proof of this, look no further than the in-person conference behemoths who are transitioning all future conferences to be online only, or the leading Experiential Marketing Teams who are pivoting some gigantic, elaborate events to be online while holding out hope that in-person events will return in the future. Whether or not we get to all gather in big groups in six months or not, one thing is clear: we’re going to learn a hell of a lot in the meantime.

Since we’re eternal optimists, Brian and I are inclined to think that in the process of figuring this all out, we’re going to end up coming up with something better. Something that can including everyone by being online only in the present, but that can expand over time as we get a hold of the Covid pandemic and return to “life as usual.” What does this conference.next look like? What possibilities does it hold for us?

After some back and forth and deep introspection, here’s what we’ve come up with – the five attributes that we think the next thing will have, along with the reasons why and the benefits they provide.

#1 - Accessibility-first tooling

Planning and tooling for conferences currently typically treats accessibility as an afterthought, if it thinks about it at all. Now that we have the opportunity to re-think things from the ground up, we also have the mandate to do much better by all members of all of our communities.

#2 - Representation, representation, representation

conference.next will be easier to start up, rely on much less infrastructure, and need considerably less return on investment to make them worthwhile. This is a very good thing because lower barriers to entry for creation, attendance and participation means that not only people who have high paying, high-powered, high-leverage jobs can be a part of the conversation.

#3 - Re-think sessions and schedules

Single track. Triple track. No tracks. Unconference. Tutorial. Session. Talk. Long talk. Lightning talk. There has to be a better way! We have a chance to present a high-fidelity, multimedia experience for our attendees that is interactive first and focused entirely on their needs, not on the constraints of a physical space. Imagine what we could pull off!

#4 - The multidisciplinary approach

It’s really hard and expensive to think about pulling random experts from other place and other fields into your tech conference to give an impassioned presentation about something that people are going to be too distracted to contemplate properly. conference.next should start from a multidisciplinary foundation – because, frankly, the same old thing for 3 days is boring. Focusing on the whole person can help make us whole again, which is something we need desperately now, and won’t stop needing for a long time.

#5 - Acknowledge and embrace downtime

Most veteran conference goers know that the hallway is where it’s at. Since all of the talks are typically recorded, you can’t just get random facetime with random people any old time, and the interactive possibilities at in-person conferences are limited, it just make sense. conference.next needs to embrace downtime, hallway time, inbetween time, whatever you want to call it. What does a digital hallway look like? What kind of serendipity can we provoke?

Can we get an invite?

If you’re working on something that sounds or looks like conference.next, we should chat. We have ideas. We might even have some plans – stay tuned. In the meantime, email us at hello@reifyworks.com – and thanks as always for reading.



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