In the past 20 years, I have probably been to hundreds of, if not thousand, events and conferences worldwide. Most of them tackle the crucial challenges of our times: How to combat climate change? How to reach the SDGs? How to keep democracies just and alive? And so on.
So I found myself there, all excited, surrounded by people with fascinating backgrounds who are equally interested in such vital questions, looking to find answers and actionable solutions urgently.
But all too often, what I felt was this instead:
- I couldn't concentrate on the same old monotonous panel discussion and got lost scrolling through my phone during the umpteenth keynote speech.
- I felt too shy to network with random strangers at the buffet tables despite my extrovert character.
- I left the event and immediately jumped into the next thing without digesting what I had heard or learned.
The leap into the online world didn't make it better. Except that now I don't have to worry about how embarrassing it is to stumble past several rows of knees and be watched by everyone as you leave the conference hall. Instead, I can just click "leave." By now, I am convinced that so many of us waste time, money, and energy on events and conferences that do not fulfill their potential.
In the past 20 years, I have not only joined events as a participant but also designed, organised and moderated hundreds of them myself. I feel the experiences of the pandemic have now helped me to finally put what I have always felt and strived for into words:
I believe events can, and quite frankly have to be, a fertile ground for what we, as humans, really need and crave: connection.
- We need to feel connected to the topic emotionally - instead of being bombarded with cognitive reasons to care.
- We need to create authentic connections with other participants - instead of throwing around business cards.
- We need to work towards actual output and collective actions that generate impact - instead of leaving the newfound knowledge behind at the check-out corner.
These are the type of events I want to design.
These are the type of events I want to lead through.