What Makes a Great Event

I’ve been to a lot of (Web) industry events over the past few years. Some of them have been fantastic, some not so much. I wanted to jot down my thoughts about what consistently makes a great event.

Thematic Content

Most of the events that I’ve truly enjoyed have somehow managed to find a relevant theme to the content. Sometimes this is masterfully coordinated by the event host. Sometimes it happens naturally. I think back to the first Nashville BD Conference when we were all finally ready to address the challenge of the Web for mobile devices. I think back to the first Artifact conference in Austin when we were so seriously contemplating our workflows.

The content at an event is like the kindling for a fire. It needs to be just the right size and type if you hope to start a fire. And, it’s really just for getting the fire started—not for keeping it going.

Inviting Space

I don’t mean space as in the venue. I mean everything that happens that is not presentations—the space between the content. I mean food and drinks and the time to enjoy them with other nerds whose minds are also overflowing. Every great event I’ve ever attended has prioritized giving attendees plenty of time to discuss the ideas being conveyed on stage. It’s the opportunity to continue what was started and to add my voice to the conversation.

But just providing time for this to happen isn’t enough. We need event organizers to make it clear that aggressive or exclusive behavior is not acceptable. The space of an event needs to be safe, one where all people feel they can share their ideas and expand on what they are learning. Frontend Design Conference in St. Pete has always been an event that has provided plenty of inviting space for attendees. I believe this is one of the reasons it’s a favorite among my peers.

I think of space at an event like the air needed for a fire. You can actually suffocate a fire with too much kindling—a mistake many event organizers make. Instead, you need to provide plenty of air for the sparks to catch.

Challenging Conversation

This is the tough one. You can’t force this to happen—it depends on who you have attending. However, if you’ve done your job with the first two, this is much more likely to occur. And this is what matters. It’s what lasts well beyond the presentations and the workshops. It’s what people will remember and take back with them. It’s the beginnings of relationships that will change who we are and how we work.

The conversation is the fire.

It’s the Twitter conversations, the late night debates over dinner and drinks, the laughs around the fire (or on the beach or by the pool or in the hotel lobby). It’s getting up before the event starts to meet your new friends for breakfast. It’s a chance to grab lunch with someone you’ve respected for years, but never met. It’s finding a group of people that care about the same things you do—your people, your friends.

I don’t want to presume that these are the only ingredients needed for a great event. But these are the things that stick out to me. And, these are the reasons I keep attending events, searching for ones that get it right.