– I can’t say enough good things about The Conference!
This praise comes from Erin Moore, Senior Product Designer at Twitter in San Francisco, who was a speaker at The Conference in 2014.
– It’s an event that motivated me to ask interesting questions and have meaningful conversations with people I might not otherwise have the chance to know. I loved that it was big enough to hear and learn from a diverse range of people, but small enough to connect with people in ways that were increasingly familiar over the course of the 2-day event.
The organizer behind The Conference is innovation arena and cluster Media Evolution, a meeting place located in Västra Hamnen in Malmö, and a member organization for Skåne’s and Blekinge’s media industry. The initiators include Region Skåne, The City of Malmö and Film i Skåne.
Brain researchers, entrepreneurs and game developers in one mix
Since four years back, The Conference is held over a couple of days in August. Martin Thörnkvist, the man responsible for The Conference, and his team invite around 50 speakers of multidisciplinary backgrounds from around the world. They can be anything from brain researchers and sociologists to engineers, entrepreneurs and game developers.
In 2014, for instance, Brian Reed, the producer behind hyped podcast “This American Life”, was on stage in one of Slagthuset’s premises, speaking on the subject of storytelling. Juliana Rotich explained how new technology can open up the world and, as in the case of her organization Ushahidi, improve media coverage of Africa. Kevin Allocca, Head of Culture and Trends at YouTube, spoke about the anatomy of virality.
Does it sound like a disjointed mix? That’s the basic idea; for a wide, considered scope to open up for meetings between industries, people and cultures. It’s in these in-between spaces that innovations can be born, and the event is designed to provide space for more long-term, slower thinking.
And it seems to be a long-awaited space – The Conference is a tremendous success. Courtesy mainly of its good reputation and word of mouth praise, The Conference now attracts 1,000 influential visitors who come to be inspired, to network, and to listen to speakers. Previous speaker Tricia Wang, Global Tech Etnographer, waxes lyrical about the event and about Malmö as a city:
– The Conference is different because they have created an emotional relationship with the event; it’s an emotional experience on top of it being super-intellectual.
Tricia believes that the event becomes an emotional experience because it is connected to the location in a conscious programming of activities that really allows the participants to experience the city of Malmö and its inhabitants.
Slower complex thoughts, and discovering Malmö
– The Conference is needed for two reasons, Martin explains on a summer’s day while on parental leave.
– One is that we, as people, need more reasons than ever to think things through. The Conference is two days during which it’s ok to be away from work, but yet in some kind of work setting, where you can think about things that are more long-term and complex. And hear things you didn’t know you needed to hear in order to understand the whole. The other reason is Malmö!
Having Malmö as a reason is about showing the world that the city is a great place, both to have more complex conversations in, and to live and work in. This concept has been honed further every year by the team, and today, it means that international visitors can come along to other, personal events surrounding the main one, once on site in Malmö. It can be anything from the cold bath at Ribersborg to dinner cooked by chef Matan Levy from inventive restaurant Lyran up in the offices of gaming company King.
The idea is to create a community that showcases local industry to international visitors:
– That is why we hold The Conference during the Malmö Festival, Martin continues. The city is on its feet, and that is why we offer all our speakers four nights at a hotel, so that they can really be here and experience the place. Many people are very grateful that they get this time to create experiences and get to know other participants!
So what is the secret? How do you get these influential people to come to Malmö?
– In part, they are attracted by it being generally exotic; not many Americans have been to Sweden, replies Martin. But we have also invested a lot in design, and if you look at the average conference site, we stand out a lot! That also gives a consistent tone where our ambition is to become the world’s most human conference. We don’t have a VIP section or speakers’ badges; everyone is here on equal terms.
In The Conference’s first year, around 10 per cent of the visitors were international. In 2014, it was 30 per cent, and the ambition for 2017 is 50 per cent.
– It has taken longer than we thought it would to get international visitors. We’ve realized that it takes time to build the confidence required for people to fly all the way here from San Francisco. And if you look at South by Southwest and Almedalen, they’ve been going for 30 years!
Austin, Visby and Malmö; the similarity between the events is that they are held in smaller places where participants can’t rush on to other things like in the big cities, according to Martin. One advantage of people travelling to events is that they become much more engaged away from the distractions of everyday life.
A human conference acts in an equal and inclusive way
It has been a conscious strategy from Martin and his team to integrate equality in their choice of speakers. At least half must be women; a distribution that is also mirrored in the audience.
There is also a democratic idea behind the surrounding events, the majority of which are free, to ensure that those who can’t afford a ticket to The Conference can still participate in the community. The idea behind the “at home” events is to diversify the picture of Malmö, and the team is currently working to show a more inclusive Malmö where areas like Lindängen, Holma and Rosengård also have a place.
Is there unused potential for Malmö and Skåne with all these creators on site?
– The obvious thing is that people here can utilize the visitors! Get in touch with them, take meetings, enrich your thoughts with perspectives from other places. Many speakers have pointed out afterwards that they get ten emails about taking meetings when they speak in other places, but here they get none! But there are some, like Massive, who invite speakers from The Conference, which is very smart, piggybacking us!
Four quick things made The Conference a success
- Audio Guide: Create a theme and guide visitors through it to allow them to relate to the content and approach subjects that they may not necessarily be able to see that they “need” in the short term.
- Surrounding Events: Engage travelling visitors to make it worth their while, and allow a local community to showcase itself to visitors. Create personal experiences and meetings between them.
- Wholeness: Dare to hold the event in a smaller place to gather the visitors together. Think in new ways when it comes to premises, places and what is on offer after work as well.
- Word of Mouth: Create a foundation that makes other people talk about and spread your event in their own networks. Create stand-alone offshoots like blogs, newsletters, and guides that add value and help spread the word.
See what participants are saying about The Conference
Recorded talks from The Conference on videos.theconference.se
See all the images from The Conference
Contact Business Region Skåne