Behind the Scenes

In With the New, In With the Old

A look at new meetings — and old ones that keep evolving.

When we edited our writer’s draft of this month’s Innovative Meetings story about the World Hepatitis Summit  — which brought 550 scientists, policymakers, and government officials from 56 countries to Glasgow last September to collaborate on how to fight the disease that claims 1.4 million victims each year — we moved the fact that this was a first-ever, inaugural event up to the top.

Why make that a priority? First, we’re all curious to learn how a brand-new program develops from the ground up. Beyond that, I think it reinforces the sense we’ve had at Convene for several years now that conferences are enjoying a renaissance. As communities develop around burgeoning technologies, niche markets, and industry sectors, they are finding events the ideal platform to connect their members face-to-face to address specific challenges and to chart their future course.

Such is the case with the World Hepatitis Summit, which was “designed to fill a gap in an area that has traditionally been saturated by scientific and medical conferences,” according to the event website, “but has lacked a platform for civil society and government to come together for the benefit of hepatitis patients.” Similarly, many of the recent conference launches that have captured our attention either focus on creative industries or have taken an especially creative approach to their profession, the conference format, and the makeup of their audience (three hallmarks of the World Hepatitis Summit).

The first Digital Storytelling Conference, which kicked off the high-profile Sundance Film Festival this past January, is a good example of a new conference in the creative space. Its founder, VMA Media CEO Rick Parkhill, told Adweek that he envisioned that bringing about 150 attendees from across media and marketing together would “illuminate the possibilities and opportunities for brands to connect with audiences through storytelling of all types and all platforms.” In a video promoting the conference, a sponsor explained how the event would capitalize on having “the biggest brain trust in the room at one time,” and that it was as much about the attendees as the people presenting.

Illuminating possibilities and opportunities. Brain trust. Networking. Sounds like what every conference and convention is meant to offer, regardless of whether it’s brand spanking new or has a long history. The challenge for the latter category — operating in a space that the World Hepatitis Summit called “saturated” — is to make the attendee experience feel fresh year after year.

In this month’s cover and CMP Series story, we look at four different associations that have remade their annual meetings in order to do just that. One of those meetings is the National Association of Corporate Directors’ (NACD) Global Board Leaders’ Summit. As NACD Chief Marketing Officer Harry Stoever told Convene: “You don’t launch a product and never change it. You launch a product and you learn, you evolve; you learn, you evolve; you learn, you evolve.”

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.