Lesson 3 from MEA Conference: Don’t rest on your laurels, events needs to stay relevant

Hugh Forrest SXSW SXSW was patterned after the New Music Seminar in New York. Held between 9-17 March 2018, it was one of strongest years ever with 75,088 conference attendees, 4,967 conference speakers, 4,035 media/press, and 75,000 trade show attendees over 4 days. Speakers included Elon Musk, Bernie Sanders, and Melinda Gates. With more international speakers than any other year, including our very “own” Hugh Jackman. Australia was 6th highest international attendance. Economic impact was $349M, which is around ⅔ to ¾ of the Super Bowl. With 30 years of history under their belt, patience and persistence is how they’ve arrived at where they are today. Key growth points over the years included speakers such as Johnny Cash, and 1997 Tony Bennett performed. 2007 was a turning point when Twitter launched at the event, 2016 President Obama and Michelle Obama. Big trends at this year’s event were Artificial Intelligence (AI), which Hugh thinks “Is the most transformative technology of our time”. “It was huge in 2017 and again in 2018 and believes it will be huge again in 2019”. Other big topic trends include VR, health and health tech and startups remain a big point of focus at the event. The biggest topic by far for 2018 was diversity and inclusion and female empowerment. After 30 years, how do they stay relevant? With more competition from conferences, YouTube and new events, High shared 7 ideas on keeping our events relevant: 1. Focus on the Future – your event must change with the times. Try to predict the future in your industry and curate content that talks to tomorrow. eg; in 5-10 years SXSW will be more health focused rather than tech focused, this has been a trend that has slowly emerged over the last 3 years. 2. Mix Younger and Older – Showcase up and coming talent, spotlight new talent and new ideas and new innovation, it’s very hard to market this stuff, mix veteran speakers, performers, voices 3. Energy Trumps Expertise – Have industry experts speak at your event is great but a boring speaker is a boring speaker! A speaker with energy and enthusiasm is much better. This tie in with the idea that attendee want to be inspired. 4. Sell your Stories – Sell the stories that come out of your event that will gain the most traction, and stay relevant to new audiences. 5. Listen Listen Listen – Keep your ear to the ground, sense what’s coming and go with it. 6. Build New Platforms – use digital, apps and any other emerging technology. Use emerging technology to showcase the owner as well as your adoption of new technology. Change and move it each year. 7. Creativity is King – Don’t be afraid to try something new, even if it’s not refined, use it. You’re still ahead of the game. On the topic of AI vs face to face meetings, Hugh Forrest quoted “There is still something magical about being in that room, seeing someone else, connecting with that person. As great as the technology is, that human aspect is what we offer. In many ways, conferences and festivals have become the Church of our time. We come together, connect for a common purpose and we’re moved, we can talk about that experience and during the break. It’s hard to imagine technology can replicate this.”