Stop Broadcasting and Start Co-creating: Collaborative Experience Design for the Conference Industry



Social Media Week is a leading news platform and worldwide conference that curates and shares the best ideas and insights into social media and technology's impact on business, society, and culture.


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In the past two years, the global Social Media Week community has hosted more than 1500 individually organized events in fifteen countries around the world. During this time we have worked hard to innovate around the event experience to create more engaging and collaborative ways for people to exchange ideas and connect around shared passions and projects.

The most common type of event, has, unsurprisingly, been panel discussions.  The panel format has been around for many years and while it still has an important role in the exchange of ideas and the convening of thought leaders, I would like to put forward an argument that there are new approaches to event design that provide better and more engaging experiences for conference attendees.

Co-creation & Collaboration as a New Experience Design Model

Tell me and I will forget” Show me and I will remember” “Involve me and I will understand”Confucius

Of the three statements above, which most represents a traditional panel format in your view?  The first one right?  The second might apply to product demonstrations or specific talks where the presenter guides you through a case study; however, it’s the third item–involve me–that we should be focusing on if we’re really committed to engaging experiences for our community.

Social Media Week is built upon a set of principles that focuses on openness, inclusivity, collaboration and co-creation.  We have worked hard since launching to put the attendee at the center of the experience and curation in the hands of individuals and organizations who bring a greater depth of knowledge on a broader and more diverse range of topics – the community.

At the very core of what we do is the notion that if you invite industry and individuals in particular to co-create an event with you, the experience for those that participate will be much richer as a result. However, with more than 50% of our events still representing “Tell Me and I will Forget” approaches to knowledge and information sharing, we have a huge amount of work to do to address this.

Co-creation & Collaborative Experience Design

The reason why panel debates are so popular is because they are the lowest common denominator.  They’re fairly easy to organize and plan for and require much less preparation compared to a person giving a 20 minute talk, or a group planning an interactive workshop.  Don’t get be wrong, they have a place, and with preparation, inspiring speakers, and great audience participation they can be great.  It’s just that in today’s hyper-connected world, where people demand deeper levels of engagement, they shouldn’t represent the standard for the conference industry.

So what’s the plan?

Over the next 12 months the Social Media Week global community will host in excess of 2,000 events in 30 cities worldwide.  Our goal during this next phase of development is to ensure that every single event is designed with co-creation principles at their core.  To achieve this we need to establish and communicate a new set of principles in event experience design.

As a way of framing these principles, let me first provide some definitions for what we mean by “Collaboration, Co-creation and Experience Design”:

Collaboration:  “A form of collective action that occurs when large numbers of people work independently on a single project, often modular in its nature.“ 

Co-creation:  “Ability to organize communities of participants to develop, market, and support the development of event experiences.” 

Experience Design:  “Practice of designing event experiences and environments with a focus placed on the quality of the user experience and culturally relevant solutions.” 

Next, I’ve put together a set of guiding principles which embody everything we believe in at Crowdcentric and Social Media Week.  Think of them as a guide, rather than a set of rules. Most importantly, think about ways to apply them when designing your next Social Media Week event:

  • Inspire participation: Invite the best and brightest minds in your space to join you in the co-creation of your event: open up and show them what’s in it for them by building in ways to fully recognize their support publicly.
  • Connect creative thinkers: It’s important to enable bright and engaged people to build on each others ideas, both on- and off-line.  Provide them with a clear brief and give them the tools to connect and collaborate.
  • Promote openness and sharing: Share your ideas, release them into the public domain, thereby making them available for others to use and comment on.
  • Build flexible networks for participation:  Create flexible networks that extend across internal and often even external borders, thereby enabling you to tap into a broader pool of talent, ideas and resources.
  • Be agile & iterative in your approach:  Based on iterative and incremental development, be agile in your approach and allow requirements and solutions to evolve through collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams.
  • Continue the conversation: Co-creation is a longer-term engagement.  Don’t give up on your event once it’s finished.  Think about ways to continue the conversation, build on people’s ideas and inspire continued dialogue.
  • Remember Confucius:  “Involve me and I will understand”.  Make it interactive, participatory and engaging.  People don’t want to be broadcast to.

The benefits of Co-creation and Collaborative Experience Design

While the effort required to apply co-creation and collaborative experience design principles is considerably greater than “pulling a panel together”, the benefits far outweigh the additional time required.

Specifically, your event will rise above the noise, your participants and co-creators will come away with a much more rewarding experience and the extent to which people will want to continue the conversation and remain connected and engaged in the future will be considerably greater.

Ultimately, you have a choice when thinking about how to design your next event, but remember the most important principle.  If you broadcast to your attendees they are unlikely to recall any information and you will have created no real lasting impact.  If you involve them, they will not only understand, but they will become your greatest advocates.

Good luck in your efforts and thank you for reading!

Toby Daniels is the CEO of New York based Crowdcentric, which was founded as a means of bringing people together around the world via collaborative platforms that fuse real-world and online and mobile experiences, connecting people, content and conversation. Crowdcentric owns and operates Social Media Week.   Follow Toby’s updates on Twitter.


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