I spent a wonderful day yesterday at Interesting 2008, exploring interesting things with interesting people. It wasn't like any conference I've ever been to before: much more informal, more fun, more varied. It made traditional conferences look like what they are: sterile, mannered, orchestrated sales events. Thank God for people who are happy to sit in a big room and talk to each other about things they're passionate about. Why doesn't that happen more often? In some ways this was to conferences what blogs are to mainstream media. It's personal instead of abstracted, defined by the personality of the marvellous Russell Davies and his friends rather than 'brand values', and inviting lasting relationships. Lovely.
A few quick thoughts on why Interesting was so much better than most events (and I'm still trying to work this out so please do add your own thoughts if you want):
- Short talks about simple things. No essays, no complexity - just 5 or 10 minutes for each speaker to get you interested in their thing.
- Passion. Everyone was talking about something they loved and did in their spare time, rather than something they were selling. You can pay people to do things, but you can't pay them to be interested in them. And as Russell himself said, in order to be interesting you have to be interested.
- Nice surprises. No-one knew what each speaker was talking about before they started, so no-one wanted to miss a word.
- Bring your own. No lunches provided, and though sponsors brought cake and biscuits we came for the content, not the freebies.
- Singing. And recorders. And electric guitars. And a ukelele. And other things that conferences aren't supposed to have.
- Jokes. Conferences are so bloody serious - and being serious is not the same as being interesting.
There are more of course, and in some ways it's like a magic trick: I don't want to know how it works, because if there's a repeatable pattern then Glaxo and Nike could do it too. But there's definitely a lot I've learnt about how to run more "interesting" events. Big thanks to the ever-lovely Tessy for giving me her spare tickets, and to Russell for letting School of Everything do Interesting Things in the foyer.