Meet Malmö's "The Conference"
Neon Moiré sets out to interview festival organizers. To find out what motivates them to organize their events and what they are most excited about.
Today we talked to Cecilia Frankel of The Conference. An annual festival that aims to help you connect the dots that matter as the world appears more complex. The sixth edition of The Conference takes place on August 16 and 17 in the city of Malmö, Sweden.
What is the story behind the festival name?
Our name? Not really a good story there. It started out as Media Evolution - The Conference. Media Evolution is the community organizing the event. Later we flipped it and it became The Conference by Media Evolution, which is still the full name of the event. The focus on THE came when we started working with Danish designer duo Hvass&Hannibal who made our new logo, it just felt right. No wonder, they’re fabulous.
Why are you organizing The Conference?
For us, the main objective is to showcase Malmö, to bring all the fabulous humans from around the world to our hometown and show them all the great things we’ve got here. It’s a small town but full of potential and exciting initiatives. The other goal is the exploring complexity part. There are many tech conferences out there and to be frank, we don’t even like conferences. We want to inspire change and share the knowledge you maybe wouldn’t look for yourself. The non click-bait topics → Stuff that will be important for us, collectively, to build a better world.
You don’t like conferences?
Most conference organizers are lazy, happy getting a bunch of blokes over to sit and ponder in a sofa. Panels, yikes! Then there are the big name-conferences: nothing new there! The consequence often is that the big names are expensive to book. This means you must please/hunt sponsors which gives bad experience. We’re firm believers of the importance of context, not just content. Respecting the audience is both providing a framework or “audio guide” to help them digest the massive content boost, but we also believe that setting the scene, creating a warm, friendly and beautiful space with a tight production (time-keeping, avoiding long lines, food etc) is important for a conference to be a true learning experience. Remove clutter, be of help and make it beautiful! And, focus on the topics, not on the big names, that way it’s much easier to make it coherent and to make sure there will be good, new, exciting content on your stage. And (last and) have gender equal speaker line-ups. No buts.
How do you curate the program?
It comes down to the fact that we read, watch and listen a LOT! Always, year round. Our job is to be up-to-date. We always start out with deciding topics. That way we make sure of not falling in the trap of booking top-of-mind speakers and we can provide a better guide for our audience. To do this well, we need time. That’s why organizing The Conference is a fulltime job, year round. Time is probably the most important factor of curating a really good knowledge experience. Also set your values straight, communicate them and then use them as a filter when researching. For us, a gender equal line-up is a must, not a nice-to-have-try-to-achieve goal.
What is the biggest challenge for The Conference?
This question has two answers. One part is that no one knows about Malmö. When you travel to a conference you also travel to a destination. Malmö is fucking awesome and Sweden is still exotic for many but Stockholm is still the frontrunner and poster boy.
Our other biggest challenge is what we internally call our “audio guide”. With all our widespread topics, there has to be something between to guide you. That story, a red line, audio guide or whatever you’d like to call it. This probably is our biggest challenge.
What do you want your audience to take home after a The Conference visit?
Cheesy, but we want our participants to feel inspired, fueled up to take the steps needed to change something, if only just a small thing. We want them to feel like a part of something bigger, empowered, happy and hopeful. We believe it’s important to listen to the stuff most of us wouldn’t google ourselves. The info you didn’t know you wanted to know anything about is most often what triggers ideas. The spaces in between. We provide the fragments and we want the participants to connect their own dots to create new methods, products and models.
What are you most proud of or excited about if you look at the The Conference program?
Well, we’re proud of not falling into the trap of listening to previous critique of us being too fluffy. The world needs fluffy. There are hundreds of clickbaits, 10 tips to ace SEO-style articles published 100 times a day. We don’t need a conference for that. Ephemeral knowledge. We’re proud of sticking with our gut. Even if it makes it harder flirting with the bosses. And of course, that our speaker line-up as well as attendee crowd is 50/50 women and men. AND shit, we’re proud of being pretentious. Someone has to be.
What is the most memorable moment or unexpected surprise that can be linked to your event?
We’ve had a couple of speakers hooking up, not just for a night. It was WOW when a past speaker flied from Sydney to Malmö to spend her honeymoon here. And of course, when one of the speakers actually moved to Malmö from the UK.
Why should anyone come to The Conference?
You should come because you’ll learn the things you didn’t know you wanted to learn. New perspectives are really the key for innovation and can open doors you didn’t know existed. Come and learn the thing you don’t have time to think about when burried in deadlines and paperwork. You deserve that time. Also, the humans are wonderful, it’s always a super warm experience. If you want to improve your social media skills and come back on Monday with a new set of ready-to-wear skills, this is probably not the one to attend.
We are looking forward to: The talk about the future of food by Isha Datar of New Harvest. Learn why we prefer one-to-one communication, above one-to-many explained by Fernanda Saboia, senior product strategist at Huge. The live performance of “Where the City Can’t See” by Liam Young. The session of information designer Sha Hwang of Nava, who helped fix HealthCare.gov. And want to learn about the challenges of designing online safety by Michelle Mederos, product designer at Facebook.
- Indy Johar — Zero Zero
- Michelle Mederos — Facebook
- Nazanin Daneshvar —Takhfifan
- Guy Standing — University of London
- Leah Reich — Slack
- Michael Krona — Malmö University
- Caroline Sinders —Independent
- Sha Hwang — Nava
- Deborah Harrison — Microsoft Corana
- Charles Spence — University of Oxford
- Fernanda Saboia — Huge
- Henri Bergius — The Grid
- Isa Datar — New Harvest
- Jemma Xu — Tripalocal
- Jessica Brillhart — Google
- John V. Willshire — Smithery
- Komal Ahmad — Copia
- Liam Young — Tomorrows Thoughts Today
- Marcela Sapone — Alfred
- Tricia Wang — Constellate Data
Want to know more about how The Conference get things done? Curator Martin Thörnkvist, has written several articles about just that. You find them on Medium.