Why are conferences still fueling the fire of innovation?
Text by CHRISTOPHER WALSH for BALTIC OUTLOOK MAGAZINE
Photo by GATIS GIERTS (Picture Agency)
In the lightning-fast world of technology and startups, new trends in communication pop up on a daily basis. Slack, WhatsApp, Signal— these are all tools now being used by the digital elite to facilitate rapid decision-making concerning their next big moves. But you may be surprised by the communicative tool that spurs a stunning amount of innovation and collaboration: the conference! While the idea of using conferences to bring together diverse viewpoints is nothing new, its prevalence in the most innovative and trendy industries cannot be denied. In 2016, there were over 56,000 startup events in Europe alone. The number doubled in just one year. These events range from small gatherings of a dozen people to Lisbon’s Web Summit, an annual technology conference with more than 50,000 attendees.
“There is a specific interest in meeting people and networking. Despite all the digital opportunities we may have, face-to-face contact has not and will not lose its value,” said Lejiņa, organizer of Riga’s successful Digital Freedom Festival in 2016. While the majority of the information presented in these conferences can be found through various online sources, Lejina believes that the attraction is in the FOMO [fear of missing out] generated by these events. Where else can you find such a wide range of ideas, contacts, and opportunities in one place?
Asked what keeps drawing attendees to a format that has existed for millennia, Lejiņa points to innovations in both content and format. “Content is King, but Format is Queen… people attend an event because of its serious content, but they leave happy because of the emotions they experience.” This dichotomy explains why you’re as likely to see a performance by an electronic DJ as you are to listen to a topical lecture at one of Europe’s thriving conferences. The inclusion of emotional performances during conferences helps build a sense of community around an event, which in turn draws hundreds of attendees to return year after year.
Lejiņa’s inspiration for the Digital Freedom Festival, co-founded with start-up entrepreneur Uldis Leiterts and her business partner Juris Šleiers, developed after seeing the trend in European cities to hold what she calls “signature conferences”. While Helsinki has Slush and Tallinn has Latitude59, the founders of the Digital Freedom Festival hope their event will soon be recognized as a worthy component of the competitive tech conference scene. But before she can focus on 2017’s Digital Freedom Festival, she has a more pressing matter to attend to—Reputation Time, an annual conference for communications professionals, taking place in Riga on the 12th of May. This year’s conference will focus on “reputation in the ‘posttruth’ world,” a conversation starter sure to lead to some lively debate.
Dagnija Lejiņa is a Senior Partner with Lejiņa & Šleiers, a Riga based reputation management firm, and a co-founder of the Digital Freedom Festival. Since helping organize her first event while working for the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lejiņa attended and coordinated dozens of events throughout the world. She earned a Masters in Politics and Communications at the London School of Economics, and she previously worked as the Head of Public Relations for Nordea Bank in Latvia.
Read the full Baltic Outlook May issue here.