I was fortunate to share a cab ride with a fellow speaker, Will, to the Custom Content Council conference. During our conversation I mentioned that I had accidentally embarked upon my creative journey through guest blogging three years ago. One thing led to another and I launched my own website, pdidner.wpengine.com and started writing about global content marketing and also sharing personal observation about life. “You should come to C2 Montreal,” said Will. “What is that?” I asked “It’s a creative conference where you will get inspired. It’s an unconference conference. You will get something out it. You should GO!” Will assured me. I have been to many industry conferences and wondered whether or not a conference could really spark creativity? I was intrigued by the website and decided to check it out on my own dime. As a marketing professional and ex-event marketing manager, I have to say the organizers have put a great deal of effort into making this event unique, fun, interactive and inspirational. Here are some interesting ideas for fellow marketers to steal with pride: Unique: I didn’t see conventional sponsored booths anywhere in the whole venue. The Keynote area was called Forum Microsoft (Obviously, it was sponsored by Microsoft). When the VP of Microsoft got on the stage, he talked about innovation as a means to introduce a professor who would share a case study about the One Drop Foundation by asking five questions and using a real-time voting mechanism as a way to interact with the audience. This is the first time I have seen a case study being presented at a keynote. Rare!
Sessions were called labs and workshops. There were DIY Labs, Solutions Labs and Prototype Labs. Workshops were brainstorming sessions, which were facilitated by their sponsors or volunteers. Flipcharts, markers, post-it notes, and crayons were easily accessible in designated areas. Collaborate!
They sold plenty of sponsorship opportunities, but it was weaved into overall user-experience. Instead of having a sponsor get on a stage to introduce the speaker and talk about their company and products, the sponsored speaker introduction was done in a short and artsy video format. Nice! Who says print is dead? C2 Montreal created a beautiful print magazine for this event. All sponsors’ information and their product offerings were highlighted in the magazine, daily program guide and on the walls where relevant to their websites. It gave sponsors plenty of visibility, yet it was not intrusive to attendees. Seamless! Fun: Before the keynote sessions, an actor speaking poetically would tell a story about the upcoming topics as if it were a Shakespeare play. I found that delightful. Clever!
Between sessions, there were quick and fun C2 minutes: Justin Kingsley would get on the stage and tell us something unique about Montreal such as the local custom of greeting with two kisses on the cheeks starting on your right.
Of course, we also needed to be educated about Montreal Hockey and learn how to cheer properly for the Montreal Canadians during their play-off against New York Rangers. Laugh! (As a brief Montreal Canadians fan, I am very sorry that they lost the play-offs to New York Rangers.) This conference brought in local artists and small business owners in two formats. Vendors can leverage space for the full conference to showcase their products or they can have a demo table to showcase their products for a specific time. In addition to bringing locals in to the conference, they also took attendees out into the community. You could choose guided tours of Cirque Du Soleil headquarters, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts or local artist studios. Community! Keurig Coffee Maker was one of the sponsors. They discreetly set up multiple stations for DIY drinks with various tea and coffee selections. Love it! Interactive: Unlike a traditional conference in a hotel or convention-center setting, the venue was in an art gallery-like rustic warehouse. They incorporated indoor and outdoor space. The center of the indoor space was a bar (Yes, a bar!!) where people could get drinks and hang out. Surrounding the bar was three separate sponsored lounge areas, each one uniquely decorated (and sponsored). Artsy!
One lounge listed 8 questions and posted them on three walls. You could contribute your own ideas on post cards and clip your recommendations on the walls. Or you could find 3-4 attendees and get into a pool of plastic bubbles and do a fun brainstorming exercise through a guided realization with your eyes blind-folded. Let your mind flow. Free!
Inspirational: The inspiration and creative spark came through workshops and labs, talking to others and listening to keynotes. The Keynote speaker line-up was solid, including James Cameron (Director of Avatar and Titanic), Professor Muhammad Yunus (Nobel Peace Prize Laureate), Esther Lee (SVP of AT & T), Bjarke Ingels (Architect from Denmark), Zita Cobb (Fogo Island Foundation) and more. Stimulating! Bjarke talked about some architectural projects in which he incorporated the natural surroundings as part of his design. He was FUNNY!
Zita told of going back to where she came from, Fogo Island, which lies off the far northeast coast of Newfoundland. She described her journey home and talked of rebuilding the economy of the island. She may not have been the best speaker, yet her speech made a lasting impression on me. Her slides displayed the scenery of Fogo Island. Her key messages were conveyed beautifully with memorable quotes. Moving!
Scale to other cities… Not every industry event can be done in a grand scale like C2 Montreal, but I am certain that some ideas can be tested for your events. Since I always try to think from a global perspective, I was wondering if this event could be scaled to other cities. They are thinking about creating C2 Madrid, then C2 Shanghai… I am looking forward to seeing how the essence of this event can be scaled to other cities with local touches in the future. Another interesting observation: food is not free! You had to buy meals and beverages and it was not cheap. Yet, the food stations were very nicely decorated with fresh vegetables and fruits. Dishes or even sandwich boxes looked so pretty, it really matched the theme of creativity!
Will, YOU ARE RIGHT! I was inspired by C2 Montreal! Thank you very much for inviting me to this wonderful event. I hope to see you again next year!