Apologia for the slow conference. The USI example
Feedback from the USI conference that I have been organizing for 10 years with some personal reflections on the world of conferences.
Always… Always Expect The Unexpected!
This sentence pronounced at the USI conference in 2013 by Jim lovell, the commander of Apollo 13 (aka Tom Hanks in the film) on his experience aboard the space shuttle, was a real trigger for me. A slap. A mantra. It sums up in itself the passion that we are implementing by organizing this special conference that is ICU.
A crazy idea
In 2007, already at the helm of marketing at OCTO Technology, I saw François Hisquin (founder of OCTO) return from an event with a crazy idea: to organize an atypical conference, a conference where participants would go. learn Something, really. Not a conference that brings together an entire ecosystem or a market on a restricted subject. Not a conference to meet your peers and boost your networking. Not a conference to do business or present products. NO. A conference for learn collectively, for listen the (true) “thinkers” present the major transformations waiting for us.
Yesterday, agile methods or Lean Start Up revolutionized the IT world. Today these practices are interfering on a large scale in all organizations, forcing leaders to rethink their way of working and working within them. The impact of technologies goes beyond company borders to reach our civil society: artificial intelligence predicts the revolution in the world of work, management is now “reviewed and corrected” by the aspirations of new generations in search of meaning …
In 2008, USI’s ambition was to be an inspiring conference on new technologies and to participate in better living our businesses. A crazy idea … A beautiful promise … but above all the fight of David against Goliath in the world of Conferences where we knew nothing!
USI, a UFO in the Conference World
If I had to summarize the conference market today, I would give the following characteristics:
- niche conferences whether sectoral (insurance, finance, advertising, etc.), technical (Devox, Qcon, etc.) or other,
- publisher conferences (salesforce, microsoft, etc.) focused on product marketing,
- conferences (rather trade shows) with many exhibitors (Vivatech, CES, etc.),
- conferences for business and networking (HubForum, One to one Monaco, BigBoss, Websummit, etc.),
- engaging community conferences: the Napoleons, l’Echappée Volée, Kinnernet …
- TED like conferences (with whom we share the inspiring side),
- … And USI: tech – inspiring – universal.
This market is evolving every day: new themes appear (techforgood, Edutech, medtech, civitech, etc.), the formats are revisited providing participants with new experiences (poptech, Kinnernet, etc.).
USI just celebrated its 10th anniversary. For each edition: speakers as brilliant as they are unexpected (very often USI reveals immense talents), between 30 and 35 talks and more than 1,700 people gathered over 2 days.
Who could have predicted – in 2008 – that an Information Systems Consulting Firm could have created a conference capable of such resonance?
A conference with an unrivaled program in Europe, legends, gurus, stars in their fields. It is always difficult to choose the best talks but some names still make me dizzy: Neil armstrong for the first edition (meeting with a legend), Jim lovell, Albert Jacquard (one of the best USI moments), Yuval Harari and his Homo Sapiens, Isaac getz to revolutionize management (a must see to understand liberated companies), Monica lewinsky testifying to the First Cyber Harassment, Ingrid Betancourt on fear, Simon sinek with Start With Why which has also revolutionized OCTO since we were inspired to write our company Why…
USI is also a UFO in the event market for its independence. We have always refused the “classic sponsorship” where a company “pays” to “speak to an audience”. USI is a conference 100% content. USI is not a cash machine. Each year we aim for financial balance. We invest heavily in the program and keep total independence in our tone, our values and the choice of talks. It is this guarantee that the participating companies are looking for… No marketing blah, just the best talks in 2 days to get a kick out of it, your techno shoot, exchange and innovation.
Huh? you don’t know the ICU?
If this lecture is that good, why is it not better known?
After 10 years of attempting to make it emerge in the media – as LeWeb was able to be in its time or today Vivatech (PR campaigns, influencer strategy, press partnerships, etc.) here is my analysis: USI is a “conference of connoisseurs” itself. if its subjects concern the entire corporate public, all companies from start-ups to large stores. USI does not hit the news and neither does it create it. USI is a conference of “cold” content, of social debate, of experts who foresee the world… It hardly fits into the reactional calendar of the big dailies which are subject to the dictatorship of the news. It is not intended to popularize brands or trends but rather to get people to think.
Slow Conference: an assumed model
USI intends to deal with subjects in depth and offers its audience the opportunity to choose its own program from among some thirty talks. Unlike the short “a la TED” formats (which we like a lot by the way), USI offers 40-50 minute sessions. Time needed to listen to and absorb a message, not skim over it. Without knowing it, we have developed a conference model that asks its audience to do only one thing: listen for inspiration.
Asking managers or C-Levels for 2 days of their time seems like an almost impossible sacrifice? Yes, you are surely right. But, at a time when the multi-tasking and the context switching punctuate our lives, we believe it is absolutely non-negotiable to fully experience two days of inspiration. USI invites you to “take the time” to think. There is no short term ROI to expect if you attend a conference like this …
And this is what we were able to experience within OCTO where more than half of the Octos participate each year in the USI. Accepting to invest this time as a team to be inspired had a power unexpected to align our company and bring about a movement, whether business or managerial.
In short, as before any performance, let’s give companies and their employees time to breathe deeply, slow their heart rate and consider preparing for their future more calmly.
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