The Conference as Performance Art

January 12, 2012

Performance Art is a collaborative art form that came into favor in the 1960s and 1970s as a fusion of several artistic media; dance, music, video, painting, film, video, drama, and/or sculpture. As a performance presented to an audience, it can be either scripted or unscripted and include a variety of levels of audience participation. The action can be live or via media, or a mix of both. 

Performance Art can be presented anywhere, in any venue or setting and for any length of time. It is never “the same old / same old” and often challenges the orthodox and cultural norms. Performance artists challenge audiences to think in new and unconventional ways. When it works, it is an experience that is forever remembered because of how it impacts our senses.

Does that remind you of a conference, trade show, or convention?  It should.

As the demands are increasing to create unique experiences at meetings, planners must become artists.  Events have the same ability to impact the senses and inspire people to challenge how they think about issues. Everyone in the meetings industry thus must work together as part of an ensemble cast.

 No more should a conference be a collection of independent organizers, volunteers, hotel staffers, waiters, transportation coordinators, speakers, panelists, musical entertainment, etc. … Instead, everyone must understand that they are part of a highly interactive production. 

Every employee at a Disney theme park is a “Cast Member,” and the person who picks up trash is highly aware of their importance to the overall experience, equal to those who play a character. 

To create a culture of “performance art” in the planning of a conference, trade show or other business gathering there must be an open discussion of the impact that each player has on the greater show. 

The venue (and all their employees) and the length of the event are material.  The designs of online and printed materials connect the senses. The order of appearance of those who take the stage (MC, speakers, executives who address the audience, etc) and how they interact with the audience before, during and after their presentations has a material impact. 

When and how the meals are served (and what is on the menu) has an effect.  The thoughtful creation of the networking opportunities and social aspects are more than having coffee, donuts or beer in a foyer.  Entertainment and music should not be randomly selected. None of these things should happen in a vacuum.

Great performance art can have a sophisticated and poetic aura. Lame attempts are just that … lame.  The same is true for the coordination of a conference. Humans are experiential beings and when an event becomes an experience it is forever elevated. Artists who can touch the inner levels of an audience’s soul (in art or meeting planning) are deservingly celebrated.


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