An innovative conference competition format

My Dutch friend and expert moderator, Jan Jaap In der Maur, recently shared an innovative format for an in-conference pitch competition he devised for the Conventa Crossover Conference, in Ljubljana, Slovenia:

“There were also the Conventa Crossover Awards. Traditionally, this kills the dynamics of every conference: there were 16 finalists, who all had to be given the opportunity to pitch. The initial, but rather traditional idea was to allow them all 10 minutes. This would have lead to 2 (!) hours of pitching, which wouldn’t have been fair to anyone.

At the same time, we didn’t want the pitches to be too short and we wanted the participants not only to vote, but also to learn from the projects. So this is what we did:

First, all finalists were allowed to show a video of 90 seconds and present a pitch of 30 seconds. So only 2 minutes in total. Then, all finalists were given a desk. In four rounds of 15 minutes each, participants were given the opportunity to visit a maximum of 4 projects, to ask questions and get more information.

Once again, this allowed participants to only invest time in projects they were genuinely interested in. And the finalists only had to present to those who really wanted to listen. In the end, some of the finalists talked to many participants and some only talked to a very small group. Is this fair? Well, maybe not. But hey … this was a competition!”
Jan-Jaap, New formats and great pictures from Conventa Crossover

What I like about this process

  • Many conference “competitions” are actually marketing contests in disguise rather than judgments of the merits of the products/services/concepts entered. Entrants who do the best job of sewing up participant votes beforehand emerge triumphant. J-J’s format, which includes opportunities during the competition to first inform and then share detailed information with interested participants helps make the event a genuine competition, instead of one whose outcome is a foregone conclusion.
  • Minimizing the time available for initial introductions makes a lot of sense. It forces competitors to concentrate on clearly communicating their entry’s core features, and frees up valuable conference time.
  • Requiring a video — which allows any number of communication approaches — plus a live pitch, efficiently showcases each entry in both a creative and a personal way, giving participants a wide-spectrum feel for both the entry and its creators.
  • Introducing the entrants and then providing follow-up time for in-depth explorations and learning about a subset of the entries is a great way to turn a traditional competition into learning experiences chosen by participants. If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know I’m a fan of conference formats that grant participants opportunities to chose their learning journey!

What I might change

  • 4 15-minute rounds for the final phase seems a little longer than necessary. Perhaps 7 – 10 minutes per round would free up time for other conference activities?
  • The article doesn’t mention the details of the final vote, or the number of “prizes” — Jan Jaap, can you share? At the time of writing, the finalists page implies that there will be a single “Conventa Best Event Award”, and that “The votes from the participants account for 20% of the overall score”, implying that there is a separate jury that will provide the other 80%. Perhaps there were good reasons for this voting format, rather than having the meeting participants decide the “winner(s)”. Regardless, I think it’s always best to provide a public explanation and rationale for any voting scheme used.

How many uninteresting “Awards” sessions have you sat through? (Uninteresting, that is, unless you got an award or a friend of yours did.) And in how many of those sessions did you learn something interesting and/or useful? Not many, I bet!

Jan Jaap’s awards competition format neatly and efficiently integrates useful participant-selected learning into an event. Congratulations J-J on rethinking and improving on what is typically a rote conference component!

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