Witnessing the design of the annual TEDxAmsterdam-conference since 2009, I’ve seen how the role of conferences is changing. Speaking to conference connoisseur Monique van Dusseldorp one day, she told me that “conferences used to mark a single opportunity to access the latest insights from a field of expertise”. Today, ‘the latest news’ does not require a conference-visit. Nor does linking to fellow professionals, hobbyists or aficionados. We work the web for that.

What then, takes us to conferences these days? A keynote speaker? An impressive guest-list? A business-promise? Maybe (not). I believe it’s the quality of hosting. With that challenge in mind, Pepijn and I accepted to design a conference for a sustainable packaging company.

Photos: Bibi Veth

As a complementary team (he: design, bits-based infrastructure – she: concept, communications), we kicked off the design process with internal workshops to evaluate past conferences and sense needs and expectations. Not to say the past determines the future, but it provided a benchmark for our conference.

We aimed to offer the company and its guests inspiration and practical guidance to prep their businesses for a sustainable future, because “what we practice, is what our future will be” (Toke Moeller, co-founder The Art of Hosting). That included inviting engaging speakers, who shared their entrepreneurial zest, such as Mark Aink and Ynzo van Zanten.

Practical guidance also meant bringing stakeholders in conversation and collectively harvest solutions for a sustainable supply chain (the theme was ‘realizing circular concepts’). Of course, sufficient breaks with local and delish food were one way to go.

Another was to invite Anne Walraven, a young social entrepreneur who collects questions. She then takes these (local, personal) questions to thought leaders across the globe. During her talk, the guests formulated a question for Chinese advocate for international collaboration on sustainability, Peggy Liu.

This way, the conversation of a single moment leads to an answer in the future (and new questions, of course). ‘Realizing circular concepts’ thus included evoking a conversation that continues in people’s minds and hearts after the conference.

‘Conference’ finds its etymological origin in ‘bringing together’. We noticed that, with conscious hosting, people are invited to take responsibility and move “their issues and ideas into wiser actions and innovative solutions that last”.

PS Watch Peggy Liu’s answer here:

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