I've been to a ton of events. Weekend campouts where, like Fight Club, everyone presents. Conferences which are a bundle of laughs with my friends I see once a year, and a massive mental accelerant. That one that James took me to in the basement under a shop that was all about magic and Plato and made me see the universe behind this one for like a month. Everyone in my world now knows how to make slides and give a talk; it used to be super raw and I loved that. Now talks aren't an hour, they're 18 minutes and everyone has the TED guidelines engraved on their soul: Black turtleneck and start with a personal story. Not bad, just different.
By the best event, I mean the one that has had the longest lasting effect on my thinking. And sure that's mostly about the content and the time in my life, but also a ton about the format:
Nature, space, society at Tate Modern, London, ran across three successive Fridays in 2004. Each started at 2.30pm, and took the same format: a lecture for one hour - with few or zero slides - followed by 90 minutes of panel discussion and audience questions. Then: done, go home.
The videos of the three speakers are online:
The lectures are long by 2015 standards -- the speakers were captivating.
But the format! There was something about the weekly rhythm which meant that there was time for me to digest each download of new thoughts. The session stayed with me for the week... and the ideas were then multiplied by the following lecture.
Over the two weeks I was taken somewhere... somewhere not accessible in a dense day of short talks. An hour is time to explore and speculate, time for poetry. A week is time to discuss with friends, contemplate, see the deeper patterns. The repetition pumps the swing. But only three talks: Not a lengthy course, contained enough that it's still a single event.
And - honestly - Friday afternoons are a good time to take away from work. No getting distracted and anxious about email.
So over a decade later I look back, and I realise that these thinkers have guided me. Change happened in me.
If I was putting on an event now, this is what I'd want to do.