11 ways C2 Montreal is unlike any B2B conference you’ve ever attended.
Last week, I attended C2—the Commerce and Creativity Conference—in Montreal, Canada. It had Snoop Dog (talking about the legalization of cannabis) as the big draw, but that’s not why I wanted to go. I was primarily interested in seeing a new event experience, and evaluating how that might be applied to the B2B events we work on, which are largely tech company user conferences. Luckily for me, there was no shortage of ideas to draw on.
Here are 11 ways C2 Montreal felt unique and elevated the experience:
1. Personal event concierges.
Within days of registering for C2, I received a call from a charming woman identifying herself as Marianne, my "personal C2 concierge"—a role designed to help me get the most out of my C2 experience. She offered advice and recommendations on everything from what sessions to consider to what restaurants to try and sights to see while in Montreal. I have never been to an event that offered such high-touch service, and it struck me as such a positive way to start and forge a relationship with someone. If I were to emulate this approach, I would extend the outreach to post-event activities as well (something I have yet to see happen with C2). For example, if Marianne (a person I have forged a relationship with) asked me what I liked/didn't like about the event, I would surely tell her, and that input is so incredibly valuable to an event organizer.
2. Kickass environmental design.
C2 is an absolute feast for the eyes. There were cafes on rotating platforms. Attention-grabbing art installations (including a rather clever but somewhat horrifying chicken in a chicken suit at the onsite clothing boutique). There was the 2018 version of the phone booth that looked a bit like a space capsule (because, hey, who doesn’t need to take a conference call while at a conference?). And there was a big glass cube—dubbed The Aquarium—that hosted engaging interviews with people who are literally changing the world through AI, biotechnology and other exciting advancements. From the moment you walk in the door, everything is presented with just a little bit of spectacle, and that energy is electric.
3. Non-traditional, fluid agenda.
C2 is one place where it’s actually encouraged to have your own agenda. Instead of following a rigid formula of “keynote/breakouts/party” (rinse and repeat), C2 lets you build each day of your schedule by selecting from a combination of content formats, types and topics. Think of it as "event Legos" that allow you to build the experience you want. Attendees can select from workshops, labs, collaborative discussions, arts and celebrations, activities and coaching, and conference talks (these are typically the “headliner” speakers). Apart from the headliners, each of these sessions repeat multiple times, making it easy for attendees to build a schedule that suits their unique needs. Early birds can start the day with some group yoga and then go straight into a lab, collaborative session, or whatever. Those who operate better when the sun is fully up in the sky, can start with lunch and then have a full afternoon and evening of sessions. This ultimate flexibility puts the attendee in charge of their experience.
4. Truly interactive experiences.
C2 has nailed the elusive goal of actually delivering an interactive experience. In one session I attended, a group of us took a deep dive into our own minds through self-hypnosis (made possible through “mind-reading” headphones), followed by a rather interesting group discussion about how Facebook is experimenting with tailoring your social feed based on your subconscious thoughts. In other sessions, attendees baked and marketed a “guilt-free” cookie, discussed hot topics such as the future of reporting (with "fake news" being a blazing hot topic) in the “Conversation Market" and learned how birdwatching can provide insights into the way we live and work.
There was even interactivity in the large sessions (with over 1,000 people), including one with Phillippe Meunier, Chief Creative Officer at Sid Lee, where each of us wrote words on a balloon and then swapped with other attendees to progressively write one massive poem. Oh, and Phillippe’s mid-session costume changes were entertaining, to say the least.
5. Networking that actually works.
I asked everyone I spoke to what their favorite part of C2 was, and without fail, the answer was Braindating. And to be honest, seeing e180’s Braindate technology in action was one of the key reasons I wanted to attend C2. It didn’t disappoint! Braindating removes the weird dynamic of trying to network within a sea of people you don’t know by creating a sort of “Match.com” for attendees.
You start by creating a brief online profile of your interests, then you can either create a Braindate topic (e.g., Let’s discuss whether or not VR makes for a great event experience) or review topics that other attendees have posted to determine who you’d like to meet. The software makes it relatively easy to find and book a mutual time in your schedule to meet, and e180 offered a dedicated lounge area for Braindates. I talked to a publisher who hosted 11 Braindates in which attendees pitched their book ideas to her. She was incredibly happy to walk away with at least two exciting book prospects. The ability to connect with other attendees that have similar interests is a great way to expand your knowledge and your network.
6. Klik smart badge.
It’s nice when we “click” with someone we’ve just met, but it can sometimes be awkward to keep the conversation going. No one really carries business cards these days, and who has time to write down their info for someone when at a busy conference? With Klik you simply place your badges next to each other, click them, and like magic, you’ve shared your information with each other.
But Klik is so much more than that in that it also manages your entire conference schedule and provides access to any reserved events in your schedule, making it easier to control attendee flow and reducing the amount of time you spend standing in line. It can also be connected to a bank account or loaded with credit that attendees use to purchase food, drinks or other items onsite. Klik is also integrated with Braindate to deliver a cohesive view of your experience from sessions to Braindating to networking. Plus, there are a whole host of event management features that make life much easier for event organizers.
7. On-demand food with a variety of options.
C2 eschews the typical white-clothed tables in dimly lit ballrooms offering marginal buffet food for a more festival-like experience, featuring an array of food trucks and vendors in a sunny outdoor setting on the central plaza. Attendees had a choice of food from around the world, including pizza, poke, salads, tacos, everything duck—even dining on surf and turf along the riverfront. And while there were some grumbles about having to pay for the food a la cart, everyone seemed quite happy with the food selections and quality, and more so, the ability to eat whenever it suited them. Free sparkling or still spring water on demand was convenient for attendees and good for the environment. Feeling a little low energy? Just stop by one of the Nespresso stands to grab a complimentary caffeinated drink of your choice. And on the last day, there was free-flowing champagne and cheese-pop nibbles to keep the fun going until Snoop took over with some celebrity DJ action later in the night.
8. Ultra-targeted, invite-only workshops.
In addition to the great content offered by C2, many of their partners offered curated workshops that were targeted to specific attendee profiles. For example, I was invited to attend the private “Experience Transcended: Navigating the AR Landscape” workshop with Facebook. Yes, part of the session was dedicated to Facebook talking about their AR capabilities, but because it was relevant to me, it didn’t feel like a sales pitch. It felt more like a peek into the near future, giving me new food for thought in how I can incorporate AR into future events. This ultra-targeted approach ensured that I found the time worthwhile and relevant, and that is something all event marketers should be doing (but it means you really need to understand your audiences).
9. Build your own swag.
Everyone loves swag. But everyone loves swag even more when it’s customized for them. C2 offered a really fun and popular activity by partnering with a papier. Attendees could create a custom-made journal by selecting a cover and a variety of insert page types—lined, grid, cartoons, blank, drawings, etc. By having attendees make it themselves, they were much more invested in the final product, and word of mouth spread very quickly.
10. A container village.
Building on the unique environment of C2, clusters of containers were terraced to create a sort of mesa village of gathering spots. These containers offered a range of food choices as well as hospitality suites for strategic partners. I attended an invite-only session with Box in one of these containers, and the overall vibe was laid back (which was a good thing!) and festive (free beer and wine anyone?). I mingled with other attendees, noshed on tasty treats, and got a sneak peek into some pretty interesting technology coming soon from Box (I'm especially excited about the AI-driven audio transcript and imaging tagging capabilities). It was a much more enjoyable experience than the basic booths one usually sees at a conference expo because it fit within the overall experience design and offered something relevant to attendees.
11. Mind-blowing content that truly makes you smarter.
If you want to know what will be happening in the world of commerce and creativity in the next 3 years, then C2 is the place to be. Brainiac, Skyler Tibbets, showed how MIT Labs 4D printed a self-assembling shoe, and worked with Airbus to develop aircraft parts that would morph and change to control the temperature based on the environment. What? 4D printing? “So, what does one get with the extra D?” you might ask. Well, 4D printing is essentially the creation of dynamic 3D printed materials that can autonomously change shape when exposed to elements such as water, movement or a change in temperature.
I also learned from behaviorist, Dan Ariely, that behavior change is not what you think it is. For example, why do we all brush our teeth? It’s not because we’re worried about cavities, it’s because the toothpaste industry has convinced us that to be socially acceptable we must have minty-fresh breath. We care more about banning morning breath than avoiding time in the dreaded dentist chair. Go figure.
All in all, C2 was just the eye- and mind-opening event I was hoping to see, and I’m excited to incorporate many of these attendee-focused ideas in my future event strategies. Should you ever get the chance to go to C2, don’t pass it up!