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How Embracing the Slow Philosophy Could Enhance your Next Event

By Becki Cross

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As Event Managers we strive to ensure value and as a result we often try to cram every minute of the event schedule. But is this actually having a detrimental effect on our events? Should we actually seriously consider slowing down the pace to see the benefits?


A lot of thought and planning goes into any event programme. As an Event Manager I see it as my duty to create an efficient and flowing schedule strongly focused on the content with, dare I say it, almost perfunctory breaks throughout the day.

The planned breaks do of course leave enough time for eating/refreshments and comfort breaks based on the specifics of the audience and venue, with a little extra time for networking and to catch back up on the timings if, shock horror, the conference has got a few minutes behind time.

People are time poor and I know when I attend events myself I am most focused on the speakers and content. I know the importance of networking and enjoy it, but even so I like events to be snappy and do not enjoy too much unstructured time which allows your mind to wander back to your ever growing workload back at the office.

I do therefore often transfer my own preferences into the event timings for the events we create and advise clients on. Clients are often just as keen to maximise presentation and messaging time across the day. Recently though I have begun to question whether this is actually the right approach?

The Slow Movement

The Slow Movement is a way of life and a cultural revolution against living life stuck in fast forward, as documented in Carl Honoré’s acclaimed book ‘In Praise of Slowness.’ The slow movement isn’t always anti speed but it is about doing everything at the right speed. It is about quality over quantity in all aspects of life from food to travel to education and business.

“The latest neuroscience shows that when people are in a relaxed, mellow state, the brain slips into a deeper, richer, more nuanced mode of thought. Psychologists actually call this Slow Thinking. Artists have always known that you cannot hurry the act of creation and increasingly businesses are realizing the same thing: that workers need moments to relax, unplug, be silent in order to be creative and productive.” Quote from Carl Honoré’s.

I started to think about how slowing down the pace and taking on board the slow philosophy could benefit the events we organise. I came up with a few compelling arguments for slow events.

Think About Things Differently

Is the way we do things definitely the right way? By constantly questioning, challenging and doing things differently this is what keeps us at the top of our game. There are some great ideas about adding more fun into conferences and seeing the benefits in this post ‘Why Events Are the Perfect Adult Playground’ which fits perfectly into the slow philosophy!

Networking and Slow Conversations

I agree with Julius when he states that people generally attend events for two reasons: content and networking. However I feel the greatest importance is often placed on the speakers and presentations with networking opportunities given a much lower priority.

In a fast paced agenda it is easy for attendees to disconnect from the networking opportunities. With more time within the programme networking could be structured and supported much better to encourage even the most reticent networker to maximise the opportunity for face to face connections at the event.

With many clients during the recession we saw a shift away from multi day conferences but it is exciting to see that this seems to be coming back into favour in certain sectors as clients realise the power that evening networking and socialising can bring.

The slow philosophy particularly embraces ‘slow conversations.’ This doesn’t mean talking slowly, it means compassionate conversations where the primary aim of each party is to truly understand the other person. Listening, feedback, and problem solving are key results of slow conversations.

Stress Levels

Our working lives are stressful enough so if you are attending an event it shouldn’t be exhausting and demanding, in an ideal world it should be savoured and cherished.

Away from the challenges of the office we want attendees to free their mind to focus fully on the learning opportunity ahead and the event should complement this change of pace rather than also being stuck in fast forward.

Slow Food

Often the event lunch options developed by venues and chosen by Event Managers are practical options in terms of speed and consumption – finger or fork buffets which can be eaten easily even if standing up, talking, moving about, etc.

Think about how the catering options would change if more time was available to linger over lunch. It could open further opportunities for a seated meal served to the table and perhaps two or three courses. Consider for a moment the further opportunity this would then bring, not just to savour the food, but for deep conversations at the dinner table.

The slow food movement is concerned with sustainable food production and local produce. In keeping with this philosophy these environmental considerations are increasingly important factors for our CSR focused clients when choosing a venue and their event menu.

Switch Off Your Phone!

I think that the opportunities social media and technology has given to events today is immense, however just occasionally I wonder if we should experiment and go back to the days when we really did ask for phones to be turned off at the start of an event to avoid any distractions!

To give an example have you ever been so wrapped up tweeting about the great content that you missed the next important point made by the presenter in front of you?

The slow movement believes that in this age of technological advances this is actually raising our stress levels and perpetuating the problem of constantly rushing toward the next task. Mindful living urges people to find calm by fully connecting with the present moment, rather than multi-tasking and looking at multiple devices!

Longer Presentations

Many Event Organisers (myself included) often favour shorter, snappy presentations of 15 – 20 minutes and longer presentations are becoming rarer.

We know there is a lot of evidence in terms of the average attention span becoming shorter (between 8 seconds and 5 minutes maximum according to some reports!) and this is in keeping with this. Is there however a chance that we are missing out on the true depth of content and learning from our speakers in doing so?

We have recently booked a speaker for a business growth event and the brief outlined that we are looking for a presentation of 30 minutes duration. In response the speaker approached fed back that he would want to speak for a minimum of 45 minutes at the event. We have in this case taken his advice and accommodated this within the programme and I applaud the speaker for being honest and making these demands and refusing to be cut short.

More Time for Developing Ideas

Often a panel debate or question and answer session is really hotting up when you have to bring it to a close in order to keep to time. Although you hope those conversations will continue after the event or during the breaks, realistically the spell is broken and the moment and thoughts possibly lost forever.

If the event programme was less structured we would potentially have the freedom to extend successful sessions such as this, making intelligent and emotional decisions based on content, rather than being governed by the clock.

Slow Travel

The slow travel ethos encourages you to connect to a place, its people and culture. If you are attending an event in another city or country in an ideal world it should be the duty of both the organiser and the attendee to encourage and inspire you to explore rather than departing the second the closing words are spoken. Indeed the event location can help add a strong identity and USPs to your event and encourage this connection is made.

Reflection Increases Learning

By incorporating additional reflection time into the core conference programme this is where our events could really benefit the most. Speakers should be encouraged to incorporate questions and reflection time for the audience into their presentations to turn a passive listening experience into personal action points.

Simple steps at the end of the day such as requesting every attendee takes a few minutes to reflect, identify and write down 3 things they will do as a result of the event will yield a much higher success rate that action will actually be taken post event. The seeds of thought need to be planted before the delegate exits the conference venue though for these ideas to germinate and grow, otherwise event content analysis can often be forgotten in the stresses awaiting outside the venue.

In Conclusion

In this post I have suggested just a few ways in which your next event could benefit from learning from the slow philosophy and slowing down the tempo. If you feel your events seem to be constantly in fast forward I hope this post gives you the courage to pause and slow down.

I would welcome your thoughts in the comments below. Do you think we need to slow down and savour our events more? Or does every second count? Have you taken on board this philosophy already for your events or indeed for life in general? If so what have been the results? Are there any other benefits you can report of slowing the event pace? Are slow events the future?

about the author

Becki Cross
Becki Cross is Managing Director of Events Northern Ltd, a UK event and conference management company established in 2004. Becki set up the business in her early twenties and is particularly passionate about conferences, innovation, entrepreneurship and the legacy of events. Becki is also the Deputy Editor, Community Manager and Contributor to EventMB, her dream job alongside event planning! Follow Becki via @beckitrain.
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