Matchmaking is the killer app for conferences

Why is there no Tinder for conferences?

I’ve been in the conference business for more than 15 years, and in addition to all ways that conferences can be improved so that they don’t suck so much, there is a huge opportunity to improve on the conference experience that most conference producers aren’t fucking up — because they’re not doing at all.

In my experience, the biggest value in most conference experiences is meeting someone that I should meet that I didn’t already know that I should meet. As great as it is to exchange ideas with people that I already know, adding someone new to my network adds value for me not only in the present but into the infinite future.

Who am I going to meet, and how?

I can’t count the number of times that I began my experience at a conference thinking: who am I going to meet, and how? Sometimes I’ve been pleasantly surprised to meet someone interesting, sometimes not. It’s always hugely gratifying when it does happen, and disappointing when it doesn’t.

Some conference organizers make some effort to match people up, perhaps seating newcomers with veterans or small companies with larger ones, or assigning a ‘buddy’ or navigator. These are all fair techniques, but they require a lot of manual labor and don’t accomplish what could and should be done.

Imagine if there was a system that collected a few facts about each participant and made suggested matches, scored by experience, interests, geography, and activity (and/or whatever else). Imagine if this system was integrated into the conference registration process and, upon arrival, the conference app presented you with a list of people that you should consider meeting. Of course, you could also be alerted to the presence of people that you already know, but most interesting would be the people that you don’t already know you should know. The app could even suggest places and times to meet up, and show you what you have in common. If you’re both into craft beer, dev ops, adventure travel, @EO or #FI, you’d have a place to start a real conversation. I’m not discounting the fact that many great conversations happen by way of serendipity, but as facilitators, conveners, organizers, producers, we can do better than only these random meetings.

Why don’t more organizers and producers make the effort to do some sort of matchmaking? Most are overwhelmed and underpaid. Most conferences don’t make enough to pay for the time required to match people up. Or, the producers have lost track of their why — which is to serve the community. The opportunity they are missing out on in huge though. Good enough isn’t good enough. The conference organizer creates value and earns the right to make money by serving the network. The value in any network is in the number of connections in the network. If the organizer increases the number of connections in the network, the conference is worth more to everyone: participants, sponsors, and as a business.

Matchmaking is the killer app for conferences.

Update: Event matchmaking systems are now starting to emerge, and I’ve invested in what I believe is the leading platform (Grip). You should check it out — and whether or not you use software, if you’re a conference organizer, take the time to match up your attendees — they will love you for it.