Third Places instead of Conference as Usual

Concepts for brand and product experiences are increasingly emerging on the basis of the theory of the Third Place. What’s behind it?

Check-in, checkroom, seating, presentation 1 and 2 – finally coffee break! – Keynote, lunch, soon it will be over, digestive nap before PowerPoint, when will there be cake? Could I possibly pretend to have an inconvenient train connection even before the closing keynote …? Good grief, how many more pie charts do I have to look at today?

Fortunately, the days of frontal, passive slide battles are over. Today’s conferences want and need to be interactive, co-creative and bidirectional. As strategic-thinking consultants to our clients, we try to figure out and incorporate the “Why?” for organizers and attendees alike. The phenomenon of collaborative public places outside the home and office has been around for centuries. However, it was not included in encyclopedias as a “third place” until it was thoroughly researched by sociologist Ray Oldenburg and published in his 1989 book, The Great Good Place.[1]

And so concepts for brand and product experiences are increasingly emerging on the basis of the theory of the “third place”. At first, the third place has nothing to do with learning. Rather, it is a place that is neither home, nor a place of work, nor a school. People feel at home here, like to drop by, can stay and leave again, meet people or keep to themselves. There is something to eat and drink and whoever wants to, has a conversation.

Third party venues meet many criteria, some of which do not apply to conferences, such as “free,” “no host,” “people meet unarranged,” and they are “open to all and located nearby.” Nevertheless, other characteristics can very well be transferred to events, meetings and conferences. Thus, third places – today again more than ever – are simple, practical, clear and not necessarily beautiful. The most important thing in third places is communication. They provide stimulation and entertainment and can play an important role for a democratic society.

The Third Place as a “feel-good space” wants to give chance a helping hand and welcomes its visitors. Ideally, as event planners, we set up the Third Place to invite people to linger. In doing so, we have to take into account very different, sometimes conflicting needs of our guests. There are those who reach top form in an intimate, protected conversation and those who only blossom in the spotlight.

In this sense, FabLabs[2] are also a variant of the Third Place, albeit thematically limited. Analog and digital tools are available here for the realization of ideas and prototypes. Instead of lecturers working through chapters, people meet here who want to share their knowledge, and that’s what FabLabs have in common with Makerspaces or Repair Cafés.

As event planners and strategic companions, we also see our projects as breeding grounds to promote peer-to-peer learning, create learning spaces, and show our participants the potential of thinking outside the box. To do this, you have to be able to let go, and in times of tight budgets and sharply calculated ROIs, that’s an exciting challenge.