Acrobats and clowns perform between sessions. Brainstorming discussions are held in chairs suspended 30 feet in the air. A vintage Airstream trailer serves as a networking venue. Welcome to C2 Montréal, a three-day conference that aims to merge commerce and creativity by putting attendee connections at the center of the action.
Held this year May 24-26 at The Arsenal, an art gallery and exhibition space located in the Griffintown district of Montréal, the sixth iteration of the conference drew 6,000 attendees from nearly 60 countries and more than 20 industries to “challenge the future of business.” The brainchild of Sid Lee and Cirque du Soleil, C2 is an offbeat hybrid of a TED talk and a theatrical performance that reimagines and challenges the standard conference format. This year’s event operated under an “Ecosystems” theme that aimed to dissect the interconnected world we live in. Each major component of the conference—talks and panels, masterclasses, workshops, labs, “braindates” and festivities—was presented through this lens.
EM was fortunate enough to experience C2 Montréal 2017 and all of its idiosyncrasies firsthand, and we weren’t disappointed. The conference wasn’t perfect—outrageous lines for both labs and coffee (gasp!) got attendees’ feathers ruffled. But overall, it was an eye-opening event that offered lessons and inspiration at every turn. So, without further adieu, we offer six C2-inspired tips from our experiences on the ground. And in the air.
1. Move Attendees Out of Their Comfort Zones
Much of the event is about getting attendees to think outside the box. To make it happen, C2 removes attendees from their physical comfort zones as a means of pulling them from their mental comfort zones. The solution? Sky Labs—small group brainstorming sessions held inside the venue in chairs suspended about 30 feet in the air above a mirrored floor. The strategy is the result of a study that shows there is a direct correlation between risk tolerance and creativity.
2. Create Memorable Networking Opportunities
Like many modern b-to-b events, C2 provides a healthy dose of networking. Attendees lined up in droves to make appointments for e180’s “brain dates,” one-on-one networking meetups that take place in the Forum area of the conference, which includes small table setups and other cozy nooks for connecting within a larger greenhouse-meets-art-gallery-meets-night-club space—a unique setting for unique networking opportunities.
The event also included a quirky camping-style area dubbed “Cabines” (cabins) where attendees could also sign up for private chats. Bungalow-style tented areas, turf grass, trees, bouncy balls that served as chairs, an Airstream trailer and other offbeat elements made it a fun way to connect with fellow conference-goers.
3. Offer Session Overflow Spaces—With Style
Most conference sessions were held outside the main venue in a custom-made, circus-style big top that offered 360-degree views of the stage. It was a popular draw for those who lined up early enough to get in. For those who couldn’t snag a seat in the coveted space, C2 provided a comfy overflow area inside The Arsenal that live-streamed sessions from the big top. The space offered three massive screens, tables, mood lighting and a slew of beanbag-style chairs that allowed attendees to kick back and relax while simultaneously consuming content.
4. Give Your Moderators an Upgrade
Between sessions, rather than allowing a C2 organizer to offer a few mundane facts on the upcoming speaker, the conference leveraged a pair of presenters dubbed the “Troublemaker Duo,” comprised of Andy Nulman and Mariam Khan. The pair simultaneously informed and entertained, discussing the broader social and political changes related to the forthcoming session. In an “In Memoriam” segment the duo paid respect to trends and businesses that have recently “passed on,” including the Ice Bucket Challenge, Vine and the concept of privacy. It had us rolling in the aisles.
5. Never Stop Surprising and Delighting
Performance artists were woven into every aspect of the conference, both roaming the halls of the venue between sessions, and kicking traditional entertainment experiences up a notch. Acrobats and clowns could be found performing and interacting with attendees throughout the event, keeping them on the edge of their seats and lightening the overall mood. The annual C2 Illumination Night, a series of entertainment experiences held on the final day of the conference, included aerialists performing stunts in addition to sets from Chromeo and Sofi Tukker.
6. Offer Content Outside of Sessions
Nearly every C2 session was filled to the brim, but with a variety of other activities taking place throughout the event, attendees may not have been able to consume the volume of content they’d hoped for, had it not been for the “Aquarium.” Serving as a think-tank-meets-fish-tank, the Aquarium was a glass box structure planted in the middle of the show floor that served as a live-broadcasting space. Audio was beamed out of the box, allowing passersby to stop and listen to a variety of both French- and English-speaking business leaders discuss major ideas stemming from the conference each day.
Adding to the experience, the C2 content team gathered the language that emerged from the conference’s speakers, workshops, masterclasses and social media channels to create a moving, visual “information theater” in real time that enveloped the Aquarium. Key words and phrases danced on LED tiles and a grid of screens above and around the structure, adding a striking visual component to the overall experience.
One of many ways C2 got content to perform.