Most Innovative Meetings 2017: #13 The Nantucket Project

The think tank avoids typical conference staples such as breakouts and greenrooms.

By Martha C. White October 31, 2017, 5:55 AM EDT

The tranquil setting helps attendees engage with presenters and material.

Photo: Courtesy of the Nantucket Project

The flagship conference of the Nantucket Project had its seventh anniversary in 2017, but the interdisciplinary confab has already racked up an impressive list of speakers, from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to Deepak Chopra to U.S. women’s soccer goalie Hope Solo. Organizers strive to get attendees with diverse professional backgrounds and goals to forge meaningful bonds.

Held on the Massachusetts island over a long weekend shortly after Labor Day, when the summer hubbub has died down, the event offers a setting that encourages people to connect with others with a relative lack of outside distractions, Nantucket Project C.O.O. Jenelle Ferri said.

But the event doesn’t count on just the scenery to make people feel connected. There are some strategic decisions as far as staging and content, as well. The biggest difference conference veterans will notice: no breakout sessions. Unlike the many events that break off after a general session so people can pursue specific topics, all of the roughly 600 attendees experience the same thing at the same time.

And unlike typical lecture-hall- or classroom-style layouts, all of the presentations take place in the round, under a big tent that overlooks the water. This has the added advantage, she said, of tacitly peer-pressuring attendees into not spending the entire time with their heads down, absorbed in their phones and ignoring the presentation.

There are also no greenrooms; speakers join the audience after their sessions rather than sequestering themselves, which encourages dialogue, as do mealtimes with no assigned seating that gives participants the chance to break bread with international luminaries.

“They’re not roped off—they mingle with everybody else,” Ferro said. “Most of them love the casual atmosphere.”

The other big format change the Nantucket Project made was doubling the length of breaks. “Now we have hourlong breaks in which people can have time to have conversations,” she said.

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