10 Conferences That Are Pushing the Industry Forward

Skift Take

Is your conference bleeding edge or cutting edge? Are you leading the industry in experimentation or playing it safe? Here are some conferences that just might inspire your next one.

There’s a difference between cutting edge and bleeding edge. Cutting edge wows your attendees. Bleeding edge hurts. From an innovation perspective cutting edge is where most of your attendees can enjoy the innovation you’re presenting and using, while bleeding edge makes you the proverbial guinea pig or lab rat. Yes, you are among the first to use this innovative method or tech if you’re bleeding edge but you will also be working out all of the challenges with your attendees.

Not always fun. You want to be pushing innovation, not pulling (begging and pleading) your audience to participate and love it as much as you do.

The conferences here are working out all of the challenges for you so you can easily emulate what they’re doing with little pain. Their actions are pushing the industry forward.

NetApp Insight


This conference is for storage and data management pros, so it attracts a techie crowd of about 5,000 strong each year. What’s innovative about it is the learning sessions. They do more than just pay lip-service to the idea of “interactive” learning. In their sessions, they offer self-paced, hands-on learning labs. Attendees can earn NetApp certifications at no additional charge. The conference app allows attendees to save a spot in technical breakout sessions, customer case studies, Hands-On Lab sessions, other conference activities, and onsite NetApp certification exams.

It also doesn’t hurt that they have top-notch entertainment in a private concert too. This year it’s recording artist Andy Grammer.

Tech Week


This event is held in several places around the U.S. and Canada. It targets the tech enthusiast. While one would expect innovation from a tech conference, the tech is not the innovative part of this gathering. These events look to create an “innovation ecosystem.” This conference of techies doesn’t just serve to educate on emerging tech but also features a start-up expo, hackathon, and career fair at the same time. It brings together the entire community for sessions that attendees in different stages of their career cycle can all enjoy from the budding enthusiast to the die-hard careerist. The ticket prices reflect this as well with options that meet every budget from $20-$1,500.

The Startup Grind Conference offers a similar “ecosystem” idea but for 2,000 entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs. It helps attendees find the “right co-founder, get media attention, pitch investors, and launch products.”

Summer Brand Camp


Summer Brand Camp is sort of like summer camp and a company retreat on steroids. The conference organizers tout it as “a way of life.” It mixes marketing, human resources, and operations hospitality leaders in one conference for a three-day mix-and-mingle day camp. Not only is it different to have these departments together in sessions working in a collaborative environment to “create real change in workplaces,” the conference looks to bond attendees old-fashioned style (think camp activities like group talent show).



Ignite’s popular format has been emulated time and time again by other conferences. At Ignite sessions, presenters are given five minutes to speak, with a maximum of 20 slides that advance every 15 seconds whether they’re ready or not. It’s sort of like comedy improv for the speaker set. It’s high energy and fun to watch. Here’s an example of an Ignite session.



PopTech is a global community of thought leaders, entrepreneurs, visionaries, and deep-thinking experts who get together with the goal of sharing information beyond industry lines. The idea behind it is that perspective is everything and getting too entrenched in an industry can limit innovation. Poptech conferences are all about big ideas and the ramifications of sharing those ideas are tremendous.

Incite Summit


Many conference planners understand the importance of personalization for attendees, but Incite Summit sets the tone for it right in the beginning. Incite focuses solely on in-house marketing bringing attendees advice from top-level marketers at some of the biggest brands in the world. This conference places huge importance on attendee input, particularly on the agenda. It gives them a $250 discount on registration for giving feedback on the agenda. Incite reports that 97% of attendees say they would recommend the event to their peers and 98% said they learned something new and useful that they have implemented in their own marketing.

International StartUp Festival


Notice they bill this as a “festival” and not a conference. There’s nothing stodgy about this gathering that wants to be considered “unexpected” and “unconventional.” Startups on their own are innovative (most of them) but one of the things that really makes this conference stand out is their venues for sessions. Don’t be surprised when your session is scheduled in a tent, or better yet, a food truck line. No kidding.

Business Innovation Factory


Another different word for conference, this one focuses on the power of storytelling in innovation. Instead of your typical innovation keynotes, this event highlights design thinkers and storytellers sharing their stories over two days. Podiums have been traded for bar stools at this conference so sit back and enjoy the stories.

Sweets and Snacks Expo


This conference of the National Confectioners Association innovates around its attendees and vendors always looking for ways to make things better for both of them. At its 2014 conference, it hosted its learning labs on the showroom floor to get everyone in the showroom. This large conference often struggled with getting traffic to the back of the showroom so they built a giant Tic Tac trailer. Attendees could get their pictures taken inside a Tic Tac and they could make their own customized Tic Tac packs. It was quite a hit and traffic wasn’t a problem after that.

TED Conferences


At this point most of us are familiar with TEDTalks and the reason for that is probably not because we shelled out the $6,000 to attend some of their events. TED Conferences did something truly innovative at the time because while the conferences were amazing, they had the reputation of being elitist due to ticket prices and subject matter. To bring TED to a global stage, the people behind the conference began publishing the talks for free in 2006, in their entirety. This created an almost viral expansion of their audience. It also expanded the reach of speakers and now thousands of presenters want to be a part of this experience. TED’s mission is to spread good thinking globally” and opening up their content certainly achieved that without decreasing interest in the events.

In Conclusion

There are a number of ways to innovate at your next conference, even if your attendees aren’t techies. Look for ways to solve problems or create an experience. Don’t innovate for innovation’s sake. For it to be truly effective, you want to cater to the needs and desires of your audience. Even if they’re not aware of them yet.