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Meet the Anti-Conference: YxYY Attendees Go With the Flow

By / Feb 26, 2014 (photo by Ricky Montalvo/via YxYY's Flickr page)

The YxYY conference doesn’t need much more than some good weather, a pool, and some smart attendees to get the big ideas flowing—and it’s that spontaneity that makes it an event model to watch.

Can’t make it to South by Southwest (SXSW) next month? It’s OK; it’s not the hippest conference in the country anymore.

The nine-day takeover of Austin, Texas, by tech-focused thinkers, musicians, and filmmakers has earned accolades and derision in equal parts over the years, but a new four-letter-named conference is dipping its toe into the water.

The four-day YxYY conference is a completely disorganized mess being held poolside at a snazzy hotel with a smallish crowd of insanely creative people expected to attend. And that’s how the creators want it. Here’s what makes YxYY—an idea born after a particularly stressful SXSW conference that was organized within an inch of its life—a format to watch:

No big crowds: Rather than trying to shove thousands of people into a conference center, the event planners chose to cap attendance at a small, manageable number. In its first year, that meant friends of the cofounders mixing with event-goers who signed up. Attendance at this year’s event, taking place in Palm Springs, California, in July, will be limited to 400 people. The challenge for organizers, according to Mashable‘s Stephanie Buck, will be keeping the quality of the attendees high, something some SXSW-goers have pinpointed as a problem in recent years.

A focus on spontaneity: YxYY stands for “Yes and Yes Yes,” based on an improv acting rule that urges willingness to go with the flow. (The “x” once stood for “by,” until SXSW organizers asked them to change the name.) “The idea was, if you got a group of smart, engaged individuals together in the right space that great things would happen, even in the absence of a conference structure,” cofounder Ann Larie Valentine told Mashable. While there were some framing activities at the first event—a series of “poolside primers” that rotated around esoteric topics that don’t usually get conference love—the format is loose and audience-driven. (For those who want to get away from others, there’s an “Introvert Room,” something every conference needs.)

Nonstop great conversations: So, what happens with a small crowd, no expectations, and an environment ripe for hanging out with other creative people? A lot of opening up, according to Chris Tacy, a 2013 attendee. “Watching everyone open up over the first 24 hours and then seeing their delight when they realized that they truly were not being judged but simply were accepted as they were was truly a priceless experience,” he wrote after the 2013 conference. Tacy said the mix of people led to the creation of high-quality, spontaneous content and that the quality of conversation remained high throughout. “When was the last day (much less 2.5-day period) where the majority of your interactions with other people were interesting?” he asked. “Seriously.”

Sound like an event you want to attend? Too bad—when tickets went on sale earlier this month for Palm Springs, they sold out in just 48 hours, though you can still get on a wait list. Sadly, you’ll most likely have to be inspired from the comfort of your office.

What’s the coolest conference concept you’ve heard about lately? Tell us all about it in the comments.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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