Reasons to be Creative organiser reflects on why the best talks are about passion

We chat to John Davey (above), organiser and owner of the successful Brighton-held conference, Reasons to be Creative (part of Brighton Digital Festival).

The conference is religiously held on the first Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of September each year and this year hosted more than 30 speakers and an impressive 900 attendees over three days. It was previously known as Flash on the Beach.

I caught up with John at the end of the second day to ask him a few questions.

AE: So, John, how would you describe the conference?

JD: "Well, that's a difficult one! [laughs]. I'd say it's a smorgasbord of talent: because I don't fit into the HTML5/CSS3 crowd, I don't fit into the designer-only crowd; because we do have tech and we do have creative, so it's a difficult one to pigeonhole. I'd say it's an inspirational event."

AE: What prompted you to start Flash on the Beach?

JD: "I was on the speaking circuit myself, and then my daughter was born and I took my eye off the ball with work, the speaking opportunities dried up, and I thought, 'I really miss that, maybe I should try to do my own'.

I had no idea, really, how to try and do something like that — so I started planning it, and I invited a load of friends, who all said 'yes, we'll do it'.

About a month or two into planning and selling tickets, I thought, 'Oh my God, if this thing goes wrong, I'll have to sell my house!'. Luckily, it didn't, it all went right, and Flash on the Beach grew to be one of the biggest Flash conferences in the world."

AE: Impressive achievement! What prompted the change to Reasons to be Creative?

JD: "Because Flash on the Beach is exactly the same conference that you've attended here, but [people] wouldn't come to it because it had 'Flash' in the title.

I was fed up of going to events and saying to people 'What do you do?' and they'd say 'Oh, I'm a designer' and I'd say 'I do Flash on the Beach' and they'd say 'Yeah, I've heard of that, but I've never attended'. I'd say 'Why?' and they'd say 'Because it's a Flash event.'

I'd say, 'But we have Erik Spiekermann talking, Stefan Sagmeister talking or James Vittori — they're artists and designers' and they'd always say "Oh my God, I didn't know that they'd come, if I'd known that, I'd have attended, but I didn't look past the title". That's why I changed it."

AE: There are a lot of big conferences going on this week — dConstruct, Big Connected TV – what make Reasons to be Creative different from all those others?

JD: "Well, it's a three-day, three-theatre event, for a start — many of those are single-day, single-track events. We have artists, animators, illustrators, filmmakers, coders, designers – it's much broader. A lot of events tend to be quite focused, my aim is to bring content that a) educates, b) inspires and c) motivates, so when people leave, they really want to do great work again."

AE: I've noticed that a few of the talks have been about artists' or creators consideration for the end user/consumer — was this a decision on your part, or just something that emerged naturally?

JD: "I have never, ever said 'I want you to talk about 'x'', and the reason for that is I believe if you force people to talk about something that you want, they're not necessarily talking about their passion – and if they're talking about something they're passionate about, the talk is always going to be better.

"We don't ever have a theme: you know – this year we're talking about 'computers', next year we're talking about 'analog' – or something like that. I tend to see pretty much every speaker I invite, so I know that they're good on stage, and generally I figure that if I find them engaging and interesting. then the audience will probably agree with me."

AE: What do you hope people go away from this conference with?

JD: "I guess there are two answers there. The first one is, I hope that they get totally motivated and inspired. Selfishly, my second thing is I hope that they write down the conference name as the number one on their list when they decide which conferences to go to in the future."

AE: Is there any advice that you'd give to people looking to run conference like this one?

JD: "Don't."

AE: [laughs]

JD: "If people want to get into event organisation, I'd say it's a lot tougher than people think. If they see someone like me on stage and go 'It looks so easy!' then [it's because] I'm making it look easy. That's a big compliment, but there's months and months of planning [behind that].

"I have to think about flights and accommodation and speakers and logistics with the venue, and the A/V, and 'do I get gifts?, don't I get gifts?', the booking system, name changes. There are so many things – ingredients that people don't think of when it comes to organising an event like this – so I would encourage anyone to do that if that's what you want to do, but go in with your eyes open, because it's not as easy as you think."

AE: What do you think about the Brighton Digital Festival?

JD: "Brighton Digital Festival, I guess, is trying to be a bit like South by South-West, which takes over an entire town. That is a hard act to follow — but, you know, what's great is that Brighton is that kind of environment and has that kind of vibe.

"There's a massive amount of design, web design and code companies down here, so it's the perfect setting for a digital festival, and there's a whole month of content that the Brighton Digital Festival can umbrella. I think it's a great thing."

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