I have a rule about watching live music, particularly seeing specific artists more than once: I don’t.
I developed this policy about five years ago after seeing a band I’d seen previously and realized that it just wasn’t the same anymore. Maybe they had a bad night, or maybe they weren’t as vital to me as they were before, but it was possible — very possible — that, more importantly, I had changed. I had lost a connection with the artist. I had moved forward somehow.
This is similar to a philosophy taken from the culinary world and even from my own cooking. In his book The French Laundry, celebrated chef Thomas Keller explains it as the “law of diminishing returns” — that after the first bite and beyond the second, the taste is known, less surprising and less amazing. Keller goes on to say: “What I want is that initial shock, that jolt, that surprise to be the only thing you experience. So I serve five to ten small courses, each meant to satisfy your appetite and pique your curiosity. I want you to say ‘God, I wish I had just one more bite of that.’” This is why tasting menus have become quite popular and why small plates that are shared (originating from the Spanish tapas style of eating) are an increasingly common way of eating Stateside.
Comparatively, this is my new attitude toward conferences: If I’ve been before, I’m less enthused by subsequent appearances. Meaning, I no longer feel compelled to attend again.
Let me explain: I feel as though the conference circuit is getting a bit stale. There are those conferences that have been around for a long, long time. And then there are those pop-up–style events that materialize, slay it and finally disappear into the night, to be remembered fondly, fully impacting all its attendees. Both types of engagement can be the stuff of legend.
My recommendation? Think twice before registering for an event you’ve already attended, and perhaps stretch your legs and thinking by exploring something new, small and unproven. Find symposiums that bring a more varied range of speakers — both experienced and new, a good mix of gender and, because I have a slant toward it, a racially diverse one too.
It’s like that band you saw for the first time or that initial bite of a new dish: stunning, impeccable and memorable.