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Names Not Numbers: How to network offline in a digital age

March 25, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
  • Julia Hobsbawm is the founder of knowledge networking business Editorial Intelligence
  • She promotes live networking meetings, increasingly necessary in the digital age
  • The annual conference Names Not Numbers is a three-day long brainstorming retreat

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CNN International is a media partner for Names Not Numbers

(CNN) -- Her passion for public speaking and networking have earned Julia Hobsbawm the moniker "queen of networking" and made her one of the most influential people in the UK.

As the founder of knowledge networking business Editorial Intelligence she aims to create more face-to-face meetings and live debates in a digital age where many opinion-formers are far too isolated in their corporate silos.

A useful forum for exchanging ideas

To that end, Hobsbawm founded the Names Not Numbers ideas festival in 2009 to connect people from "different walks of life -- business, culture, media, politics, academia, with each other in a very intensive setting."

CNN's Route to the Top caught up with Hobsbawm to talk about the brainstorming retreat she's created, the rising popularity of ideas conferences and the importance of intellectual stimulation. An edited version of the interview follows.

CNN: What is Names Not Numbers?

Julia Hobsbawm: It's a mini-festival about ideas -- that's the best way I can describe it. Each year, 150 to 200 participants from diverse backgrounds such as business, politics, law, or arts set off on a three days long journey to talk about the things that really matter.

What makes it attractive to people is that in this environment where everything is busy and rushed, actually slowing down is a counter-intuitively refreshing and rewarding thing to do.

CNN: Is your conference aimed at connecting mind, body and soul?

JH: It seems that something happens physically and chemically when you go for a journey. When people relax, they give more of themselves.

Rather than just dropping out of the office for an hour and then rushing back, you are with a small family of people for a period of time. All sorts of ideas begin to exchange really fruitfully, friendships and business developments form. What people really want is to be looked after, as if they were going to a sort of "ideas holiday."

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CNN: Why do you think that events like this proved so popular over the past decade?

JH: The "ideas conference" is still relatively young -- the TED conferences celebrate their 30th anniversary this year; Names Not Numbers is seven years old. I think it is no accident that we see more public and private festivals in the decade that'd seen Facebook. So, as a knowledge networking company, we explore how people crave a face-to-face connection in a Facebook age.

We explore how people crave a face-to-face connection in a Facebook age.
Julia Hobsbawm, conference founder

Whilst technology enables everybody to connect, what actually moves the dial on relationships and connections is that when you speak to someone, you look in their face, you take a read of their body language. I think this is why the intensity and the immediacy of an elongated conference work so well.

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CNN: Names Not numbers has been described as an "intellectual Viagra." What does that mean to you?

JH: In a working world, we sometimes forget that people like to be intellectually stimulated. Many don't often get the opportunity in their day jobs to use all the bits of their brain and their emotions. We hope we allow that to come out a bit.

CNN: Do you think that idea conferences may pose a risk of over-stimulation in today's information age?

JH: I think the age of overload is a real risk for people. And one of the benefits of coming away for two or three days of content that other people put together for you is that it actually allows you to relax. You don't have to fervently read and go online, screen a million emails and worry about what you've missed.

So, in a curious way, actually having a very rich, immersive period of time is reassuring -- the programming has been done for you.

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Marcela Kunova contributed to this report.

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