Austria’s Innovative Fifteen Seconds Festival Challenges Status Quo

Author: Michelle Russell       

If you were to only go by its promise — “No egos, no agendas, no bullshit.” — you could mistake the Fifteen Seconds Festival for a no-frills, cut-to-the-chase kind of meeting for entrepreneurs. But once you’d spent, say, 15 seconds on the website, you’d see that it’s exactly the opposite. “What we do,” Thiemo Gillissen, the event’s co-founder and partner, told Convene, “is a business conference done differently.”

First impressions can be everything, hence the name of the event, which is held every year in Graz, Austria. “Fifteen Seconds is something we came up with in reference to the importance of the first 15 seconds in whatever situation you are in — a meeting, a date, a phone call, an advertisement,” Gillissen said. As for the “festival” part, he thinks that’s what a modern business conference should feel like. “Our attendees, partners, journalists, and speakers,” he said, “tell us that this fundamental thinking is what makes the two days in Graz so special.”

15 Seconds Festival

The Fifteen Seconds Festival presents more than 100 speakers.

Since its founding in 2012, the goal of Fifteen Seconds has been “to inspire, enable, and empower people,” Gillissen said. “Back then, we found out that what makes great organizations great is that they are powered by people. People that share a certain set of attitudes that makes them stand out. They inspire others, share what they learned, and never stop learn-ing themselves. And they use the power of relationships. We committed to build this community and the space required to connect these people and facilitate new relationships and knowledge transfer, all within an environment fueled by creativity and innovation.”

More than 3,000 professionals in marketing, sales, advertising, media, talent acquisition, and technology roles attended the 2016 event — 90 percent of them from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, although more than 25 different countries were represented. The 2017 Fifteen Seconds Festival, scheduled for June 8–9, will focus on “challenging the commercial future” and cover four pillars: growth, talent, media, and tech. “We see ourselves as a platform to connect many disciplines, roles, and industries together in one place,” Gillissen said. “We believe that true creativity and innovation arises from the clash of the different.”

As an event whose stock in trade is novelty, Fifteen Seconds obviously can’t roll out the same program each year. This year will see the introduction of several initiatives. With Experimental Brainstorming, participants will “enter the unknown” with a stranger to work toward a solution. Connect Sessions will take place in an IKEA ball pit, with prepared question cards designed to initiate conversations. Dinner With a Stranger, curated by Fifteen Seconds, will connect attendees over a meal at a local restaurant. And Baking Bread will give participants a chance to get their hands dirty (or sticky), rolling out dough alongside Graz’s master baker.

For a taste of the immersive experience in store for participants this year, here is a look at last year’s festival, with Gillissen’s comments.

Host Destination: Graz

“Graz has proven to be a great host city for every edition so far as a historical center, Europe’s culture capital of 2003, a [UNESCO] World Cultural Heritage [Site], and City of Design. At the start of the summer, this well-frequented creative city is simply amazing. We are eager to continue hosting our annual festival here, as we receive feedback from attendees and speakers who enjoy their stay during the festival week.”

15 Seconds Festival

Graz, Austria, has proven to be a great host city for the Fifteen Seconds Festival, festival co-founder Thiemo Gillissen said.

Program Format

“Our program is designed to fit our four pillars [growth, talent, media, and tech]. Each of the session stages is dedicated to one topic. Our keynotes have a more inspirational-oriented approach, and we also host panel discussions and fireside chats. All in all, that’s five stages that run parallel throughout both days, totaling more than 100 sessions.”

100+ Speakers

“We receive a great number of applications from people who want to speak on our stages. Additionally, speakers from previous editions provide us with recommendations, and we also do a lot of research ourselves. These sources result in a pile of potential [speakers] that we screen and prioritize every few weeks or so. Our questions in the process that follows include: How well perceived is the brand? How authentically does the speaker represent the brand and the topic in a con-text? How relevant is the topic of the talk? How impressive is the CV of the speaker?”

15 Seconds Festival

The expo floor at Fifteen Seconds Festival is a “relaxing, interactive playground.”

Expo Floor

“As digital media takes over, it gets harder and harder for brands to engage with audiences. In a world where online devices are ubiquitous, everyone is facing thousands of brand messages each and every day. We believe that investing in engaging live brand experiences is crucial and inevitable. Our expo area is a relaxing, interactive playground and is designed to get people to  stay, connect, and discuss. We partner with 120 companies each year, including Google, MasterCard, Forbes, Red Bull, Twitter, IKEA, Mercedes-Benz, Samsung, Vice, Microsoft, and Oracle.”


“We respect our environment and we strive to make an effort to choose sustainable materials as well as upcycle existing materials. Most of the interior design is done in close collaboration with IKEA, and the team there helps us with this mission.”

Food and Beverage

“We take our attendees on a culinary journey at our very own Food Market, designed to offer a great variety of international cuisine. A good meal is what unites people. Other than that, we [work] with many food-and-beverage partners to offer snacks, drinks, and refreshments throughout the day.”


“By delivering action-oriented insights, know-how, and skills to lead and build, we set out to define lifelong learning for people and their organizations. What started in 2012 as an idea on a piece of paper has since grown into a community, gathering thinkers and makers from all over the world. We believe growth never happens alone, and we are on a mission to create a positive impact through valuable relationships.”

15 Seconds Festival

More than 3,000 people in marketing, sales, advertising, media, talent acquisition, and technology roles attended the 2016 Fifteen Seconds Festival.

Become a Member

Get premium access to provocative executive-level education, face-to-face networking and business intelligence.