Joanna Coles on Cosmopolitan’s First-Ever Fun Fearless Life Conference

by Alexandra Ilyashov

Cosmopolitan is segueing their content from the glossy pages and IRL with the debut of their Fun Fearless Life Conference this fall. But the event won’t be all fun and games: there will be a slew of speakers covering topics like business, career, and relationships. Spanning two days, the conference will hit the David H. Koch Theater in New York on November 8 and 9, and it will then take on Miami’s Arsht Center on December 6 and 7. Cosmo is partnering with William Morris Endeavor on the event, and the aim is to expand the conference globally. Additionally, Maybelline New York and Express has signed on as partners for the conferences. Confirmed speakers include Cameron Diaz, Jessica Alba, Lea Michele, Chrissy Teigen, Jillian Michaels, Spanx’s Sara BlakelyNasty Gal’s Sophia Amoruso, and Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy. Tickets, which can be scooped up at, will be limited to a run of 2,000 and cost between $99 and $399. We rang up Cosmopolitan EIC Joanna Coles to give us the dish…

Why New York and Miami?
We’re doing the first one in New York because I wanted to be very hands-on in the production. Also, in the tri-state area, there are loads of girls just leaving college; we also have hundreds of thousands of readers in the area. We also have a lot of readers in Miami, as well as Cosmo For Latinas, so that was a natural place for us to go.

Where might you go next?
We may go to London, and there’s the opportunity to go to Chicago, L.A., San Francisco, Atlanta, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Sydney…all of these places have expressed interest. We’re going to see how we do here first. We have 62 international editions, so the possibilities for the brand are endless.

Did you ever consider doing an event like this when you were helming Marie Claire?
I really didn’t. Marie Claire is such a pure fashion play, and Cosmo has such a wider  range of topics; we thought we could bring it to life in a conference. I see Marie Claire as more aspirational, whereas Cosmo is more inspirational—and that’s what the weekend is designed to do, to help you begin to live the life you’ve always wanted to live.

Sounds like there’s a lot of career and life advice on tap. Is this a quarter-life crisis conference?
That’s an interesting way of putting it. That’s not the purpose, but your 20s are an oddly complex time. You’re faced with an extraordinary, exciting potential of your life, and yet you’re not quite sure how to begin to realize it.

Would you have wanted an event like this when you were a twentysomething?
Yes. One of my first bosses sent me to a course for young working women, about executive presence in the workplace. Many of the things learned then I’ve carried with me, and I was very surprised I didn’t run across more of those things. There will be information and help on money, jobs, relationships, all the elements that make up a young woman’s life. when you’re in college, you’re part of a larger community; when you leave, you lose the wider sense of belonging. That’s what this conference is meant to encourage.

Why make this a two-day affair, instead of something shorter?
When we talked to our sponsors, Maybelline and Express, they felt, as we did, that it was much more valuable as a weekend experience. So much of our lives are lived online; people want experiences! We wanted to make this an investment for people who might dream of going to business or grad school but couldn’t afford it, didn’t have the time, or were in too much of a hurry. This is a little crash course in all areas of your life.

So is there some kind of Cosmo diploma or certificate?
No, but much more importantly, you’ll get a subscription to Cosmo for you or a friend. It’s like getting 12 diplomas or business books, delivered to you each month, instructing you on how to have your best life!

Since you’re steering away from the standard-issue format, what’s happening in its place?
I’ve been to some conferences, and its dreary panel after dreary panel without much real conversation. This will be fast, short conversations with breaks for beautification, as well as fashion consultations, covering things like, ‘What do you wear to negotiate your raise?’, which will be peppered with performances, social media interaction, and more.

How else are you shaking up the traditional conference setup?
Something we’re exploring, as long as we can make this technology work, is that you’ll walk in wearing a bracelet that will read information about you; we’ll have a lot of data on people. So we’ll know quite a lot about you when you come in, and we’ll be matching people that have things in common. You won’t have that scenario of coming alone and eating your boxed lunch on your own. It’s going to be very high tech.

How did you cobble together the celeb roster for the NYC leg?
It’s an unusual bunch to throw together—we wanted people that we thought were inspirational, not just because they’re famous. Lea Michele has something very specific to say in her book, Brunette Ambition, about how she decided to get ahead. Cameron Diaz has something specific to say about her whole holistic approach to life. Amy Cuddy from Harvard Business School is absolutely brilliant; she’ a mesmerizing speaker. Jessica Alba will talk about the switch from actor to entrepreneur, and Sara Blakely, from Spanx, is a Cosmo heroine. All of them are performers; they won’t be muttering in a microphone and droning on.

Since this is Cosmo, after all: Will the conference cover sex?
We’ll be covering relationships—how you get out of a relationship that’s dragging you down, figuring out the kind of relationship you’re looking for, staying healthy, and making good choices. The conference is about having a fun, fearless life, and sex is part of that, but there won’t be workshops on how to get a better orgasm.

Do you think the Fun Fearless Life Conference will inspire other glossies to churn out similar events?
Cosmo is particularly innovative, and I don’t see that level of innovation in other magazines. But maybe there will be some copycats.

Congrats again on the ASME win! Are you still celebrating?
Embarrassingly, we never celebrated the win, because I had to go straight down to do a panel in D.C. the next morning. I left the ASME Awards fully sober. But I’ve promised the staff that as soon as this issue closes, we’ll celebrate.

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