An exotic and impressive venue with a ‘hot shot’ keynote speaker; on one hand a superb social programme but on the other workshops producing meaningless output; boring sponsored presentations dominating a programme delivered to an unprepared and passive audience; too much irrelevant content… sound familiar?
Events can be costly for both organisers and participants, with nowadays no-one willing to pay to travel to an event just for sake of being there. It therefore raises the questions of how to run events and meetings in a way that ensures you are delivering tangible benefits and at best value, as well as how to manage ever-more complex and demanding events in a more effective manner?
We can all certainly agree that meetings and events should be considered as an investment and not a cost. There is a huge need to fight for business in the challenge of today’s global economy. ‘Must attend’ events have to communicate and they have to motivate. The need to communicate with the audience is greater than ever before. with an awesome networking opportunity another key benefit for participants. Sometimes “know who” is more important than “know how”. Knowing the right people, one can always get the most relevant information.
As an event organiser it is therefore important to avoid conventionality in the areas of organisation, content and interaction. Good meeting logistics and a smooth registration process are musts, but no-one returns to your meeting because of this. The possibilities for your meeting are vast, but to realise them requires a shift in perspective and an honouring of the information, experience and knowledge that attendees can bring to the event. Talking at them rather than with them is no longer working; attendees want an experience that matters to them. They want something of value.
The main event theme should be a framework, but without setting tight restrictions. An inspiring speech to kick off is always a good idea. It can energise attendees, stimulate new ideas and motivate communication, but that alone is not enough. Building interactivity around the main theme is a big and important issue. This is the role of conference moderators, or may we even call them ‘interaction promoters’. To help them ensure they get the most from an event, it’s recommended thay they prepare by having clear guidelines and policies in place. With the little help of social media delegates can also be well prepared and informed in advance. Social media is a powerful tool to really enhance the meeting experience well before it starts, as well as to manage it, to “spice it up” and to keep the networking going after the event. There is nothing better than active participation to get people ready for taking what they have learned and experienced at an event out into the world. According to the “EIBTM 2011 Industry Trends and Market Share Report” by Rob Davidson, Facebook and LinkedIn are deemed to be the most frequently used, with Twitter recorded as the next most important choice of social media. Blogs, Podcasts and YouTube follow up, along with other channels including Flickr, Slideshare and Skype, although to a lesser extent.
The next thing you can do is to make an un-conference!
When the attendees generally have a high level of expertise or knowledge in a specific field, the form of unconference is a good idea. Unconferences enable participants and organisers to meet in a venue to explore a theme with an agenda created by the attendees at the beginning. Anyone who is interested and passionate about certain topics and wants to initiate a discussion can create the conference agenda. This way the attendees can shape the event to their interests and initiate the conversation about the things that are important to them around the main theme. A good example in the region is Think Space Unconference, organised for its second outing this February in Zagreb. The event is organised with an award ceremony and exhibition of projects submitted during the architectural competition primarily for architects and students of architecture. It is the platform for spatial experimentation and a conceptual exchange of ideas.
The unconference is just one of many possibilities. You can have fun experimenting with possibilities for new formats, bearing in mind how the format you are considering has to fit with your theme and goals. Storytelling, world café, open space technology and BoF (Birds of a Feather) are, just like the unconference, some of the formats that can be used that avoid aspects of a conventional meeting. A caution, however: pay attention not to become shallow as a consequence.
Don’t forget the importance of networking lunches and on-site bars. Keep them open throughout the day in lounge areas – these are the places where attendees can have further discussions, giving them additional opportunities to build direct contacts and create a richer network, saving both time and money by doing it all in one place – at your event.
Taking all of the above into account, be aware that the venue should complement the event. Unconventional meetings fit in unconventional, unique venues. That takes the programme out of the meetings box and makes a more memorable experience for attendees.
A whole new era of meetings and events has started welcoming Generation Y and, very soon, Generation Z. Be prepared to change your perspective!