The meeting planners and event producers I know, particularly those with longevity have:
- raised millions of dollars for charities,
- fed, entertained and educated tens or hundreds of thousands,
- continued to respond to the massive changes in technology, travel and expectations that force us to evolve.
This (r)evolution includes the way we plan and deliver both education and connection opportunities for our participants, how we market our events and associations, and how we can collect and use the data from each touchpoint to create more timely and relevant meetings and events while continuing to create impact points.
We used to have a formula – for a conference it would be “save the date”, call for papers, program brochure, website developed, the expected people registered. Everyone then saw each other at the meeting, perhaps they took home an abstract book, and the same thing happened at the next meeting. This still works for some, but it is rapidly becoming too staid for many, not delivering content quickly enough in an information-rich society and having connections not nurtured forgotten. New ways of building viable platforms that engage new and potential members must be explored and where they benefit the participants and organization be embraced.
Our continuum of impact must extend beyond the meeting and prove itself to be of benefit on an ongoing basis, in the tacit and visceral ways that participants connect, that support their needs. We must find a way to prove ourselves a valuable filter, a place to find the signal point to sift out the incessant noise that is the reality of our data-overloaded lives.
What are some ways we can do this?
First, listen. Rather than having a program committee set an agenda, ask potential participants what problems they are seeking solutions to, what information would be beneficial to share, and even, how can they contribute to creating a positive experience? Find them where they are – phone calls (really!), emails, LinkedIn groups, other conferences, on Twitter or Facebook groups – join the conversations and engage.
While it sounds challenging, provide the unexpected. It is these moments that catch us off guard which cause us to pay attention. It is this attention zone where we find ourselves learning something that connects the dots to our own situation, or having the opportunity for a serendipitous discussion that creates a positive memory – the kind of memory that has us penciling in this event for the next year. This could include:
- a speaker with an unexpected message,
- entertainment that gets our energy going at the start of a day or after lunch,
- food that nourishes body and mind – perhaps a break that offers a local tasting experience that incites discussion.
- Encourage walking meetings, where the breakouts don’t happen at tables but instead with a shared view and blood moving between brain and body, new vistas inspiring new perspectives, planting the seeds of ideas to grow.
- Consider the potential for hybrid meetings where you can bring in a virtual audience and show them in real time what they can experience face-to-face should they be able to attend in the future.
So now you have them. Your attendees have heard and shared ideas, considered opportunities for innovation, started new and deepened existing relationships. They are keen to be part of your growth and see mutual benefit in being part of your organization – so keep talking. As in marketing, find where they are and carry on the discussions and ideas and get them excited about being part of more face-to-face opportunities for connecting – discussion groups, video chats, on-line book clubs, webinars, wherever they are comfortable.
Google has identified a new generation – Gen C – people of all ages seeking connection, curating and developing content and most importantly, seeking and building communities based on shared interest, and not defined by culture, geography or parameters we have paid attention to in the past. This is how we need to consider our meetings and our associations: building from within, using the power of those who want to be part of the success. Experiment and test out ideas, tracking what works as you create your continuum and build momentum for the future.