Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Meetings are Dead; Long Live Meetings!

Networking Event at Clare College, Cambridge
Over the years, various zealous pessimists have asked ‘will video-conferencing, podcasts and webinars be the death of meetings?’.

My reply, ‘don’t be ridiculous’.

Yes, delegates are busy and event content and architecture will become increasingly sophisticated to adapt; but at the end of the day, people love to meet and there are many things that you simply can’t do without being face-to-face.

For many events, the networking is the now the single most important element, overtaking even educational content in some instances. Alongside sourcing unique venue spaces, planners are finding some interesting methods to improve the quality of the networking.

A couple of the more innovative ideas I've seen recently include ‘reception concierges’, the ‘human library’ and ‘the recharging lounge’.

How marvellous would it be to have an event concierge, to meet and greet and who could tell you who you need to speak to about a particular area of interest; better still – introduce you?

Not everyone is great at this networking malarkey – it doesn't mean they’re not interested in talking – it can just be difficult to make the first move. But if everyone in the room is there for the same reason, a gentle nudge might be all it takes for some great collaborative ideas and future projects.

Like helping molecules to bump into one another?

The human library was introduced at a recent seminar I attended at IMEX America, called ‘Got Connexity’, presented by Sarah Michel, VP Professional Connexity, Velvet Chainsaw Consulting The concept being that you make experts available for one-to-one or small group exchanges. Make the speakers work harder for their fee (sorry speakers).

The suggestion was not to run these sessions in parallel with key presentations, but maybe to allow ‘white space’ in an itinerary for interaction, or for a greater depth of topic coverage to a smaller audience in mini theatres (small talk/tech talks). Allow delegates the flexibility to dip in and dip out.

It was also suggested that hashtags and social media could be used to highlight or flag themes to delegates – making it contagious; maybe in advance of the sessions, to give the experts a fighting chance - only fair? And post event, the hashtags could extend the life of the event – so people, with similar issues could continue the conversation in micro incubating environments. Keep the conversation flowing.

My experience at an ICCA event in Amsterdam earlier this year really demonstrated to me the importance of dedicating time in a schedule to ‘milling about.’ I got as many ideas and learnt as much, if not more, from speaking to colleagues from other destination bureaus from around the globe as I did from the eminent speakers.

The recharging lounge was an extension to the library concept, where delegates, along with their mobile devices, could recharge; watering holes and sockets, where experts were available for conversation. Simple really.

A case study called Sage City demonstrated how exhibitors/sponsors can be made to feel part of an event, aside from showcasing; invite them to facilitate opening sessions instead of a keynote speaker. Ask your delegates ‘what are your lie awake at night issues?’ in advance of the event and pool like-minded people with the vendors who can potentially solve their problems. They would welcome this contact with their (potential) clients to find out how they can help in a ‘helping’ vs ‘selling’ environment and is there any better kind of market research?

So no, meetings are not dead in the water, in my humble opinion.

We hear regularly from clients who bring international guests to Cambridge on business – where a hard day’s negotiating is positively concluded over a glass or two and dinner in a College. Old colleagues who find each other whilst ‘getting some fresh air’ in the cloisters or new acquaintances made because of an eleventh hour seating plan change.

Long live meetings!

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