Monday, July 09, 2012

Brainstorming Ideas for Events

Everyone involved in planning a conference, trade show, convention or other event must be dedicated to success.  The event industry is very competitive and attendees have many choices on where to invest their time and money.  People are no longer satisfied with cookie cutter conferences.... and are demanding to be educated and entertained by more than just a standard meeting agenda.

A box checker mentality will make you event dull, but sometimes organizers get busy and fall into this routine. What is a "box checker mentality"?  It is when you just run down a check list of the necessary parts of a conference; venue (check), sponsors (check), meals (check), nametags (check), speakers (check), open bar (check, check), etc....  What fills the slots is not important as long as the boxes are checked.

But cultivating something unique that will captivate the soul of others is difficult.  If you copy another conference it is not unique....  And if try something really new there is a risk that it might not work out the way you desired.

This is where your brainstorming really makes a difference.  The whole team responsible for your upcoming event needs to meet regularly and seek inspiration for implementing new activities.  While you may not want to copy an idea directly, look for things that others have tried and morph them into your own unique version.

The Austin TEDx event re-invented the lunch break.  They had five differerent restaurants cater lunch. Each had a "restaurant" and attendees were assigned dining areas.  The twist... each restaurant had to use the same ingredients that were all sourced locally.  While all the areas were in the same dining hall, each had a different decorative vibe.  It was one lunch, but seemed like something totally new.

PCMA's Convening Leaders Conference in January 2012 took the success of the TED Conferences short format talks and had three 18 minute keynotes from three very different speakers instead of one hour-long talk.  But they did not stop there, as the success of TED is more than just short speeches.  They added long-format breakouts by the same speakers later in the day.  The keynote session was like the appetizer to a full course meal.  Their twist made the experience more successful than if they had just done the three short talks.

The organizing committee for the National Speakers Association took the idea of a Learning Lounge (the idea was discovered at the same PCMA event mentioned above and the powerful work of the Velvet Chainsaw team), and morphed it into a "Conference Within A Conference" for their 2012 Annual Convention.  Since their conference is not as large as PCMA, they changed the layout and organization of the "Lounge" and made it a unique program offering.

The only way a new offering for your conference can be discovered is for your team to be seeking new ideas.  I have talked with several event organizers who want to try new things, but their association board or CEO are not willing.   Those not willing to explore options are holding you back.  Their lack of vision will cause you to forever be a cookie cutter conference.  Bummer.

What is happening to cookie cutter conferences?  Some are losing attendance numbers.  Others are dying.  Many are just limping along.  Many even continue to thrive.  Maybe your event will not be hurt by being boring and predictable.

But think... if you are guilty of always being the "same old / same old" do you advertise a repeat and vanilla sounding agenda?  Of course not.  Nobody would say "The Same Thing We Have Given You Year After Year Without Anything New"?  So if you will not brag about being dull... why would you not seek ways to create a fresh experience.

The Conference Attendee Experience (CAE) needs to be the focus.  If you are not adding something that creates a memorable experience you cannot expect anyone to care about your event.  Education alone is not enough.  A favorable venue will not do it for you.  A celebrity speaker is not a draw over the long run.

So what is that magic bullet that creates a great CAE?  Hard to say, but if you are not seeking ways to find it, you are destine to miss the mark.

Brainstorming ideas has to be a year round activity for the organizing committee.  Every meeting should put this at the top of the agenda.  If you make fresh ideas a low level priority you will have low level results.

Encourage your attendees to send you ideas, too.  Ask your speakers, event planners, venue sales reps, and other to share the coolest things they have seen others do at their events.  Make ideas a focus and you will find new prospective.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

No comments: