Sunday, September 01, 2013

Is Your Meeting Focused On The Attendee?

In our busy world we invest time judiciously.  Attending an event is a serious commitment for many professionals, as it will take them out of the office for hours or days.  Nobody participates in a conference, trade show, convention or other business meeting hoping it will waste their time. 

Those who plan meetings are among the hardest working and most dedicated people in the business world. They put in long hours and an extreme level of detail to ensure a positive experience. Nobody organizes an event hoping it will be a waste of time.

The focus of all decisions must be on the "Conference Attendee Experience".  What seems right ahead of time in an office far from the site may not be best for those in the crowd once the event begins.  There are so many small details and little room for error.  Gone are the days of taking last year's agenda and filling in the blanks.

To Have Outstanding Meetings:

Strategize Innovation:  The meetings business is evolving, and there is a lot written about how to recreate the way learning is structured.  People learn differently, and thus having only traditional lecture format keynotes and breakouts is no longer enough.  The agenda needs to have a variety of programs, breaks, networking opportunities, entertainment and downtime built in to the agenda allows for everyone to maximize their experience.  

Organizers should be open to fresh ideas, but not blindly follow the hottest recommendations they read in industry publications.  Each meeting is unique and gathering ideas from committee members, attendees, and vendors is paramount for success.  Brainstorming and strategizing desired outcomes for the event will open up a variety of options.  Speakers and other other activities are nor plug-and-play commodity items.  The same-old/same-old schedule will never create an innovative program.

Nurture Goals:  The event organizers have goals for the meeting, but so do the attendees.  To achieve outstanding events the priorities of those who are going to be in the audience must be understood and prioritized.  People come to conferences for a variety of reasons and humans are complex creatures, thus they do not always clearly articulate their motivation.

Surveys only go so far, and thus you need to be having ongoing dialogues with participants before, during and after the event to gain insight into what impacts their experience.   People will tell you more about what resonates with them when they know you are working to support their goals.  If they believe the host organization has their own agenda, they will shut down and go through the motions.  Your goals have to be synced with their goals, and they have to know it.

Encourage Relationships:   A top reason people attend business or association events is for the "networking opportunities", however once they arrive they often fail to make the type of meaningful relationships they desire.  Creating a culture for better connections at events does not happen by accident.  There must be a commitment that goes beyond the open bar at the Welcome Reception.  People need to be given permission to engage with each other or they will fall into the routine of sitting with co-workers or passing time on their phones or tablets.

Cliques will occur at conferences (as they do in any social situation), and those who attend for years develop their own circles of friends.  But we need to remember that a conference is a mini-society and the social interactions are paramount to the learning.  Many people get the most valuable information from the impromptu "hallway conversations" that occur with others they meet.  If there is little opportunity for people to engage, then the overall experience is limited.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections. 

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