Monday, February 24, 2014

Innovation Lessons for the Meetings Industry

The March 2014  Fast Company Magazine is the annual issue that lists "The World's 50 Most Innovative Companies".  I like Fast Company and the way they cover the speed of business - - - their magazine is an inspiration no matter what industry you work (it is not just for those in tech start-ups).

The opening letter from the editor covered "12 Innovation Lessons for 2014".  As I read Robert Safian's piece, I realized that his message was indirectly screaming to the events and meetings industry (NOTE: Austin's iconic super event, South by Southwest, was number 12 on the list of the 50 Most Innovative Companies). 

Ten of his twelve were direct suggestions that event professionals (#eventprofs) should consider in planning their next conference, seminar, meeting, convention or other gathering (#10 spoke to "Made in China, and #11 spoke to how Apple is the big winner in Apps -- and while one could stretch these connections, I did not include them in my post as there was not a clear tie).

Here is the link to Safian's opening letter.  Below is my interpretation for event organizers.

10 Innovation Lessons (Morphed from Fast Company 
Magazine) for Meetings and Events
by Thom Singer

1.  Exceptional is Expected. People are tired of the cookie-cutter conference with the same industry speakers.  If you are not engaging people with both cutting edge education and an interactive experience they may not come back year over year.   This means finding presentations that are more than "Sage from the Stage" experts.  Event attendees want to be challenged and to think differently (and take actions).  Filling speaking spots with anyone who can cover a topic will not create anything unique.  People are looking to learn in ways beyond the lecture, but not every speaker is experienced enough to deliver the goods that audience wants to experience.

2.  Innovation is Episodic.  Not everything you do at your event will be amazing.  But if you are not  introducing new elements or ideas each year then you will quickly become stale.  Some of the unique content and experiences you provide will miss the mark in "wowing" the crowd.  However, if you take no risks, you will have no rewards.  Shake things up and let your community share in the grand experiments.  When you do find the right mix, the buzz about your event will go viral.

3.  Making Money Matters.  Your event is a micro-business.  In a few cases the event is designed as an expense for the hosting company, but usually there needs to be a profit for the event to repeat each year (or at least a minimal expense). As an event professional you should see yourself as an entrepreneur who is growing a company.  There are hard choices that must me made in event design, but the end goal should always be enhancing the conference attendee experience.  Review expenses and find ways to work with your agenda, vendors, sponsors, etc... to ensure that your not flushing away your profits in areas that are not of impacting your attendees.  

4.  Sustainability Has Found A New Gear.  Several years ago "going green" in meetings was mostly a grand idea of hope or hype.  These days there are many ways that a conference can lower it's footprint in use of energy, recycling, sourcing local foods, reducing waste, etc...  Making your conference more eco-friendly is now "must-have".

5.  Unlocking Global Talent Unlocks Possibility.  Looking beyond domestic standards for ideas of structuring conferences can be exciting.  Asia, Europe, South America, Africa all have conferences - and in many places they are doing some interesting things.  Seek inspiration from how they set up their agendas, venues and other aspects of event management.  Looking beyond the United States to source speakers, sponsors, vendors, and attendees will also help you create a unique experience. (Discover the Global Speakers Federation for more ideas on international speakers).

6.  Passion is Underrated.  There is nothing that impacts a conference more directly than excited attendees.  But in planning events we are often too focused on the content over the experience.  Nobody walks out of a boring lecture fired up, no matter how smart the speaker or how great his content.  If he or she does not have passion that is transferred to the audience, it is just a data dump.  Move past the safety net cliche of "Content is King".  Yes, content is important, but the "Conference Attendee Experience" is king, queen, parliament, and the treasury.  Passion matters: Planners need passion.  Sponsors need passion.  Presenters need to share their passion.  Attendees want to find passion.  Make it happen or have a blah event.

7. Conflict Isn't Required.  Changing up the delivery style of events in old-school institutions often brings push back and fear.  But making events better should not cause conflict.  Everyone in the host organization should have the same goal of curating an amazing event.  Ongoing conversations about desired outcomes and educating involved parties as to new trends in events can change minds.  Also, being unique does not mean that all things have to be different.  Innovate at annual events by adding more elements without throwing away all of the traditional aspects of the event.

8.  Happy Customers Make You Happy.  Nothing is better than happy event attendees.  When participants review your conference by saying it was the best event ever (or in the last several years), you know you have done it right.  

9.  Software Beats Hardware.  We live in a digitally enabled world.  If your event is not utilizing online registration options, mobile apps, and social media.... few attendees look at you as progressive.  Too many organizations continue to tell attendees to "put you phones away", yet many take notes on these devices and are sharing information online.  Do not run from the realities of our social media crazy world - embrace it.  (NOTE:  Too many events are being undermined by mobile devises and it is causing the networking elements to fail because attendees are always looking at their phones.  Finding the balance here is key... and it can be accomplished). 

10. Dreaming Big Isn't Folly: It's Required.  If you want to have a great event, you have to think beyond the standard conference formats of the past.  Immediately after last years event you should get your organizing team together with your speakers, sponsors, vendors and select attendees to brainstorm ways to enhance the experience.  Collaborating with these partners will expose you to fresh ideas.  "Event Professionals" are not only the planners, but anyone who works in and around the meetings business.  Hoteliers, caterers, speakers, etc.... all see hundreds of events each year, so engage them as part of your "dream team" and you will find new ways to create a "wow" experience. 

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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