Re-envisage event technology to significantly improve your events

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Revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new technologies—it happens when society adopts new behaviors.
—Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations

I feel irritated when I see so many event professionals focusing on “new” event technology while ignoring existing technology that, in many cases, could greatly improve their events at a fraction of the cost.

There, I said it.

Every year there are plenty of conferences where you can go and see the latest and greatest mobile and gamification apps, attendee tracking systems, registrant analytics, mobile networking, video streaming platforms, etc. Vendors are happy to sponsor these events. They use them to showcase their wares and, hopefully, convince attendees that their new technology is worth buying.

Let me be clear—I have nothing against new technology per se. (If I was I’d be a hypocrite, given that I spent twenty-three profitable years as an information technology consultant.) What’s sad is that too much of event professionals’ limited continuing-education time is spent investigating shiny new toys and apps while overlooking inexpensive and proven ways to provide effective learning, connection, engagement, and community building at their events.

Why does this happen? Here are two reasons:

We fixate on the new

“Technology is anything that was invented after you were born.”
Alan Kay, from a Hong Kong press conference in the late 1980s

We are enveloped by so much rapidly changing technology that we fixate on what is new. What was new quickly becomes taken for granted and largely invisible. As David Weinberger remarks“Technology sinks below our consciousness like the eye blinks our brain filters out.” Although technology in the form of human tools has existed for over three million years and we’ve had books for over half a millennium, the first history of technology wasn’t written until 1954. Flip charts, 5×8 cards, comfortable seating, room sets, healthy food and beverage, and hand voting have been around for a long time. They are old-fashioned technology to event professionals, so we don’t pay them much attention (unless they can be reframed in a sexy way, e.g. “brain food”). But that doesn’t mean they’re not important. Far from it.

Technology isn’t just manufactured goods and software
Our definition of what is and isn’t “technology” is far too narrow. We tend to think of technology in terms of products and embedded implementations (e.g. software). But this is an incredibly restrictive viewpoint. Kevin Kelly, in his thought-provoking book What Technology Wants, lists three of the most important human technologies:

  • Language: A technology that “shifted the burden of evolution in humans away from genetic inheritance…[allowing] our language and culture to carry our species’ aggregate learning as well.”
  • Writing: A technology that “changed the speed of learning in humans by easing the transmission of ideas across territories and across time.”
  • Science: “The invention that enables greater invention.”

Once we start thinking about technology with a wider lens like this, all kinds of possibilities arise.

Re-examining process—the key to re-envisaging event technology
Language, writing, and science are outside our conventional, narrow-scope technology. The conventional technology we use to instantiate the sounds, symbols, etc. that they use is secondary. Language, writing, and science are primarily about human process.

When we expand our perspective on event technology to include process, many unexamined aspects of our events come into view. A few examples:

  • Why do we open conferences with a keynote?
  • Why do so few people speak during conference sessions?
  • How do we know if the sessions we’re providing are what attendees actually want?
  • Why do we provide entertainment during socials?
  • Are socials the best way to meet other attendees?
  • Why do we close conferences with a keynote or dinner?

When you start honestly investigating issues like these, instead of simply repeating things the same “safe” way you’ve previously experienced at conferences you’ll discover all kinds of human process technology that can fundamentally improve your event in ways that a new gizmo or app cannot.

So I urge every event professional to re-envisage event technology to include the process used during your events. Concentrate less on improving logistical processes: registration, decor, A/V, F&B, and so on. These are secondary processes, and we know how to do them well. Instead, focus on improving the human process you use throughout the event venue and duration—how you structure and script its flow, how you maximize useful connection between attendees, how the content and form of sessions are determined—this is the event technology that counts.

Photo attribution: Flickr user pierre-francois

Why don’t meeting conferences pay speakers?

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Why don’t meeting conferences pay speakers?

“All I want is not to be insulted by the people I’m serving by them paying me less than they pay their kids’ piano teachers or their own hair stylists. They can say all the nice things they want when I’m finished. But when they hand me a paltry check, what are they really saying? What do they expect me to conclude about how much they value my work?”
John G. Stackhouse, Jr

I like going to event industry conferences. I enjoy meeting old friends, making new ones, and learning new things. And I love presenting on all kinds of topics that revolve around making conferences fundamentally better for participants and organizers.

But there’s one thing that really bothers me about these events.

The pitiful reality that few meeting conferences offer to pay speakers.

Traci Browne wrote about this miserable state of affairs three years ago. Sadly, nothing has changed, so I’m raising the topic again.

The default offer, often considered generous, is to cover expenses. (Though I receive many invitations to present that don’t even mention that.( Sometimes organizers have tried to get me to pay full registration too!

When you ask whether they will pay a fee, a common response is “well, we don’t have a budget for that.” Sometimes this is preceded by an embarrassed pause, sometimes not. Hmm, you have an F&B budget, a venue budget, and an administrative budget, but you don’t have a budget for the people who you’ve invited to fill your event with educational goodness and value? Why not?

Why they don’t pay

One answer, of course, is “we’ve always done it this way.” This is a rationalization for a lot of bad things in this world.

Another is “you’ll get exposure.” Listen up guys: good speakers for your sessions already have exposure—they aren’t relying on free speaking engagements. Yes, I have had presentation opportunities lead to client work, but not to the extent that they’ve even come close to paying the time and monetary costs to a) create a session proposal, b) prepare a presentation (typically five to ten times the presentation’s duration), c) travel to and from the venue, and d) give the presentation.

Finally, we have the “don’t you want to give to your community?” angle. Yes, I do. Yes, I speak for free or at a reduced rate probably more than I should. I also look for other ways to receive benefit that the conference organizer can provide, e.g. a professional video of my session or a couple of extra hotel nights at a really nice conference location. But, unfortunately, supporting your professional community doesn’t pay the bills.

The next time you (yes, you, you know who I’m talking to) are planning an event, build some money into your budget to pay speakers. When you ask someone to present, offer them up front specific compensation for their expenses and their time and expertise. The message that you value their presence at your event, rather than taking them for granted, will speak volumes.

Photo attribution: Flickr user danmoyle

How can we better support event professionals?

baby holding finger - thtstudios - 151079254_5486c264e7How can #eventprofs help guide/mentor those new to the industry? was the topic of a fascinating August 5 #eventprofs chat† (archive), moderated by the “Queen of EIR“, Jenise Fryatt. The chat was noteworthy for its energy around two initiatives that emerged during our hour together:

  • An online resource for answering event industry questions
  • An online resource for matching volunteer mentors and mentees

Responding to the energy, I registered the domain www.eventprofsanswers.com during the chat and set up a skeleton website. As you can read in the archive, many chat participants were enthusiastic about this action, and asked how they could help move these initiatives forward.

Since the chat, I’ve had offline discussions about developing the website. Most correspondents have been positive, though a minority has expressed some reservations.

Here are some of my conclusions and questions arising from the discussion so far:

  • I think it’s important to have the widest possible initial discussion before proceeding further. We need to find out what other #eventprofs think, and hear from professional association members and the associations themselves.
  • I’m not aware of significant attempts to use online technologies to address the two initiatives, other than the ad hoc use of Tweeted questions using the #eventprofs and allied hashtags. Perhaps there are existing resources we’re not aware of?
  • There seems to be evidence that some event professionals, especially perhaps those who entered the industry through non-conventional paths (like me), would appreciate a central online location for posting questions and finding appropriate mentors (either online or face to face). How easy has it been for you to get your events-related questions answered? What has your experience been with the availability of and satisfaction with existing industry mentoring programs?
  • I have already received a number of individual and association chapter offers of support (thank you everyone!) If you would like these initiatives to be implemented in some fashion, what are you willing to contribute to making this happen?
  • Do you have suggestions for additional online initiatives that would address event professionals’ needs?
  • I want to make it clear that I am personally completely open to the process and the organizational structure used to implement these initiatives. Perhaps an online resource would be run by a group of volunteers, perhaps it could become part of an existing professional association’s online presence and services, perhaps it would remain an independent presence that is formally supported by an association’s staff. What do you think?

Lots of questions! I, and I believe the professional events community, would like to know your responses. Either comment below or write me privately if you prefer. I look forward to everyone’s input!

†The #eventprofs chat is held on Twitter each week on Tuesdays 9 – 10 p.m. EST and Thursdays 12 – 1 p.m. EST.

Image attribution: flickr user thtstudios

Crowdsourced site visit toolkit

toolbox - davemott - 4257800537_650aff5085_oI’ve just returned from a site visit for a June 2011 event in New Jersey, and on the drive home I thought it would be interesting to share the tools I bring when I’m checking out a possible location for an event.

And then I had a better idea.

Why not create a site visit toolkit that all event professionals could add to and improve?

With the wonders of Google Docs, this is an easy thing to do.

So, here’s the crowdsourced site visit toolkit. I’ve seeded it with my tools, but I’m sure there are plenty of neat tools and tips that I’ve missed that would improve the list. As far as I’m concerned, “tools” is defined loosely—feel free to add anything you’ve found useful when conducting a site visit for an upcoming event. You can add links to appropriate products and services that you’ve found useful with the Google Docs link buttonbutton on the Google Docs toolbar, and I’ve suggested a way to add tips as well.

I’ll leave the list as a publicly available document, though I may close it to further edits after contributions fall off.

So, crowdsource away!

(And don’t forget to add your name to the list of contributors!)

Image attribution: Flickr user davemott

Participant-driven association meetings presentation slides and resources

Here are the slides and resources from my June 18th 2010 presentation to the NE/SAE (New England Society of Association Executives) annual meeting held at the Colony Hotel, Kennebunkport, Maine:

Some Research about Face-to-Face Communication at Live Events.

Innovative Techniques in Conference Formats (slideshare).

NCDD’s Engagement Streams Framework helps people navigate the range of approaches that are available to them and make design choices that are appropriate for their circumstance and resources.

The Meeting of the Future.

On confidentiality: The Europe/Chatham House Rule.

Do You Allocate Enough Time for Interaction?

#eventprofs life-work balance survey results

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Having agreed to moderate an #eventprofs chat this evening, I thought I’d whip up a short, anonymous survey on #eventprofs’ life-work balance. I received 21 responses in the ten hours the survey was open, and here are the results:

1. How many days in a week do you normally work?

1

2. How many hours in a day do you normally work?

2

3. How many hours in a day do you spend traveling to work?

3

4. How do you feel about the amount of time you spend at work?

4

5. Do you ever miss out any quality time with your family or your friends because of pressure of work?

5

6. Does your organization offer any of the following options for work/life balance? Are there options you would like your organization to offer?

6

Other comments:

6other

7. On a scale from 1 (extremely poor) to 10 (extremely satisfied), how would you rate your current work-life balance?

7

8. Please add any additional comments about your work-life balance here.

8

Title image attribution: http://www.flickr.com/photos/seeveeaar/ / CC BY-ND 2.0

What issues make it hard for event professionals to maintain a healthy work-life balance? What has helped you or others ? Feel free to add your own comments!