“Among the nearly 68 percent of respondents who said that flexible meeting spaces rated an 8, 9 or 10 in importance when choosing a meeting site, two factors are driving this need. First, the objective of in-person meetings is to deliver information and insight at a level that tech-based meetings cannot; second, today’s attendees require variety in their learning environment to remain stimulated, attentive and receptive to information and different perspectives.” —The fourth annual State of the Meetings Industry survey (October 2015), conducted by Destination Hotels
We are informed about conferences by email, we arrive by airplane, and we gaze at fancy PowerPoint presentations, but, year after year, over a hundred million people experience a conference process that has changed very little since the 17th century. —Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love
We need to make our conferences flexible. We need an exercise program for our events. Why? Here are three reasons.
1) Broadcast-style presentations are moving online
We spend over one hundred billion dollars every year on conferences. And this figure does not include the value of attendees’ time. We routinely spend these huge amounts of money and time to bring people together to meet face to face. Only to feed them a program that was determined six months before. What is the point?
These days, real-time content can be shared online as soon as it’s available. It’s no longer necessary to waste time and money flying people to a common physical location where they then sit and listen to predetermined presenters. Online videos and webinars can handle known and/or mandatory content distribution efficiently and at much lower cost.
The current explosion of knowledge and, hence, associated conference topics, is driving a need for flexible conference approaches that can handle the increasingly complex and faster paced real-time needs of today’s attendees. This is just-in-time learning. Surprisingly, there are effective and tested ways of putting attendees in charge of what they wish to learn and discuss. But you cannot give conference participants opportunities to determine what they wish to learn and discuss if you freeze your program before they arrive.
Conferences—where attendee peers come together at one time and place—are the perfect place to create a rich environment for informal peer learning. We can’t continue to waste this opportunity with the rigid pre-determined sessions of the past. Instead, we need to set up opportunities for relevant peer learning to flourish in the sessions themselves.
Exercise flexibility for a healthy event
All conference organizers know the truism that to keep people coming to your events you need to provide an experience that meets their needs. Unfortunately, many believe that this is just a question of providing the “right content”. Not any more! Truly successful events these days need to provide the right environment and formats for desired and appropriate learning and connecting to flourish.
You can respond to this challenge by adopting participant-driven and participation-rich meeting formats and techniques that adapt to the unpredictable, individual, and constantly changing requirements of today’s attendees. This exercise, while perhaps a little painful to start, will keep you and your events flexible. Remember, the quicker you start, the healthier your events will become!