Sunday, January 27, 2013

Status Quo and Breaking Barriers

Who told them this was impossible?

Ruud Janssen RT @RuudWJanssen
“@jtauvaa: #EMEC13 innovators and pioneers are a threat to status quo. #MPI #eventprofs” -but an inspiration to innovate + break barriers

In surfing Twitter this morning, this tweet popped right out at me and I feel a deep concern for our industry if anyone thinks we can remain in "status quo".  In the twenty years I have been a meeting planner and event producer, the world has changed and the way we plan meetings must follow, and it must follow a lot more rapidly.  Some of the changes I have seen and issues at a glance as I perceive them include:

1. Twenty years ago we planned everything slowly, by paper and fax, and the sheer manual labour on items like registration took a lot of time. While the manual element is reduced, the attention to details that lead to the proper care and feeding of the delegates remains critical.  It is not simply data inputs that people provide, it is critical information to planning.  Being able to capture and appropriately analyse and then engage at a higher level using this information is currently being underutilized.  I believe the planner of the future will need to better understand the individuals and use the reams of algorithmic data that can be easily collected by using the available, more intuitive and socially connected database systems to create more meaningful experiences at live events. 

2. Travel cost will remain a barrier. Public air travel did not exist in any meaningful way even 60 years ago, but face to face meetings have been important for thousands of years. We now have ubiquitous air travel, and then a world filled with organizations that have put travel limits on their people due to the rising costs of air travel, and the reality is that travel costs will remain high due to fuel costs.  The savvy meeting planner will need to move beyond this perceived need for all f2f and learn how to incorporate hybrid opportunities into meetings for those people who still want to attend but for reasons of time or cost cannot.  There will also be the need to understand that well done hybrids can actually increase future attendance when remote attendees have an opportunity to share in the quality of education and see the potential connections they could make if they were there in person.  

3. TED. The influence that this particular conference has had on our world cannot be ignored. They have made all information accessible to anyone who wants it, and thousands of others - universities included, have followed suit, with much of it accessible at no cost.  People no longer need to attend conferences to learn, so you need to make your offered experience have enough "more" to make it a sensible investment. What are you doing to make yours the can't miss experience?

4. Maker Faire.  Innovation is everywhere. This particular stream of events embraces the unique, the inventive, the "why didn't I think of that?"  Etsy has opened up the world of artisans to everyone with access to the internet, and this too is farther reaching than we could ever have imagined even five years ago. As meeting professionals we have to open up our eyes to the amazing world around us and consider how to include the extraordinary and create positive surprises in our events.

5. Neuroscience. Scientists have learned more about how our brains respond to stimuli in the past decade than at any time in our past, and they have openly shared reams of information, and some of which smart people on the edges of and fully engaged in our industry have extrapolated for us. I have been working with Andrea Sullivan on presenting information on how to include more brain-friendly food and beverage into our meetings, and others have been doing similar work in Europe. This is a very, very simple way to make your meetings better as you support your attendees through their day by offering choices that make sense for a ream of reasons. Andrea has also recently written a white paper on technology and its impact on the brain at meetings - worth a read as it quickly brings in an overview and understanding of integrating this budget item to its maximum capability. What is being done to engage every brain that attends through environment, food, scent, music, texture and connecting the dots in ways that will enhance the meeting experience? 

6. Hyper-connectivity.  I started this post out by saying I was inspired by a tweet, sent from Switzerland. Last week I did a hybrid chocolate tasting with MPI Belgium. The week before that I met at least 8 people f2f I had previously only met on-line, through Tweetchats, through virtual attendance at meetings, through Triberr tribes...  and we met with hugs and dove into relevant conversations about shared interests. We have seen social revolutions started on-line; we have the opportunity to use a myriad of tools to build communities online - with many examples on LinkedIn, Facebook and so many others. These allow us to connect to our own meeting and event communities, our associations, and even festivals where 100,000+ are having a "shared" experience.  If you are not on-line, it is time to at least understand how this is impacting our world.

7. Technology. It too is now omnipresent in our lives, with my daughter having more followers at 12 on instagram then I will ever have - we need to be aware of how mobile technology is impacting our events, including and beyond the apps we are building.  When we set a room we need to understand how we can influence behaviours and enhance retention of learning by making the best available choices given the venue, budget and material. When we are marketing we need to consider all the tools.  We also need to understand how this Digital Disruption is impacting what is to come, and Michelle Bruno offers some great perspective here.  Use what is out there to your advantage, example... What Pinterest boards are your attendees following and creating and how can you use this information to heighten their experience?

I fear for all the meeting and event professionals that with the rise of the internet, where ANYONE can DIY their own event experience with a few google searches for suppliers, that if we are not ahead of the curve, we will become the dodo bird, the platypus, the entity that could not evolve quickly enough to remain strong and important. On the other hand, if we remain focused on our own lifelong learning and adapting to the curve balls the world will continue to toss at us, we can indeed change the world, one meeting at a time.

MPI WEC 2010 Vancouver - this had never been done  before, but why not?


  1. Great point about considering neuroscience in event planning, Tahira - hardly an obvious concept, but certainly important.

    The speakers themselves need to focus on this topic - we've learned a lot about how our brains process information, and how speakers can use this knowledge to engage the brains of their listeners.


    1. Thank you Roger. It is true that it is not obvious, but it is something I hope that people - speakers and planners - will begin to understand. Not the concepts necessarily but the tools we know to make sure that people leave having learned more, are able to retain more, and use the content better. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Tahira

  2. Your blog is excellent....I really liked your blog…appreciate the great information about event planning.

  3. Thank you so much Mary Louise, that is really nice to hear, I appreciate it.