Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Better Way

In the last few weeks I have been to a number of industry shows, meetings and events, and for the most part, all the things we keep talking and writing about, all we have learned about how people learn and connect, is largely ignored.  I offer up below examples of the hum drum to the oh so much better.

First, the average. I won't name names.  
Venue: large hotel in a convention city. Mobile app - average - it opens with an ad for the mobile ad company, it offers up basic functionality for finding my agenda, and one speaker has used the polling function that is available. The social activity is minimal, so my thirst for knowledge as to what is happening around us, coming up or is inspiring others is not sated. As I walk up to the registration desk, I am greeted warmly but told that my badge isn't ready since they haven't printed speaker badges yet, and plan to do that later in the day.  I can go to the first session though if I like, and coffee is available. Coffee, scones and cookies. Yes, it is 8:30am and the brain-foodie in me shrivels a little. Enter the first session, set for 200+ in classroom seating facing directly to the front, stage is way on the left. So I sit on the left, and approximately 40 people join me, leaving the speakers to ask any questions across a relatively vast, dark space from their dimly lit stage.  The session of course is on the future of meetings. The morning sessions have good speakers, followed by a boxed lunch available in the trade show area, with seating for a few at rounds at the end of the rows. Again, a sandwich or wrap, cookie and fruit, and a salad with some unfortunate small nut additions in an unlabeled container which cause my lips to go numb (first sign there is a nut in here for the allergic me), and enough packaging to make the sustainable me a little sad, but even more than this, the amount to be opened and consumed means people have to sit for a while, which means they are not visiting the exhibitors who await them.  Here again, rows of pipe and drape, some exhibitors have very nice spaces, and as is typical in this type of show many leave up their black and white hanging sign the exhibit company used to id the space.  The flow through the show is light, and the exhibitors offer up their cheery exuberance and overall the experience leaves me wanting more.  It isn't that it is bad, it is just "same" and the declining numbers are to me an indication of a need to spice this baby up!

The better. Venue: large convention centre, in a space filled with natural light to begin. I walk up and give my name, am checked in by one of the plentiful staff on an iPad and my speaker badge generates on wireless printer in seconds. There is a small printed agenda available, and innovation is featured, and served up in a gorgeous room set with great lighting and interesting chairs and a nice stage draws people in. The app is likely full of good information, but no matter how socially able I dislike having to use facebook or linkedin to access any app - I know it is my own issue, but since it is a compact agenda I don't download it.  Outside the trade show is a lounge open to all set with a variety of interesting furniture, and offering complimentary mimosas.  Inside the trade show floor is abuzz with action, caterers serving up bite size samples, photo booths drawing people in, music overhead at a reasonable but energizing volume, mainstage presentations which allow more innovative ideas and suppliers to be showcased, and an engaged audience taking the time to speak with exhibitors, you feel as though participants will leave refreshed and with new ideas to take back to their clients.

My (personal) favorite so far of the last six weeks. BizBash Planathon, Toronto. Venue: Palais Royale, which really puts its best foot forward. QuickMobile is a sponsor, and I am
there to represent this, but even more so to be part of the mentor group, which leads tables full of eager planners through a fun, interactive and deep brainstorming to transform an existing event... into anything they can imagine in 30 minutes.  These sessions are fun, fun, fun, and the reception which follows on the patio overlooking the lake could be dampened by the downpour, but the combination of the music enhanced with a figure skater moving across a teflon rink to the songs, fantastic food presented in a range from small plates and spoons, to a paella pan and chef to homemade popsicles in an ice and dry ice display and a selection of mojitos full of fresh ingredients - they really took the opportunity to showcase their abilities. This combined making the best of a venue, having a setup conducive to the objectives (at the last minute at the client's request all the tables were flipped from 6' rounds to 5' rounds for easier conversation to be had), allowing ample time for conversation and by the format, making those conversations easy to have. The learning comes from every group coming up with ideas that inspire other ideas and allow you to build on these, and sparks fly!  BTW - the app is gorgeous, sparkling champagne bubbles invite you in to explore - you can connect to all the other attendees - and after the event is over, the videos of the awesome ideas will all be shared and easy to find for all who participated.

Sunday, June 15, 2014


It is that time again, to check in on how fast our tech world is spinning around us, and seeing how we are doing as the meeting and event industry at keeping up – with developments and with our attendees' expectations.

Hyper-connectivity is a topic I have written about before, and we know as individuals how much time we spend researching purchases on line, especially for travel.  According to a recent study by the Boston Consulting Group (shared by Dylan Bolger at the Incentive Research Foundation Invitational) we spend 40+ hours researching on-line for our vacations in the pre and post booking process.  So, what else are we finding when we open our browser and type in our destination(s) of choice – perhaps a meeting we are interested in pops into our frame of reference, and by virtue of the location, we feel more compelled to go.  We also reach out through our many social media channels to see who else we will see at #meeting, sometimes during the decision process, and certainly after we have booked.  We will communicate via text, emails, dm’s, and possibly even the old-school way, by telephone, and make plans for when we are there, scheduling meetings, breakfasts, and post-event cocktails.

Most of us will now arrive with multiple devices which all require wifi connectivity, something we recognize is a precious commodity, especially when we check into a hotel that is charging per room per device, often at $14.95 per!  Some loyalty programs will offer complimentary wifi as a benefit, but bandwidth remains an issue whether we are paying or not, and the concept of catching up on that Netflix show while away from our children remains just that, a concept as the bandwidth often doesn’t allow video streaming applications to even open, thus forcing us to spend that time checking email for example.  

Personal control is our new mantra, as we want to decide, in the way of all teen-agers across time, to do what we want, when we want. Like a good teen, we are often stymied in this desire by conference or event plans without enough choice, the meeting equivalent of being told “No, you can’t just go out and hang around!” On-site examples may include a reception where the whole room is noisy making it hard to converse, or there is only one focal point with no alternate activities, or there are no gluten free options, or free time is negligible as a few frustrations we may have all experienced.  We now have a stronger desire for targeted media as we process up to 65,000 pieces of data a day coming at us from radio, billboards, television, browser searches, emails, text messages and more.  We also now have more tools, in the form of mobile devices and filters which allow us to easily target information and to receive targeted information specific to our needs and interests, and as organizations trying to maximize engagement during specific times, we need to be keenly aware of our opportunities to make meaningful connections – live and digitally in our changing paradigm.

S’mobility is another topic I have written about, and certainly SoLoMo or Social Local Mobile has become an expectation. I want to be able to reach out and connect across multiple platforms at all times, and when I don’t have wifi, I may incur data charges that certainly seem unreasonable, especially on top of monthly bills we have to manage.  Another SoMoLo acronym refers to Social + Mobile = Loyal, and when we enable our conference and event participants to connect on-line to each other, to f2f and virtual participants, to sponsors and exhibitors and their people and websites for added information, to speakers and their sessions and their notes, to our schedules and to information about attending and maximizing our participation, and when this is done easily through a great app, we develop more brand loyalty to the hosting organization because the experience becomes more comfortable, easy, and more pleasurable overall.

How will you marry digital into your meetings to contextualize the overall experience for your participants?