Friday, July 10, 2015

10 things I learned at Fresh 2015

Days 9 - 11 - GMIC ends at 2pm, and I take two flights for 8 hours to be home for 10 hours before getting on two more planes to fly from Vancouver to Barcelona. wth? 

Days 11 - 13, Fresh
Hesperia Towers, Barcelona

Wellness Rating: 4.6 / 10 The breakfasts were in the hotel restaurant so lots of great choices each day, plus a good time to catch up with friends and other attendees in a more quiet space to start the day.  Lunches offered an interesting selection and were served outside with warm sunshine and fresh air, and guided meditation (sponsored by IMEX) was offered each day.  The challenge came from "Dinner" being receptions which is harder to navigate and find healthy choices. 

I decided very last minute to attend the Fresh Conference after being a virtual participant for a few years. It had been on my radar since the original Meeting Architecture Manifesto written by Maarten Vanneste.  After a conversation with experience master Greg Bogue at the IRF Invitational at the end of May in Miami I felt inspired to attend so, it was off for "Art and Inspiration". 

The Hesperia Towers added edible Miro to an afternoon break
Things I learned from Fresh were far reaching and I share here.
This is a sketch of Fresh as a Cocktail - the "Fresh beertini" (action obviously being Periscoped!)

  • Art can be inspiring. Art can also be distracting. I enjoyed the session attended with the lovely "PCMA 20 under 20" from Bulgaria, Magdalina as we were able to try different drawing techniques including cartoon, pencil sketch and even together on one picture using a straw to blow ink to create images related to the conference (picture above).  There were several other installations and performances that were very cool but would have been much more interesting had we as the audience been drawn into the why behind the performance.  What we love of course about Fresh is that it is approached as an experiment each time bringing new ideas and testing them, and when you have a room full of designers, well we just love the why. My takeaway is as meeting designers we need to challenge ourselves to include our participants more fully and trust they are there for the most complete experience possible, and be open to giving it.  There are times to learn together.
  • Music can move an audience.  Joshua Samson did this in more than one appearance through the event and at the end of it all won the Fresh award for Best ART in Meetings as voted by the participants. When you tell the participants what it means, and why it matters, they become more engaged and the emotional buy-in required for a perspective to shift can begin. It is also worth checking out the other award winners as well in this link - some really great people and ideas overall.
  • Meditation can add to the meeting experience.  When you find you need to re-focus having a space to go for some quiet reflection is rather fabulous.  Thank you IMEX for sponsoring both the awards and the meditation room - you are indeed a small, friendly, forward-thinking company and a personal highlight for me was time spent with Miguel and Achilleas who are both very thoughtful and insightful about our industry.
  • Learning comes in many forms.  Good learning makes you think - it is actionable, it might be disruptive, is where you find nuggets of information you can apply to your own events or workspace and it gives you a-ha moments.  This can come from the environment, from the presenters, from the discussions you have in sessions or outside of the sessions, and ultimately learning comes from conversation, context and connect-the-dot moments. It is incumbent upon a meeting designer to understand the objectives and balance the presentation time and format with the overall flow, time in and between sessions and stellar content to create a balance that leaves the participants feeling as if they are taking away something of value to them in resolving their challenges. 
  • Sometimes you can have fun with your panels - in this case below I had the participants play Freeze Tag - an improv tool which forced the panelists to pay attention to each other as at any time they could be forced to step in and continue answering the question posed when I "froze" the current speaker.
  • Rehearsals matter. As we develop content we tend to base our decisions on a title, paragraph and outcomes, and rarely do we see a whole presentation, let alone provide suggestions for improving it BEFORE it goes live at your once-in-a-lifetime event. Consider building in the time and overall resources (session room, AV techs, presenters) to ensure you have a full set of rehearsals before launch. A great session on how to run rehearsals started one morning and there are lessons here.
  • Mixing it up is OKOne of the better designed segments was the Learning Carousel where various sponsoring organizations had the opportunity to do brief presentations to small groups who moved through the space, and eventually voted on the technology they thought had the most potential to be applicable and impactful. This format worked.  Gerrit Heijkoop did his usual great job of hosting this and not only keeping it on track but ensuring people took the time to provide their input towards the awards (see link above).
  • Forced networking is a good start, but having your own mini-community within the event is much more fun.  The first afternoon saw (the other) Michael Jackson leading the group through meeting a number of people in 6 minute timed sessions which did allow for a great way to begin conversations - including one I had with a robot attendee - and that is the joy of Fresh.  As the conference evolved I found myself connecting with people from my neighborhood and from across the world and having conversations I could not have had without being here - including Meeting Architect Aysun from The Banff Centre and the dynamic Avo whose expertise on learning and development within meeting environments is second to none, and experience designer Greg Bogue, my original inspiration to attend.  That is the power of meetings.
  • There is such a thing as too much technology.  Full stop.  (yes I am the meeting planner for an event tech company and believe deeply the tech needs to enhance the human experience and meet the objectives first).  Like balancing flow and format, balancing the amount and types of event technology in any event is critical.  We don't mind downloading an app, in fact we often appreciate having the information at hand, on our devices but we don't want heaps of emails and many different technologies plus a Twitter feed, all reliant on a data plan or great wifi, to explore in 48 hours. While I have to give props for the sheer enthusiasm in showcasing so many, it became a bit overwhelming in a space full of great people to talk to live.
  • Serendipity cannot be overrated. What will continue to draw us to meetings is the combination of potential knowledge and connecting with people and growing from time spent. I am so grateful I was able to have the conversations and often surprising experiences I had in Barcelona - from an idea hackathon on a boat organized by Olga of ITB DMC to find improved ways of designing pharma meetings to dancing with my new Dutch friends at Ocean during our exploration of the Saint Joan festival on the beach to exploring Barcelona with the very fabulous (and joyfully calm) Sanna for two days... you never know what may happen once serendipity steps in.
We're on a boat!

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