These are two things I remember clearly from attending 11 events for meeting professionals over a 12 week period last summer...one year later. Why do I remember these? The Power of Positive Surprise. This is not easy to achieve, but when it works-BAM! you are set on a course for your attendees to return and to tell others why they need to attend.
Imagine the joy of sitting down in a general session on a couch, conveniently placed in a chevron format for easy viewing, to find out that each couch had an arm with plug-ins, both electrical and USB ports. Comfort means knowing i don't have to worry about powering up devices; I won't miss an important email, text or call from a client, or potential client, or my family. For the meeting organizer, having guests with powered devices means they are more relaxed, focused on learning and sharing ideas. If you are using a meeting app you now have the ability to have every participant become more participatory through live (anonymous) feedback,questions, polls and more and they aren't worried about having one more thing open draining their battery. If you add in wi-fi, especially for non-local guests, your chances of positive social sharing from participants creating more buzz about your event also goes up exponentially. As a highly connected, NON-millenial, the powered couches were even better than the ubiquitous charging stations, aka the new "water cooler" of the conference.
Secret notes were another positive surprise when my neighbour on the next couch over would pass me funny notes every time there was interesting tidbits, or even things that didn't make sense from the presentations. Eventually I leaned his name, more about his thoughtfully run company, and endlessly appreciate to this day his great humour and event savvy. This is not something as an event producer or meeting planner you can replicate, plan for or even encourage, but it is the kind of serendipity that makes me want to return to this event again.
What else do I remember? Moderating a panel where I had the presenters answer a question in "freeze tag" format familiar to improv lovers. Why? Because it forced the panel members to pay attention to and build on the answers of their co-presenters, and engaged them and the audience who were keen to see how this would all work. I recall meditation rooms which allowed 15 minute reprieves from the pressure of being always ON during busy events offering a deeply embedded sense of peace. A burger and a milkshake with great company being as fulfilling as any gala dinner and gala dinners where the accomplishments of friends were celebrated. Ultimately it comes back to creating emotion - accomplishment, peace, joy, comfort, anticipation, surprise, delight. Using our environment, content, creative deployment of messaging and designing thoughtfully to deliver so much more than what is listed in the program.
In addition to program, logistics, risk management and so much more, it is incumbent upon us as meeting planners to leave space in our programs for these types of connections to be made. Things to consider include white space; interactive elements that increase reasons for conversations to begin; spaces, facilitators and presenters to encourage meaningful dialogue and thoughtful reflection; music that is at a level that can be talked over; visual elements that spur emotion, and build memory; anything else you might imagine - after all you are the creative professionals your clients rely on to deliver beyond objectives and create outcomes that have reach beyond the conference space. When you do this, and see the reactions during your event, it will be worth every minute of the planning energy you put into this.
What have you experienced or created that is rocking your events right now?