Meeting design: what’s in a name?
Where does conference producing end and meeting design start?
From 1999 until 2010 the majority of my jobs in the world of events included a large chunk of conference producing. Luckily for me it was a part of my job that I loved. To give you some idea of my production credentials, in one role, while doing a score of other things, I put together 40 conference programmes.
Before we look at “meeting design” and where a conference producer fits in to this let’s look at the targets I was set as a conference producer.
In general as a ‘Conference Producer’ the targets were:
1. To run a set number of conferences a year normally between 20 – 40
2. To achieve a score above 7 out of 10 for content (as judged by delegates)
3. To generate a profit from every conference and a BIG profit overall
4. To generate content that was attractive to attendees and sponsors (in order of course to generate revenue)
How to achieve those targets?
In order to hit my goals there was really only one way to approach each conference and that was to treat it very similarly to the previous one, and the next one, and the next one. There was no time and very little space for any kind of meeting design.
Here are a dozen assumptions I made when I organised my conferences, when my job was to produce and not to design meetings. My challenge from listing the points below is for those organisations that still employ the traditional Conference Producers is to ask have these changed? And where is the space for meeting design?
1. Hire a good value venue and ensure that it is flexible enough to allow me to change from classroom layout to theatre should my numbers increase.
2. Try to attract the highest level speaker possible.
3. Realise that all speakers will know how to deliver the content and they wiill certainly knew more than about it than me.
4. Speakers are doing us a favour by speaking so don’t be too pushy.
5. The chairman’s role is simply to keep things to time.
6. People rarely have questions after a session and not to worry about it.
7. The more people and companies on the programme the better.
8. The basic format – with four sessions before lunch and four sessions after lunch – was tried and tested.
9. Refreshment breaks and registration was where delegates networked. Assuming they actually wanted to.
10. Sponsors / exhibitors are a necessary evil.
11. Always encourage speakers to use PowerPoint.
12. Encourage them to use / the lectern / the lectern mic (to keep down costs).
What is success?
There is no doubt that the above approach can bring success: if that success is measured against the set criteria that I outlined above. But I wonder how long it is that we can treat our conferences as a product and not a service? How long we can run conferences without any meeting design included in the structure? I wonder how long before large numbers of delegates join the numbers already dropping off the scene and stop attending the conferences that are ‘programmed’ on the above criteria.