This was originally an interview piece so it does ready as being quite chunky and a bit of a rant (heaven forbid William would do that) but I hope there are a few things of interest here if you run conferences and exhibitions.
How we fix conferences and exhibitions
“To turn our conferences and exhibitions into experiences we have to start to challenge the current models. At business events, networking is paramount and as professional event organisers we should be looking at how we can drive engagement and create real networking experiences. It’s no longer good enough just to create some time in the programme where delegates can take their chances on an encounter with whoever might be reaching for the Danish pastries at the same time. It is clear that too many conferences promise ‘unique networking opportunities’ when all they really do is provide space in the programme for chats over coffee. If you see this phrase in event marketing please, please contact the organiser and ask them to actually tell you what that actually means.
Another great beast of the business events world is the exhibition. Despite organising scores of them, I’ve never felt that these spaces were particularly great places to win business and they certainly were not experiences. Exhibitors try to attract the attention of buyers, while buyers work hard to avoid exhibitors. We offer them tiny boxes, with one open side, covered in rather dull and uninspiring grey felt, give them a table and two chairs, beautifully creating a barrier between them and their visitors, and we wonder why no-one really enjoys the exhibition.
For exhibitions, we really have to make the most of people’s time. Hosted buyer programmes have been in general very positive but exhibitors and organisers are still focusing on the numbers and not the quality. I truly believe that tailored and smaller events are better for every stakeholder. I’ve posted a few blogs looking specifically at this (read them by clicking on the “exhibition” tag on the right hand side)
The final piece in the puzzle I believe is the role of technology. We think we are a creative industry but it is so rarely displayed. We have to realise that using technology to support the more administrative and logistical aspects of our events will allow us to be creative and that creativity will lead to experiences being designed, consumed and enjoyed.” William Thomson