This year I was the Conference Architect for the British Dietetic Association’s flagship event BDA Live. One of the key themes I weaved into the content was the role of research in building a solid evidence base for the sector. After spending a few weeks speaking to researchers and professors about the science of research and the role of data, two event related questions started to form inside my head:

  1. When I create experiences should I continue to allow the heart to rule the head? And
  2. If the head takes over where do I find the actual evidence?

Head or heart?

It’s fair to say that my heart rules in the decisions I take when I am creating events and I am pretty sure it does for a whole host of other organisers. The heart of an organiser is supported by years of experience. The heart picks up on emotions; the subtle reactions and changes in people’s interaction; it tells you if things feel right. In the world of experience design it surely has a well earned place at the centre of our decisions. As Pablo Picasso said:

“The chief enemy of creativity is good sense” 

But what of the head? What of the logical, the well argued and the deeply researched? We of course know that we have to make decisions based on evidence and research, especially when you are dealing with clients and stakeholder events, but when it comes to considering change in events exactly where do you find the evidence?

Research, research, research

When you are dealing with people’s health you can imagine that you just can’t go off, willy nilly, messing with their diet without some solid evidence and a detailed understanding of the impact of changes. We all take the world of events seriously but as we aren’t dealing with live and death issues so the “gut” reaction can still have a place in our innovation.

But lets say that the head does rule all of our decisions. Just try and find the evidence from within the sector to back up your suggested changes. Where is the evidence base for creative events? And there is the crux: one of the reasons we aren’t running as many creative and innovative events as we should is because there isn’t the strong evidence base that running events differently actually makes much difference. So what can we all do about it?

My findings from BDA Live – innovative events work!

Luckily I was able to lead the dietitians on my “gut instinct” We ran a very innovative event which was without  solid evidence to support the changes we were making. The BDA were brave, actually super brave, putting us in charge of their flagship event and allowing us to sculpt it based on our years of experience and our passion. We know we had to be innovative, but  when the previous attendees were not crying out for innovation where was the evidence it was needed!

Well here is some evidence that people crave innovation in events:

This was a sample of 120 attendees who responded to the event questionnaire. In both answers between 75% and 85% of attendees thought it was at least “very important” that the event was innovative. 

Had my client (the BDA) at any point said to me: “OK we like what you are saying, but where is the EVIDENCE that these changes will work?” I would have been stuck, the innovation stymied and the event heading for the same old same. This didn’t occur thankfully but it will be happening to scores of organisers who want to run more innovative events. So let’s start collecting and sharing our experiences and where possible let’s start collecting some data.

We need to share our findings

I’ve shown above that people want “innovation” but what exactly do they want that innovation to be? And how do we prove that the innovation we add will lead to better events? This is a job for everyone.

I would love to know where organisers can go to to find a solid evidence base for the things we know – and deep down our heart screams out – will work. Where is the evidence that, for example:

  1. spending more time with speakers supporting their content leads to better retention;
  2. reading out bullet points on the screen is a terrible way to get your message across;
  3. creating an informal and relaxed atmosphere helps people learn;
  4. ensuring that attendees have fun increases knowledge retention and
  5. removing barriers in our events leads to better interaction

MPI and other various bodies have been great at finding evidence for things like the economic impact of events but I believe we need an evidence base that events really do add value and importantly that innovation works. The work the Meetology Group is doing in measuring events is to be supported. Because without innovation we will be left behind. My heart tells me that and so does my head. It’s time to listen to both.


Published On: November 27th, 2013 / Categories: Behavioural Change, Innovation / Tags: , /