Fresh formats for conferences
I spoke at IBTM in Barcelona (you can read the “review” here) at the end of November on one of my favourite topics, Meeting Design or fresh formats for conferences. The session was entitled “Fresh Formats and Engagement” and I thought it would be worth doing a blog post around the key points from my session which are:
- Conferences need to change
- Every stakeholder has a role to play
- There are things that have to underpin every format that you choose
- You should choose objectives for each format
- Think of the future when you create an event today, take baby steps towards that future!
Fresh formats and engagement
The first thing I covered was the need for every stakeholder to change their behaviour. Almost every conference session I deliver isn’t actually about “insert topic title” it’s about changing people’s behaviour.
So the first few slides (with a slightly tongue in cheek tone) covered the real need for change by highlighting what each of our stakeholders could think about our conferences.
I then said the way to highlight these issues is to highlight the need for meeting design (or for the sake of this presentation “Fresh Formats”)
I then picked out five key things to consider when you thinking about designing fresh formats. I have an extended list but my experience tells me (and is backed up by a lot of research) there’s little point in highlighting 10 things. Best to concentrate on a smaller number. So I went for these five:
- create a narrative
- texturise content
- make sessions memorable
- engage the senses and
- power attendees
I gave some practical examples of how to achieve these key points and you can get a feel for those examples by looking at the slides (12 – 16)
I then concentrated on objectives “how to define and decide on the objectives for a particular session” I hadn’t planned to cover this in the session, however, the organiser asked me to cover it. So I did! And I was so glad I did.
What objectives should underpin meeting design
Having run so many events and designed so many conference programmes it is rare than I ever have to actually step back and looks at things a new. But this is what I had to do with this section. I had to think what are the objectives behind EVERY format (fresh or not)? I wanted to condense them into a list that people could easily remember. So I ended up with:
- exchange knowledge
- inform and
I reckon that EVERY single meeting design format can be aligned to one of these six objectives.
So how is this useful?
Before you settle on a session you should decide on the objective. And overall your conference programme should try and have sessions that include at least four of these objectives.
Too often most conference programmes just inform and do little else. So “informing” would mean having speakers disseminating information from the stage. Sound familiar? If you go to a conference like this, then you are taking part in sessions that have one objective, to inform. And that’s not enough for the modern day attendee (in fact it never was enough for ANY attendee)
So if you are designing a programme the first thing you should do is to look at your formats to ensure that you can tick off a few more objectives. You can then look at a list of possible meeting design sessions and think “will this format allow my audience to connect, create, exchange knowledge, be entertained or process what they have already covered?” Think about it, this is really useful!
As I said I think that every possible format from fishbowls to debates can be defined by one of these objectives.
The Future Conference
I finished with an image of the Apple store in Barcelona. Have a look at it. I wanted to have the attendees see how totally different a “conference of the future” could be. Wouldn’t this layout and format dramatically improve the experience of our conferences? This indeed would be a fresh format.