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Make Your Next Conference More Participatory …

conference session… so they’ll want to come back next year. How many conferences have you attended where you felt talked “at” by a series of speakers up on stage? Then you rushed between sessions to meet new people and catch up with friends in the hallways. Wouldn’t it be great to have a meeting designed to support you in exchanging ideas with the colleagues most helpful for you? Well, next February many professional meeting planners will be attending a conference that’s designed to in a “Me2We” way – where attendees turn from passive to active participantsinteracting more frequently and productively. Then they can celebrate together and to learn from each other. (Not a new idea – just one that is spread too slowly for some, including me.) Some in the food industry have jumped in to help peers.

MPI Meeting DifferentlyWant your next conference to be more meaningful and memorable? Via Jim Louis, one of the adept moderators of a closely-knit online group to which I belong called MeetingsCommunity (MeCo), I discovered MeetingsNet’s coverage of the innovative formats for the conference, “MPI Meeting Differently”:

“To improve the trade show experience, MPI is changing the layout of the exhibit hall. One innovation is something MPI calls “conversation spots,” freestanding circular plexiglass towers that are divided into quadrants and placed in high-profile spots around the exhibit hall. The idea is to provide a more intimate meeting area for exhibitors and attendees than they normally find on the trade show floor.

Organizers tinkered with more than just the trade show format. New concepts include:

a. The “Conversation Café”-a learning environment based on a coffee shop.

b. “Book clubs” – discussions led by book authors and subject matter authorities.

c. Wikis – each educational session will have its own wiki pages to encourage pre- and post-session communication and collaboration.

d. Educational sessions in “soft seating” or lounge-style meeting environments. Most of the 80 educational sessions will eschew a traditional classroom setting. Instead they will be held in the round to facilitate interactive learning and discussion.”

My hope is that this is the tipping point to make meetings even more interactive so attendees find in each other fresh ways to be mutually-supportive. Even as a “professional” (aka paid) speaker I’d welcome more short (20 – 30 minute) “meet the expert” sessions around 8-12 person tables, with a bell ringing so you could move through three sessions in a block. Then the mix and mingle times are more fun and valuable. That’s because you’ve probably discovered some people who share your interests and gotten a sense of whom you might like and respect enough to talk further. Use CrowdVine or other services to set up a social network – just for the conference.

For an invitation-only gathering, have inclusive, action-inducing rituals like the TED conference or Rennaisance Weekend.

Plus why not let attendees vote on the topics, speakers and session formats they most want?

And why not ask all invited speakers to 1) submit in advance, three of the tips they will present, then 2) receive an email of all speakers’ tips and be required to 3) refer to at least two other speaker’s tips as they complement the speaker’s message. Thus the conference would have more continuing threads of themes.

Also why not have lively panels of inside and outside experts (1. journalists or columnists, 2. researchers at investment banks, and 3. veteran, respected exhibitors) who see, from a different perspective, the sector represented in the conference. Give each panelist just seven minutes to offer their best two pieces of advice for attendees. Encourage attendees to submit written questions as they listen. Volunteers could gather the questions, sort for best mix for the strong and well-liked MC to present to the panelists to answer. As attendees leave the meeting room, they are given the handout with the written version of panelists’ tips and their bios. Thus attendees see more candor and pertinent content – in a contagiously active way. Who knows? That may lead to more unconferences. And, perhaps more associations and other member-based groups will start their own social network to keep people involved, meeting and collaborating all year long.

Speaking of partipatory, hear holiday cheer that’s guaranteed to make you laugh with joy. My way of wishing you a (Me2We) holiday you savor – with others .

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One Comment

  1. Posted December 27, 2007 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Very well done article — some great ideas & options for both speakers & organizers. I’m going to pass this on to some folks organizing a “Baby Boomer Diva” conference for this spring.

    Thank you!

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