… rather than restless to leave. Recruit a diverse conference planning committee with different perspectives on the attendees and brainstorm fresh ways to get people actively learning, collaborating and considering ways to follow-up later with what they learn at your meeting. Here are four rather obvious yet rarely-used ideas that cost little to implement.
1. Adopt varied meeting formats for learning and idea exchanges between attendees.
Two benefits: meetings are interesting and enable people with different temperaments, needs and interests to get to know each other better, learn in different ways and find others with common interests.
Plus bring in more experts from way outside the ostensible topic/industry/professional area of the meeting attendees to get a fresh perspective. What reporters, financial analysts, seasoned exhibitors research, cover and/or serve the kind of people at the meeting? They can offer fresh, perhaps even brash advice, forecasting and other insights.
“Our Best Advice”
Invite a panel of three outside experts to offer their best three tips in seven minutes. Invite a popular leader in your organization to act as moderator, introducing the session and it’s format, invite attendees to write their questions as the panelists speak – for volunteers to pick up – and to ring the “seven minute bell.” After the panelists are finished with their fast, to-the-point advice, the MC will read the questions asked by attendees. As the attendees leave this 60-minutes session, they are given a handout with the written version of the panelists’ tips and their background.
“Meet the Experts”
Provide three 30-minute expert-led round table sessions in a ballroom.
At the end of each session, ring a bell to notify attendees to move to the next table. Attendees reserve their seats for each session via online early registration and/or upon arrival at the meeting. NSA chapters regularly offers a version of this popular format called Meet the Pros.
2. Create more memorable multi-sensory moments that reinforce the meeting’s “storyline.”
Storyboard more of the moments along the main paths and byways that attendees will walk, from the moment they enter the meeting space and between meetings. Involve more sensory cues and points of interest, from “Burma Shave–style sequential signage along hallways to localized “overheard” audio conversations.
3. Create digital audio and video recordings of meeting sessions + on-site interviews with experts.
Cover attendees, exhibitors and speakers. Assign staff and invite attendees to interview others – perhaps with a suggested list of questions – with audio recorders (I favor the tiny Olympus) and video (I dream of getting the Flip Video that Kara Swisher uses). Also invite attendees to blog the meeting. In the hallways and waiting and gathering areas, show this coverage. Post conference, offer as streaming downloads from your Web site, perhaps free to some (members, attendees or employees) and for-fee to others (non-members, non-attendees and the general public).
4. Provide year round follow-up for continuous learning and community-building.
Before the conference announce a contest and/or way that people can keep in learning and interacting with each other so that the conference/meeting is the launching event of for the “community” of attendees.
Build on the learning, sense of affiliation, peer-to-peer idea exchanges and other collaboration. More firms, associations and other organizations should consider adopting the features of an online social network or be at risk for losing their members’ (or employees, customers or other kind of meeting attendee) top-of-mind attention/loyalty.