This article was my contribution to the recent Ebook, “Social Media For Events 2010: 7 Event Experts Weigh In On The Year Ahead Of Us,” created by Lara McCulloch-Carter.
In 1982 a Grammy Award winning country/southern rock band, called “Alabama,” released a new song that, when heard nowadays, seems almost prophetic. Here’s a short snippet of the lyrics, summarizing the song’s message: (Click Here to view a YouTube Video and hear the song)
People still are singin’ different songs
They’re searchin’ for the place where they belong
I can feel changes comin’ on
Well…. change has arrived to the events business! Over the past 18 months, a tough economy, combined with the accelerated growth of technology, has altered the world of meetings and conferences. What’s different? Here are the realities of 2010:
- Travel budgets cut — Businesses have less dollars available to spend on business travel. Subsequently, they are more closely scrutinizing travel expense for employee education.
- New Learning channels — Traditional Meeting Attendees, faced with less financial support for their continuing education needs, have been forced to consider alternative learning resources.
- Convenient Learning — With increased availability, and sophistication of webcasting and webinar technology, organization employees now have the option to enjoy a quality adult learning experience, without leaving their office.
- Affordable Education — Quality online education content is being offered at a very competitive price point, sometimes at no charge. This is forcing associations and other organizations to re-think their conference business models.
- Broader Connection Channels — Social media tools, such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn have opened the door for business people to easily make new global connections with other like-minded professionals.
- Information Superhighway — With Social Media tools, exchanging information, news, ideas and best practices is fast-paced, efficient and painless.
- Peer to Peer Interactions are top Priority — People are embracing collaborative interaction, due to its flexibility, and transparency. Collaborative learning is less controlling and communication flow is more natural.
So how should you, as an event professional, respond to these factors? What does the future look like for face-to-face meetings?
Many organizations are hitting the “social media panic button,” instructing their Event teams to immediately incorporate social media into their conference plans. Unfortunately these directives, though well-intentioned, are off target.
Face-to-Face Meetings are social, by their nature. Event professionals should be less concerned about socializing events, and become more focused on aligning event design with attendee expectations.
Are you confused about how to tackle this issue? Here are some thoughts to consider:
Thought #1: Involve Attendees in Event Design — Consult with customers to clearly understand their meeting needs. One productive approach, is the use of a ”Customer Advisory Board.” This group is typically comprised of a sampling of attendees, offering a variety of customer perspectives.
Another option is to schedule a series of town hall style meetings in strategic locations to solicit the advice and opinions of your event’s attendee-base. Finally, there is a new social media tool, still in pre-release, called Google Wave. This application has tremendous online collaboration potential, and may be a useful tool for event design, once fully released to the public.
Thought #2: Create and Encourage Community — Ideally, an online community should be established to Engage attendees before, during and after the conference. Its primary goals are to build excitement for the event, post critical event information and encourage attendee networking.
A number of online tools are available to assist event professionals in promoting their events. Blogs, Twitter, Facebook “fan pages” and LinkedIn Groups are examples of communication channels used for this purpose.
More complex community building centers, such as Crowdvine, Pathable or Social Collective offer an even greater potential depth of connection for attendees and integrate the individual social media applications into their infrastructure.
Thought #3: Add “Virtual” or “Hybrid” Components to Event — As discussed earlier, some attendees may not be able to attend a conference due to budget, or time constraints. Webcasting technology now makes it possible to offer a virtual conference experience to these individuals.
Add a Twitter “Hashtag” channel to your conference and you have create a hybrid event. A Hybrid event enables Virtual and live attendees, as well as speakers, to interact with one another in one place. Placing video monitors in strategic locations, throughout the conference area, with a “Twitter Feed,” provides convenient access to the Tweets, and creates a stronger attendee connection at the conference.
Thought #4: Collaborative is key for Education Sessions — When scheduling education sessions pick topics and speakers that encourage interaction and collaboration. You should offer only a Limited number of “lecture-style” sessions, if at all. In 2010 most business people are not interested in “Talking heads” style presentations. Instead, they prefer to participate in sessions providing them with an opportunity to contribute to the content.
Special Note: It is acceptable to use a “lecture-style format for Keynote style sessions, assuming the selected speakers will be captivating, with a compelling story to tell. Expect, however, that many attendees will probably be buried in their smartphones during sessions, either posting tweets, or other types of online social interaction.
There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” approach to event design. The thoughts presented in this article are a starting point. In reality, some ideas expressed may not meet your organization’s specific conference needs.
The rules for meetings and conferences have forever changed, and will continue to evolve. The one universal truth, that applies to all events, is the “attendee is king.” By remaining focused on understanding and addressing the needs of your customers, and frequently communicating with them, your organization will position itself for success.
If you have an alternative perspective you would like to share, I would love to hear from you. I look forward to meeting you out there in Social Media land!