Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Tips for Unconferences

Jeff Hurt is a meeting planner and social media maven that I've recently had the good fortune to encounter in the #eventprofs chat on Twitter. His background in educational design shapes his entire approach to planning events.

Based on a WordCamp Dallas event he attended, he presents his tips for planning an "unconference" -- a non-traditional gathering where interactions among participants are more important than lectures from speakers. Both may still be included, but the emphasis is shifted towards interaction and co-creation.

Among my favorite tips:

"5. As you plan your schedule, include some adult white space for attendees to digest information, network and learn from others.
Just as in Twitter, it’s not about how many followers you have, conference planning is not about how many speakers you can cram into a day. It’s about the quality of your speaker’s presentations and the quality of the connections one can make."

"8. Unconference organizers should remember that people today are learning in new ways that are collective, egalitarian and participatory.
The best conference learning occurs when there are varieties of ways people can learn from passive listening to collaborative round-table discussions to small group exercise. Retention and learning decreases the more attendees sit and passively listen, especially for eight-to-ten hours a day...

"While trying to have a single-experience for the entire audience is admirable, it is not possible. Nor does it really happen. Everyone brings their own set of learnings, skills and perspectives to an event. Each person leaves with their own takeaways and views. The Internet has turned learning on its head and no one person enters, follows or leaves the social space in a same way."


Events must be valuable for all of your participants and stakeholders, but each of these people will have their own criteria for defining value. This is Jamie McDonough's "Value of One" principle. Our events must create personalized value for every attendee. It is critical first to understand what your different stakeholders want and need, and then you must design an approach to your meeting that allows for this wide range of unique experiences to unfold.

How have you seen this be successful at events? Share your "massively unique" event stories in the comments section!

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Co-Creation and Meetings

In a recent webinar, Doug Amann from Pfizer made this point: If we're going to invest all of the money and resources to bring a large group of people together, let's maximize the interaction! "Broadcast" presentations -- one expert talking to an audience -- can be done very effectively online or on DVD's. Why bring people together to listen? What the face-to-face experience is exceptionally GOOD at is individual and small-group interactions. How can we make THOSE interactions the focus of our meetings?

Planners (and event sponsors) tend to rather LIKE the traditional, broadcast-style conferences. They are predictable. They are controllable. We all know how they work. If we can get the butts in the seats, we know (we think) how to deliver a great program (or at least a program kinda like last year's). And frankly, the audience tends to go along with it -- no one's expectations are normally that high. They'll sit in the seats. They'll listen to talks. They'll want to be entertained. And if this experience is comparable to other conference experiences, they'll generally give you positive scores on the feedback forms.

But how does this experience compare to actual meaningful events in our lives? Are we connecting with people? Are we learning anything useful? How will we be different after these events? With rare exceptions, a lecture hall experience will not create these kinds of changes.

So what will? I've been talking about collaboration, networking, and interaction. On a great twitter chat today, the focus shifted to "co-creation" -- working together to build something new. This might be a new invention. It might be a new process. It might be a new way to understand the world. Let's take your understanding and my understanding and see what we can build with a new, shared understanding.

Co-Creation -- the multi-day conference is the perfect venue for this. The conference creates a community -- a group of people bound together in shared experiences, new knowledge, a physical location, and even sporting handy community ID badges. This community builds trust among its members. This trust might be stronger or weaker among different parts of the community, but in sharing a good speaker, a challenging breakout, a karaoke fiasco, we build trust together. With trust and with our shared interest (the topic of the conference), we have the foundation for co-creation.

All we need now is the time, the space and the tools. Conferences tend to pack their schedules so that everyone feels like they didn't "waste their time". It's important to build in time for co-creation. At most events, the "water cooler conversations" happen in the hallways -- how can we create a more formal, useful environment for co-creation to take place? Finally, what tools are needed for co-creation? Marker boards are a great start for brainstorming, mind-mapping, and creating back-of-the-napkin drawings of your big ideas. Writing tools. Drawing tools. Display tools. Diagramming tools. Modeling tools. What are all of the different materials people might need to create something new together?

Make your "attendees" into "participants". Get them creating things together, and they will remember your event forever. "THAT was the moment our organization changed forever."

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Show Me the Value - MPI Webinar

On June 10, Jamie McDonough of Fusion Productions presented his model for creating and demonstrating value in meetings. Jamie gave some tools and models that support the approach to "meeting consulting" that Pfizer presented in last week's post. Once again, here are the notes I took on the marker board in the office while listening to the webinar.

Key points for me:
  1. To be taken seriously, meeting planners need to embrace their role as business people, not logistics managers
  2. Find out what every stakeholder in your meeting wants to achieve at this meeting.
  3. Design an innovative meeting that will accomplish those goals.
  4. Measure the results and share the data.
The biggest value in this webinar was not only this framework, but also the concrete tools presented for each step of the process.

Jamie started with the question about the role of meeting planners. This debate raged in 1995 when the question of meeting ROI first reared its head. "Are we planners, or are we business people?" Then answer then and now is "business people". We manage huge events with huge budgets. Our profession is responsible for over 1 million jobs in this country. We need to be telling our CEOs about the value of meetings before they even ask. Our industry has been hammered by the AIG's and others who could not explain the value of a meeting in a 30-second sound byte. We have to tell the story of our value better.

Jamie presented his "Value Cubed" model. This three-sided model was the framework for the rest of the presentation - Moments of Truth, Value of One, and the Meeting Lifecycle.

A "Moment of Truth" is any opportunity to reinforce the brand promise of a meeting with any of the stakeholders. Look at every touch point to see how it can add greater value. Now, a lot of stakeholders hold a lot of sacred cows around these touch points. "We had two projects screens last year." Or, "I always get picked up by a limo." We have developed an impartial process to evaluate the benefits and costs of each touch point for each stakeholder. It is a huge matrix that includes often thousands of these "moments of truth". It is important to evaluate each one and decide -- rationally -- which ones should be included and excluded.

Which ones add the most value? The ones that predispose attendees to content. The ones that create memorable experiences. The ones that will give the conference life long after the closing session.

The best way to create value is to use a structured, proven process that identifies the priorities of each stakeholder and ensures that their definition of value has been met. Each stakeholder wants the meeting to deliver value to "me", and that value might look very different for different stakeholders. The five-stage process is to 1) identify the stakeholders and their needs, 2) establish measurable objectives for each need, 3) deliver an event that meets those objectives, 4) measure the results, and 5) share the results with all of your stakeholders. Jamie presented some tools and tips for each of those steps.
It is important to remember that C-level executives think differently about meetings than most planners do. They don't care very much about logistical results like attendance or incremental cost savings. They DO care about strategic results in terms of learning, customer impacts or sales results. Ask these executives up front which strategic objectives they want this meeting to impact and how. And when the meeting is over, present the results -- good, bad and indifferent -- back to them. Show them what went well. Show them what needs improvement. And show them how the results from this last meeting will help make the next meeting even better. Executives will be very unlikely to cancel or cut a meeting that is being managed in a strategic and thoughtful manner. Use tools and conversations like these to become a significant player at the executive table.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Defining Objectives

In a meeting world where businesses are demanding real results, the meeting planner needs a new skill -- identifying the real objectives of their clients.

We've been facilitating collaborative meetings for corporate and association clients for over a decade. The first question we ask these clients is "What are you objectives?" This is just the beginning of the conversation.

What we discover more often than not is that our clients don't have a very clear vision for what they want to accomplish in their meetings. They want to "communicate" or they want to "be aligned", but they don't have a clear sense of what that is or how you could possibly tell if you had succeeded.

Helping our clients define their objectives is THE most important part of our consulting work. It is often invisible to the client. It is usually undervalued. It is frequently a frustrating process on both sides. Until you have a very clear understanding of what the participants will have in their hands and in their minds at the end of your meeting (that's my definition of an objective), it is impossible to design a process to make that happen!

So here is how that conversation might go. Let's ask our fictional client what their objectives are.

"We want to get these people together on these days in this city." Ok. That begins to give us some logistics to work with, but these are not objectives. WHY do you want to get these people together?

"We need to talk about this list of topics." This gives us some broad content areas. Great! We're making progress. Within those topics, however, what would you like the participants to create during the meeting?

"Well, we need to make some decisions/get some buy-in/get everyone on the same page!" This is good information. What kinds of decisions do you want this group to make?

"Oh, well, we need to get our priorities straight for the upcoming budgeting cycle." AHA! Now we're really getting somewhere! A list of priorities is a nice, tangible objective. It is concrete. The participants can have a copy of it in their hands. We can look for the list at the end of the session and tell whether or not we have accomplished this objective.

With this kind of objective in hand, we can now begin to explore a whole range of other topics with the client. What items might be on this list of priorities? What were the priorities for last year's budget? What internal and external factors will influence these priorities? How familiar are all of the participants with all of these influencing factors? Should we invite outside experts to share their perspectives on these factors? Should we explore the implications of having different sets of priorities -- how would the organization be different in different scenarios? How will this group make decisions -- is this a democracy or monarchy or something else altogether? What do the participants need to learn about each other and the outside world?

As meetings get evaluated more and more on the results they achieve, meeting planners need to become more familiar with the content and context of these meetings. The people sponsoring the meetings are professionals in their own discipline, but they need help to design and facilitate meetings that will accomplish their real objectives. The meeting planner needs to become a consultant, and it wouldn't hurt to find some professional consultants and facilitators to be part of your meeting design team.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Four Elements of Strategic Value


MPI hosted a great webinar today by Mary Boone, Jack Phillips and Susan Radojevic on the strategic value of meetings. I filled up the marker board in the office with notes. Thought I'd share them here since this information is critical to what we're doing with Illumination Galleries.


Their argument in a nutshell, if I dare summarize. First, the financial crisis and negative press about meetings has put a lot of pressure on the meetings industry, but this pressure should be seen as an opportunity to transform ourselves from a cost center to a source of strategic value for businesses and associations.


Susan Radojevic introduced the concept of Portfolio Management. Companies organize a ton of meetings of all sizes. We generally measure them in terms of efficiency -- how much do they cost this year vs. last year? We should ALSO be measuring them in terms of effectiveness -- how are they impacting our strategic and business goals? Susan proposed a process called Alignment to identify the strategic goals of the company, to identify all of the meetings that are currently held by the company, and to develop and manage a strategic plan to prioritize the meetings that deliver the most business value. This changes the role of meeting planners from procurement experts to strategic players in the marketing function of an organization.


Mary Boone then explored the concept of Meeting Design - "the purposeful shaping of both form and content." First, the meeting designer works with the owners of the meeting to understand both the meeting objectives AND the business objectives behind the meeting. Then the designer culls through a wide range of tools, technologies and collaborative methodologies to craft a program that achieves both the meeting and the business objectives. "Connect. Inform. Engage!" (You will see the same themes all over the Illumination Galleries website as well, by the way.) Not every meeting planners needs to become a Meeting Designer, but planners DO need to learn to work with a much wider range of experts to pull off well-designed meetings, including meeting designers, "creatives", instructional designers, planning experts, social scientists, and interaction designers. We need to shift our 21st century meetings out of the 18th century "broadcast" mode, where "experts" merely talk at an audience. We need to create interactive experiences that get real work done!
Next, Jack Phillips talked about measuring the ROI on meetings. (Thanks SJSmith for the link!) He presented six different levels of measurement, from ___ to actual ROI (comparing the quantitative value of a meeting to the cost of delivery), and argued that only a few meetings require the highest levels of measurement. It is important to really quantify the value of these meetings, however, to improve future events, to engage senior executives better, and to get a seat at the table when strategic decisions are being made about your meetings.


Finally, the panelists gave a brief talk on Advanced Meeting Logistics. Logistics are critical to the success of a meeting. They define the constraints of the event, and they also enable everything that takes place in a meeting. Being flexible with logistics is critical when taking a meeting-design approach, because the form of the meeting may need to change as the needs of the participants change or become more clear. One of the webinar attendees then presented a great case study about the importance of logistics -- holding their first sea-faring event with 300 top executives aboard a cruise ship. "When life hands you limes, we at Baccardi make mojitos!" Love it.


Enjoy the illustrations!

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Webinar: The Case for Meetings and Events

Mary Boone is leading a webinar on the Case for Meetings and Events. This is a further elaboration on the article I referred to a couple of weeks ago about the transformation of the meetings industry. Now is the greatest opportunity we have to make meetings matter, to make them significant, to make them a strategic part of business, not the boondoggle that so many people imagine them to be.

You need to register to participate in the webinar, so sign up soon! The webinar will take place on Tuesday, April 21, from 12:00pm - 1:15pm EDT.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

New World of Work

A number of these videos have been flashing around recently. They are each quite impactful, but it is important to look at them with fresh eyes after you've seen a few of them. The temptation is to think "Oh, yes. I've seen that." Look again. You might discover something new.

I watched this New World of Work video while thinking about the future (and the past) of conferences and meetings. World demographics are changing wildly. More people will be retired than are working in some countries. The demographic mix in the US will shift dramatically in the next 30 years, in terms of ethnicity, language, social classes and much more. The best jobs in 2020 have not been invented yet, and they will use technologies that we haven't even dreamed of. These are the jobs that our schools are preparing young people for.

Does this sound like a world in which people will be willing to invest their time and money in a big conference where a handful of people talk at them? No way! This is a world where people will have ultimate choices about how they use their time. They'll be able to do endless things online, on the phone, in virtual worlds. To get people to attend a meeting physically will require a tremendous attractor, and talking heads ain't it.

What can people do in person that cannot be replicated online? Look each other in the eyes. Shake hands. Overhear a conversation and jump right in. Collaborate intensely. These are the experiences that the meeting industry must strive to create, because these are the only experiences that your attendees won't be able to get online.

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Design Thinking Framework

Here's a nice little video that demonstrates a framework for "design thinking". I don't think there's any audio, but I'm not sure.

I've struggled for years over the decision to include "design" in my marketing materials. For those customers and collaborators who "get it", design is the perfect word. For those who don't, you often get into a long discussion about how you don't, in fact, have an opinion about the curtains in their office. Design Thinking seems to be growing in popularity, though. The benefits it offers businesses (and meetings) are pretty extraordinary over what's traditionally passed for strategy and planning.

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Thank Doyle and Strauss

All you've ever loved and hated about business meetings can be attributed to Michael Doyle and David Strauss. In the 1970s, they published a book called How to Make Meetings Work. This codified the best practices of meeting preparation, defining an agenda, selecting a facilitator, taking notes, etc. Their distinctions between types of meetings (problem-solving vs. decision-making vs. information-sharing) is useful and helpful as far as it goes.


There's been an unfortunate assumption, however, that this is all there is to meetings. We have believed that small groups can have a variety of types of meetings (best managed by the Doyle & Strauss rule-set), but that once the numbers of participants grew too large, the only possible process was the "sit & get" model of interaction -- one talking head lecturing at an audience. Now, there's been tremendous innovation in this style of meeting - from transparencies to PowerPoint to full-on spectacles with pyrotechnics and the whole nine yards. But the model of interaction is the same - one head talking, hundreds of others listening.

The arrival of Open Space is pretty exciting because it breaks that mold. Using this technique, huge groups of people can have dozens of concurrent conversations to explore ideas, test models and make decisions. It's totally uncontrolled and unpredictable, it's wildly productive and engaging, and it scares the pants off of most people who organize events. We tend to like knowing exactly what's going to happen before it happens (seriously, why does anyone hold a press conference anymore when the content is broadcast long before the meeting itself?). Open Space allows people in groups to interact, to mix it up, and for fun, exciting and scary things to emerge from those interactions.


What the conference world is just beginning to wrestle with is how big the universe of conference models really is, and how to select the right model for the right conference? Bryan Coffman has distilled a useful model for understanding meetings. I referred to this framework in my post on Conceiving a Virtual Collaboration Process.
The entire CollaborationLabs.net site is an exploration of these different types of collaboration, defined by the two axes of "Facilitator vs. Agent Controlled-Process" and "Amount of Structure Created by Emergent Rules vs. by Design". The orange arrow designates the direction we seem to be heading in.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Eureka! Novotel's Meeting Spaces

Novotel in Europe has been working with InnovationLabs to redesign its service offering for meetings. These tend to be smaller meetings - the space appears to max out around 20 people.

The tool they've developed for their website is a terrific example, though, of how a space can be reconfigured to support different functions. (Click on the four "plans" on the right side of the screen to see the space reconfigure!) The space can support a variety of different work styles, and this is the first demonstration I've seen of a hotel actually thinking through the process of a meeting beyond when a meal will be served.

They even post sample agendas for how your meeting can be more productive using this kind of space!

(Oh, the whole site is in French, so let me know if you have more questions about the content.)

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Designed Meetings

Hallelujah! It is fantastic to discover like minds out there. Mary Boone of Boone Associates just published a fantastic paper on making meetings strategic. From this link, you can download the full PDF of the paper. I highly recommend it.

She talks about several key shifts in meetings. The first is a shift from evaluating meetings based on "efficiency" alone, to evaluating them on both "effectiveness" and "efficiency". Look at how your meetings are impacting your company's strategy and performance, not just how much they cost.

The second key concept is to evaluate all of your organization's meetings as a portfolio -- this includes offsites, trainings, retreats, conferences, kick-offs, and any other gathering that you organize. What are the different components of your meeting portfolio, and how does each component contribute to the strategy of the company? This allows executives to make intelligent choices about where to invest their resources, rather than just cutting items that arbitrarily look "too expensive".

Finally, meeting design vs. meeting planning:

"The problem to date has been that many individual meetings may be expertly planned, but not expertly designed. There is a real and significant difference in these two concepts.

"Meeting design is the purposeful shaping of the form and content of a meeting to achieve desired results. Meeting design incorporates methods and technologies that connect, inform, and engage a broad range of relevant stakeholders before, during, and after the meeting. Good design helps meeting owners establish clear objectives and desired outcomes, integrate the meeting with other communication activities, maximize interactivity, and create a significant return on investment." (emphasis mine)

She goes on to distinguish meeting design from both planning and instructional design.

As we design Illumination Galleries for clients, we focus on precisely these elements -- connections and interactions to achieve results. We base our Galleries on our 20+ years of experience designing and facilitating corporate collaborative sessions to solve strategic challenges. When we looked at the larger world of "meetings", we saw a huge opportunity to make these investments of people, time and resources vastly more productive. We constantly seek out new tools and methods to connect people, to engage them, and to help them collaborate to create real results in these sessions. Otherwise, what's the point, really, of getting all of those people together?

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