Monday, July 6, 2009

Ultimate Networking Event

In a recent #eventprofs chat on Twitter, the discussion briefly turned to the "ultimate networking event". What would it look like? How would it work? Why would it be better than other networking events?

In the interest of full disclosure, it was exactly this line of thinking that led us to create the services that we offer. So I've tried NOT to frame this as a sales pitch, but rather as a thought process that leads to great interactions between people.

First of all, why do we network? We want to connect with new people. These might be people we want to learn from, to work for, to work with, to sell to, to partner with, or a whole host of other variations on those themes. We want to meet people who have similar interests to ours. We want to meet people that might be fun and/or productive to work/talk/play with in the future.

So how do we connect with new people?

Personal Introductions
Perhaps the most valuable way to meet new people is a personal introduction from a trusted third person. I know Andre. Andre knows Barb. Andre knows that Barb and I share common interests, so he introduces us. This is a great, new, "qualified" connection to our network. But what if we're in a room full of strangers...?

Shared Interest
We often want to meet people who share our interests. How, in a room full of strangers, can you find out who's interested in what? This challenge led us to create the "Galleries" concept in the first place. What if you could distribute content and ideas strategically around a physical space? That would allow people to congregate near the topics that were interesting to them, and that would allow them to bump into other people interested in the same topics!

Imagine the Louvre or the Met in New York. You will find a fair number of visitors to the museums who try to wander around the whole place to see every thing. You will also find people who specialize in particular artists or styles or themes. Spend some time in the Impressionist area, and you are bound to find other enthusiasts of Impressionism. And having the topic of your interest (the paintings) all around you, it becomes much easier to find people who share your interests AND to start a conversation with them -- "Don't you love the way Monet uses light and water together?"

IdeaBoards are designed to create the same networking opportunity at meetings and conferences. IdeaBoards are illustrations of the content from keynotes, panel discussions, group discussions and breakout sessions. Our illustrators create these IdeaBoards in real-time, and post them in the Gallery at the end of each session. We can organize the IdeaBoards by speaker, by theme, or by any other topic.

IdeaBoards draw people into conversations. They are a fun, colorful, insightful way to present content. The invite people who attended that session to see what they heard in a new way, and they give people who didn't attend a quick overview of the story and major themes of the session. And as these two kinds of people stand next to each other in the Gallery, they can easily start up a conversation about this topic that they both are so clearly interested in!

IdeaBoards are just one of the tools that you can use to facilitate networking. Twitter feeds, SMS surveys, and content-driven trivia questions (among many others) can help strangers in a crowd to identify others with whom to make a connection.

Working Together - The IdeaLounge
Of course the ultimate test of any networking relationship is how well you end up working with that person. So why wait? Why offer canapes during a networking event, when you can offer tools to get real work done?

We've all spent many hours at these kinds of event, a drink in one hand, an empty toothpick in the other, wishing we could take a great conversation to the next level. We search for somewhere to put our drink down. We fumble for a napkin or the back of a business card to scribble out an idea...

What if you were surrounded by an environment full of collaboration tools AND comfortable seating? Imagine being able to sketch out your ideas on a marker board. Imagine a spontaneous brainstorming session of "the best ideas from this conference". Imagine taking a problem identified by a speaker earlier in the day and convening a quick focus group to come up with solutions, or next steps, or a proposal for funding to solve the problem. In this setting, surrounded by all of these tools, you get to meet people and work together with them! You get to experience how creative they are, how open they are to ideas, how flexible and funny they are when they're engaged in real design and not just cocktail chatter.

Again, marker boards and couches are just a few of the tools that can be brought to bear on the challenge of getting people to work together and not just chit chat. Flip camera can be used to record "great ideas" that people come up with. Digital cameras can be used to capture and share the marker board models and lists. Music can be used to strategically energize or relax the group. Polls (via SMS or informal walk-arounds) can test the mood of a group or introduce discussion topics. And of course wifi access can bring real data, computation tools and a world of other resources to bear on these (initially) casual conversations.

Not that there's anything wrong with canapes, of course. But we can get SO much more out of our investments in networking events!

I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences too! Are there other ideas and tools that I'm missing?

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Role of Meetings in Corporate Strategy - MPI Webinar

On May 15, Ken Kirsh and the boys at Pfizer gave a great little webinar on how to connect meetings to corporate strategy. Top take-aways for me:
  1. Become a Meeting Consultant - ask about business issues & propose solutions
  2. Define Objectives - a happy coincidence that is was also my last post
  3. Measure Results - work with executives to define metrics that matter
  4. Multi-Modal Meetings - do your presentations online, meetings are for interaction! (Also a passion of mine)

Below you'll find my notes on the discussion.

The talk started with Doug Amann telling planners to focus on driving efficiency. Especially in this economy, find the places in your planning process that take the most time, and focus your streamlining efforts there.

Technology can play a role in driving down costs. Use technology when it will support the kind of meeting you want to have. You need to understand all of the technology options out there so that you can provide the right solution for each challenge that your clients or executives present to you.

Now, how can you align your events with the corporate strategy? Ask the executive behind the event what the motivations are behind the meeting. Listen to the words the executives use. Are they focused on innovation? On efficiency? On compliance? Tailor your messages and your solutions to the business challenges surrounding the particular meeting you're involved with.
Measuring Return on Investment is the nirvana of the planning world. It's more often simpler to measure "return on objectives". This does require a lot of time and effort up front to define (with the executives) what measurable, concrete objectives they might have for the meeting. And when you think you're done with the meeting, you're not -- you need to be diligent about measuring results long after the euphoria of the event has faded.

Tom White, also of Pfizer, talked about the "Return on Innovation" - he is normally asked to provide that "something different" or "something extra" to take meetings over the top. He recommends that planners ask three questions. First, what kinds of conversations drive the most value for a company? Internal department discussions? Cross-functional discussions? Conversations with customers? The company should invest in meetings that support the most impactful conversations. Second, how does this meeting make our business faster or more efficient? Maybe you SHOULDN'T wait until the annual meeting for a big discussion or announcement. Don't let meetings slow you down, either. Third, what should be done outside the meeting (before and especially after) to leverage the value of the meeting itself?
Tom discussed three different meeting formats. The traditional "broadcast" meeting involves one person giving a presentation to many people. Technology today is very effective at this kind of interaction -- put it on a DVD or a webinar! Many clients want this kind of meeting, but it's our job as planners to help them think differently.

The second format is a more linear meeting. This kind of meeting normally involves different departments working together to solve particular issues and challenges. These meetings tend to be highly engineered.

Finally, there are the "networking meetings". These meetings are the most difficult to manage, but they can create the most value. Doug said something like "If we're going to invest the time and resources to bring people together, let's maximize the interaction!" (As an aside, this is exactly the focus of Illumination Galleries) The best take-aways from meetings normally happen in the "water cooler conversations", not in the lecture halls. Let's build meetings that focus on those conversations!

The speakers then gave some recommendations on Going the Extra Mile, Managing Cash, and Partner Alignment.
Finally, the speakers wrapped up by emphasizing the new role and skills that are being required of meeting planners. Become a meeting consultant. Learn about the challenges your clients are experiencing, outside of the meeting. Develop new solutions that reflect your new understanding of the client's business. And communicate with executives using language (and data) that matters to them!

Here is the complete marker board. Click on this to see the larger image:

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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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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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