June 30, 2010 by Jeff Hurt
The National Adult Survival Association (NASA) has decided to send the next generation of land rovers to your annual meeting. These rovers have more robust and hyper-sensitive life detecting systems than the traditional conference evaluation smile sheets.
NASA is looking for signs of life…at your conference.
NASA’s researchers have documented that your conference had life ten and twenty years ago. They’ve seen ancient artifacts of printed conference brochures, articles and photos that point to life-sustaining ventures.
They are concerned that your annual meeting still supports life. They have fears that the factors supporting life have been neglected and over-shadowed by competing forces. They have evidence that harsh forces have overrun the nurturing aspects of your conference. Today’s conference artifacts look almost identical to those of yesteryear. Little has evolved.
Grasping the nature of a healthy conference life is often like trying to capture an ocean wave. The second you have it in your hands, it disappears and leaves you feeling wet. Your hands are dripping with salt water and void of any form. You know it’s there. You can see it. Sense it. Taste it. Hear it. Yet you can’t capture it.
For years organizations have been trying to analyze the life of a conference or meeting. We have created simple smile sheets and complex evaluation models to examine and evaluate the ROI of our meetings. We have intricate formulas to calculate what our meetings are worth to the cities and venues that host them. We have tried desperately to get a voice at the executive’s table to explain the business case for our meetings. We have proven a case of how our meetings impact jobs and the economy. While our attention has been focused on the attendees’ smile sheet satisfaction, ROI and the business case of meetings, we have forgotten that our conferences are community organisms needing sustainable, life-giving resources and nurturing. We have focused on the mechanics of our events–the schedules, counting coffee cups and setting rooms. And in doing so, have overlooked the life of the conference experience.
None of our previous attempts to characterize life at our conferences is wrong. Each of these systems gives a distinctive light into elements of life. Unfortunately, these methods are also limited. They can’t account for the intangibles at our conference.
Mostly they have reduced the conference experience into a set of sterile accounting numbers trying to prove its worth. Yet, accounting looks backwards not forwards. Accounting and ROI treats the conference experience as expenditures not an investment that will yield fruit. CPAs put a dollar value on the expense of the conference life seed and not on the harvest.
Today new voices about conference life have arisen. Today’s society has given renewed emphasis to relationships and community. The latest vision sees conference life in the DNA of attendees’ interactions. Interactions with each other. With the content. With the various conference stakeholders. With the experience. And attendees are placing more value on these interactions than they have in the past.
Deep within the heart of a conference’s DNA is a microcosm of a community experience. Coiled within the heart of these interactions is a conference’s life-giving source. It’s about the level of engagement of our conference attendees. It about more than our attendees’ sitting passively for hours listening to presenter monologues and panel dialogues. It’s about allowing attendees to share ideas, insights, experiences, knowledge and wrestle with problems together. Those interactions produce sustainable life-supporting conferences and events. Those interactions build and grow communities.
When nurtured and structured properly, these DNA life-supporting systems explode before our very eyes, creating more energy and renewed life. The conference organisms grow and evolve. The community bonds and self-organizes. At the end of the conference, the life-support continues online as attendees yearn to meet again, face to face.
Photo by danhollisterduck http://www.flickr.com/photos/74641363@N00/2596483147/
Without that DNA, our conferences have become stale, barren waste lands creating clone cultures of zombie-like attendees feeding on the carcasses of information overload. We have focused strictly on the meeting architecture and schedule scaffolding instead of community building support.
It’s time for meeting and event professionals to think about the signs of life at their conferences and events. How much time do conference organizers allow for attendee interaction–outside of the networking and receptions? Does the schedule provide time for limited interactions? Or does it allow for ample relationship and community building experiences?
Take a look before NASA’s land rovers arrive.
What signs of life are your conferences and events showing?
Filed Under: Event Planning
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