Your annual meeting needs a couple of meeting anthropologists!
No, not a couple of people in Raiders of the Lost Ark clothing, carrying shovels and picks.
You need curious people, preferably outsiders, to observe your meeting participants’ actions, behaviors, decisions and group culture. You need to know how your attendees interact with each other, respond to your schedule, react to your speakers and content, align with or against your plans and generally conduct themselves at your conference.
Most meeting organizers and their staff are too busy overseeing the logistics of the event to observe attendees’ actions. Yet they need that data.
Usually meeting organizers rely on post-conference surveys to collect data from their attendees about the experience. But that is not enough. That only gives a snapshot into that attendee’s mind about the questions asked. It does not accurately illustrate your attendees’ actions, behaviors and decisions during the event.
You need some outside observers with an intense curiosity about how your conference attendees act, behave and respond.
Your Conference As A Society
Annual meetings take humans out of their daily routines and force them into a new environment. Attendees suddenly face unfamiliar surroundings, a strange home base, untried schedules, unusual meal routines, different ideas, new connections, foreign sleeping patterns and unknown experiences. It is an abnormal situation.
The conference attendees form a temporary society with new rules and expectations. A society is a group of individuals that have common associations. That association can be culture, interaction, location, role, social status, work or some other relationship.
Within that conference society is a plurality of other groups and small communities. Some practices of these smaller societies are assimilated into the larger conference society. Some traits are seen as offensive or contradictory to the values of other groups. Within the larger conference society exists an unspoken expectation and tension on how everyone is expected to behave and act.
Yet in today’s world of networked individuals, new behaviors are emerging. Some are creating new rules and systems of behavior, even within face-to-face experiences. Some are defying old patterns of beliefs.
Thinking Like Meeting Anthropologists
Your conference society portrays specific patterns of behavior and actions. The challenge is whether you have the bandwidth to objectively observe how they are responding to your conference.
You need a couple of meeting anthropologists to uncover what people are doing, where they are going, where they are congregating and how to make things better for them.
Here are some questions your curious meeting anthropologists should consider:
- What patterns of attendee behavior are you observing?
- Where are attendees congregating?
- Where are they not congregating?
- What venue and environmental pressures are shaping the attendee experience?
- What parts of the conference schedule are attendees avoiding?
- What are attendees carrying with them to sessions?
- How are attendees communicating with each other?
- How are attendees reacting to the flow of the conference experience?
- What are attendees feeling about this experience?
- How are attendees behaving in education sessions?
What other things would you ask your meeting anthropologists to observe? What would be the benefit of inviting meeting anthropologists to your next conference?