Our Conferences Are In Need Of An Epidemic

Swine Flu H1N1 virus influenza 2.0

Are you a virus?

Let me rephrase that. Do you see yourself as an innovator, a change agent, one that pushes the envelope?

If you do, you may very well be a virus.

Defining A Virus

A virus is an infectious agent that replicates within the cells of a living host.

Viruses spread in many ways. Insects spread viruses in plants and animals. Coughs and sneezes spread viruses in humans. Contact with food, water or an object where a virus landed can spread viruses.

Extending The Virus Metaphor

Many conferences are in need of a change. They need a virus acting as a change agent to do things differently. They need someone to have the courage to take a stand and foster innovation.

So how can the virus metaphor help us innovate more?

1. We can’t see a virus with naked eye.

Viruses often innovate in the safety of a smaller meeting or as a pilot project within a larger meeting. If you attempt to use event technology in a new way at your meeting, you may be a virus. Unfortunately, we can’t easily see these viruses. It’s only through the sharing of stories that the virus becomes visible.

2. A virus can only replicate within a living host.

As a conference innovator, do you share your thoughts, strategies and experiments with others? Who is your conference colleague that serves as a springboard for ideas and innovations? Viral replication begins with conversation and conversion. Openly sharing your innovative ideas may be the catalyst that ensures that your conference and organization remains vibrant.

3. Viruses often trigger natural defenses.

Just like a virus, it’s common for innovators to be attacked while the followers prosper. Once your superiors or customers identify you as a virus, the change agent, it may trigger their defenses. Organizational immune systems are comprised of those who want to maintain the status quo. It might be the AV vendor who doesn’t want you to livestream the meeting or Skype in a presenter. Or it may be some vocal customers who say they aren’t ready to adapt their conference routine to the realities of a changing world.

Regardless of the antibodies you encounter, know that it’s natural for people to defend the status quo. The most fearless innovators are accustomed to others acting as barriers. They know that it’s about a change management process and sharing lots of information. While the virus may slow, ultimately their viral nature is resistant to the system’s natural defenses.

4. Viruses may be immune to antibiotics and need to be aware of vaccination programs.

Sometimes organizational leaders adopt policies to protect the conference from disruptive change. “Mobile devices and laptops are not allowed at our conference. Doors are shut and locked from the outside once the program begins.” While these policies may seem like good ideas in the short term, often they tend to expire as other conferences evolve.

We Need A Conference Epidemic

Our traditional conference needs an epidemic. We need innovative practices to go viral and infect meeting professionals across the globe. If we are to reimagine the conference, organizers will need the services of continually evolving range of viruses.

Are you ready to join me for a conference pandemic?

What are some other ways the innovative meeting professionals are like viruses? What do conference organizers need to foster innovative and creativity successfully?

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  1. Jeff, I think we have a virus! I work with an incredible group of people who innovate every day! It may not be new to the industry but its new to our conference despite our history and the tenure of some of the other staff members no longer the “conference meeting planner.” Here’s hoping there is NO cure for this virus!

  2. thom singer says:

    I am in.

    There is a lot of talk about how we need to “Change” the conference, but drastic changes and throwing out the baby with the bath water is not what is needed.

    A few key people in an organization who are willing to take risks and get out of the “we always do it this way” mode can seed the “virus” (as you describe) and create a culture in the mini-society that is a conference. A few bold agenda items and organization coupled with speakers who do more than pontificate from the stage can change an event into an industry happening.

    I have seen this happen.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Good for you. Keep up the innovation and commitment to bringing the best quality to your customers as possible.

      Thanks for reading and commenting too.

      What is the baby that doesn’t need to be thrown out with the bathwater? I’m curious to what you are referring to here.

      Here’s an ongoing problem meeting professional have with conferences. They use last year’s schedule to build next year’s. The pattern never changes. It totally predictable and well-worn.

      Dr. Todd Kashdan, a clinical psychologist and George Mason Professor, has researched how our brains respond to certainty, predictable and routine situations versus uncertainty. Amazingly, our brains are hardwired to remember and recall uncertainty more than the normal. So if meeting professionals want their event to be remembered, they have to create innovative, unpredictable events full of surprise. For example, when you drive home, you don’t notice what each the houses look like on your street because you’ve already seen and experienced it. However, if someone has painted their house, has landscaped their yard or there’s a new car in the driveway, your brain notices that. You notice the change. IMO, that alone is a reason to recreate the conference experience as something new and fresh that’s not been done in the past. Just sayin…

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