May 31, 2013 by Donna Kastner
It’s not often that we get a chance to fully immerse ourselves in an extraordinary conference experience. Such was the case for me last week at C2-MTL.
If you’re a “frequent flyer” here on the Velvet Chainsaw Midcourse Corrections blog, you may recall a post I filed last week as I was midway through C2-MTL. Now that I’ve had a chance to reflect on the experience in its entirety, there are five critical elements that keep bubbling up to the top. Five things the C2-MTL design team mastered better than most to deliver on their conference promise.
Commerce + Creativity are at the core of the C2-MTL mission. Attracting a global crowd of starry-eyed creatives, buttoned-down suits and everything in between, they served a diverse group of attendees who arrived with a list of critical problems they needed to solve and/or stretch goals and aspirations. It was incredible to watch like-minded and different-minded people come together in search of new ideas that would help them achieve something better. As stated by C2-MTL from the start, this would be “a new kind of annual global conference: one that explores the relationship between commerce and creativity, and its potential to redefine business.”
Typically, a conference design team will transform a hotel or convention center to create a conference experience. Yet even with the most dazzling accoutrements, attendees are still keenly aware that they’re in a hotel or convention center. That wasn’t the case for C2-MTL. Arsenal, former home to a 100-year shipbuilding operation was an intriguing and very non-traditional venue. The C2-MTL design team started with a blank canvas, adding brilliant elements to an unfettered and expansive shell. This panoramic shot provides a “before” glimpse of one of the spaces.
Often, conference agendas are jam packed with barely enough time to run from one session to the next, but the C2-MTL team recognized the power of white space (free time). For three days running, the main stage featured big names and not-so-big names sharing stories and insight in presentations that spanned 30 minutes or less. Between presentations, there was exploration time built into the agenda, where participants were encouraged to join a workshop, investigate interactive exhibits, walk the canal, or take a breather. More importantly, there were plenty of pod cluster seating areas indoors and out where participants could engage in impromptu chats with peers.
We’re big fans of conference connexity (fostering community and creating connections) and the C2 app was incredibly robust on this count. Participants were encouraged to use the app to post two things: Requests (What are you looking to accomplish? Who do you most want to meet?) and Offers (How can you help others? What expertise or insight can you share?). This “speed dating” model garnered more than 1000 offers/requests and the peer-to-peer buzz was off the charts. Request and offer bids also scrolled across big screens throughout the venue. Another smart move: There were dozens of workshops going on and participants could reserve a seat using the app. They could also see a list of others who RSVP’ed for each of these sessions. Nearly every session was filled to the brim with waitlists, so people could be alerted if a seat opened up. I’m convinced knowing who else would be in the room ratcheted up participation. Notifying people about open seats in real time was icing on the cake.
In psychology circles, there’s something known as the Peak-End Rule. In essence, it suggests that as participants recall a conference experience, they often lock in on two things: The peak (best moment) and how it ended. All too often, conferences start with a bang but end with a fizzle. That certainly wasn’t the case for C2, as the final session was an interview with Sir Richard Branson. It was a powerful “go forth” moment that prompted attendees to take the wealth of discoveries at the conference and apply these to drive meaningful improvements in their professional and personal lives.
As you scan these five elements, which one strikes you as most intriguing? What new element would you suggest adding to the conference design playbook?
Filed Under: Experience Design
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