Wikipedia defines design as the creation of a plan or convention for the construction of an object, system or measurable human interaction (as in architectural blueprints, engineering drawings, business processes, circuit diagrams, and sewing patterns).
So, when you read the word design, what pops into your mind? Artists? Fashion Designers? City planning? Interior design? Graphic design? Meeting and conference professionals?
Wait! Go back and read that last phrase: meeting and conference professionals! Do you see yourself as a conference, meeting or event designer? As someone who creates, plans and constructs human interactions at your meetings and events? If not, perhaps you should.
Four Areas To Consider When Reimagining Your Conference
My last post identified four main areas associations should consider when reimagining their conference program for future audiences:
- Engagement and Community Strategy (which we covered in the previous post)
- Learning Experience Design (LXD)
- User Experience Design (UXD)
- Purpose and Passion Alignment
Let’s take a look at the last three areas. They are directly related to design in some way.
Learning Experience Design (LXD)
Learning design is a focus on the activities and exercises that attendees will participate in during an education session. Some conferences have evolved user experience deign (UXD) to learning experience design (LXD). The focus is on designing transformative learning experiences that change attitudes, behaviors and skills.
Here are some LXD approaches to contemplate.
1. Novice Or Basic Content
For premium face-to-face conferences, you want to keep the content new and advanced. While early-career professionals may need the basics or 101, most often they will choose to attend the advanced sessions. It’s very rare to see a survey response that says “content was over my head.” Consider a preconference workshop for foundational content.
2. Put The Kids In The (Poster) Show
For STEM and healthcare conferences, encouraging students to present posters or oral abstracts is typically the only way that they’ll earn the chance to attend. Most conferences accept nearly every submission. With this model, the best science is difficult to find and student loyalty is rarely widespread. Education curation needs filters with higher standards — based on quality, not quantity. The everybody wins model will not survive.
3. Bite-Sized Education
The universal perception of Millennials is that they have a short attention span. Brain science proves that all of us learn better in short chunks — but we must also have time to connect the content to our previous knowledge and discuss how we can apply it back to the workplace. TED Talks and other abbreviated learning experiences that don’t provide time to make sense of it all are ineffective.
User Experience Design (UXD)
User Experience Design (UXD) is the process of enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty by improving the usability, ease of use, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the customer and the product. [Wikipedia]
For conferences, the entire conference experience is the product. UXD experts suggest that we flip the order for improvement and start with designing attendee experiences first. Then we should work backwards, dealing with systems & resources (logistics & tools) last.
Here are some UXD strategies to ponder.
While in-app gamification is well intended and targets the Millennial mindset, it won’t have a lasting impact unless it’s coupled with ideation and improved problem-solving. Conference experiences designed with social play exercises can help create highs in the participant’s emotional journey and lead to increased learning and co-creation.
2. Innovative Room Sets
Different trumps same. Vary room sets to help communicate to your participants that the learning/sharing experience will be different. Setting rooms for increased interaction will leverage the intellectual equity in the room and make next-gen attendees feel more included.
3. Share-Worthy Experiences
Across generations, we’re all collectors and sharers of our experiences. Digital tools have made it easier to capture, archive, and amplify those moments privately or very publicly. Consider experiences that surprise, entertain, or provide learnings or aha moments worth capturing and sharing via camera or video.
4. Young Professionals–Only Events
Most early-career professionals are interested in meeting others who can help them get ahead. If you organize meet-ups or networking events for this segment, you’ll want to include veteran attendees to help them get connected.
Purpose and Passion Alignment
Many conference registrants want to participate in meaningful experiences that align with their purpose and passion. Regardless of the age, Boomers to Millennials are looking for great significance. When you can design conference experiences that align with your next audience’s purpose and passion, you’ve got a winning formula. Here’s one way to consider that alignment.
1. Diversity, Social Responsibility and Wellness
21st-century conference participants lean toward conferences that model these sustainable traits. Offering four white, male panelists will be unacceptable to most today. Many will frown upon tactics like a lack of recycling or over-programmed conference schedules. Participants also value opportunities to positively impact the host community.
Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2018
How have you and your conference planning team applied LXD or UXD to your events? What are some purpose and passion alignment steps you’ve taken to attract next audiences?