Thursday, 5 July 2012

New Conferencing

I haven't been writing much here recently, but have been posting things on the Live Union site,  including this piece on the changing drivers behind conference attendance.

There was a time when people predicted the demise of the conference, digital channels ending the need for audiences to come together in the same physical place. In fact, the reverse has happened, in spite of our economic woes more people are finding the time and money to get out of the office and go to events. But their reasons for attending and what they want from a conference have changed.
Successful event organisers need to understand the changing dynamic of conference attendance and respond with a new type of exciting, brave and fit-for purpose events – what we call New Conferencing.

So, firstly what are the new drivers behind conference attendance?

1) Concentrate
The brilliant book The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working highlights just how distracting the modern work place is. Increasingly conferences offer that rare chance to get away from the office and spend time thinking about the things that really matter.

2) Collaborate
Pre-internet conferences had a role to play in simply sharing inspiration. Today we’re overwhelmed by the amount of inspiration we receive, whether through twitter or our RSS feed. People go to a conference not simply to hear more inspiration but to do something with that inspiration, to discuss it, to apply it to some scenarios, to test out a few half-baked thoughts on other attendees.

3) Contribute
Thanks to blogging, forums and social media many of us are more confident about creating our own content. Where in the past people were largely happy to go along to conferences to listen and maybe tentatively ask a question, today a growing sector of the audience want to help shape the agenda (both in advance and on the day) and have a platform for their own voice.

4) Catalyze
Ideas first raised at conferences are given oxygen by the online conversations that continue around them. As the number of digital channels and the sheer volume of discussion around conferences grow so does their ability to catalyze innovation. People are attracted to the very best events to be at the epi-centre of new thinking.

5) Connect
Ok, so people have always gone to events to network but in the age of digital social networking, real world connections are becoming ever more highly valued.
So how can those of us who create events for internal and business audiences ensure that we are meeting these changing audience needs? Here are five things to think about:

1) Build more hallways
Architects use the expression ‘collision zones’ to describe the important areas in buildings where people bump into each other and chat. Conference spaces should be designed in the same way to help people network and collaborate.

2) Drop a few speakers
Too often conferences are jam packed with presentations and workshops and don’t leave enough time for delegates to chat amongst themselves. Think about longer breaks, and allocating more time for discussion and networking.

3) Open up the agenda
Most people have heard of unconferences – events organised around a particular topic that turn over the entire agenda to the audience and encourage people to host their own sessions on areas of interest to them. Whilst this might not be right for your event, the spirit of pushing boundaries and turning attendees into participants is a good one. Perhaps you could have a part of the day where groups of people facing similar challenges can get together and share experiences?

4) Try some new technology
The printed conference pack will soon be a thing of the past replaced by event Apps that not only supply the information people need but help them hook up with other attendees and contribute questions and opinions. At the same time virtual conference technologies are getting much better at helping remote audiences play an active part in an event. Consider trialling some of these things.

5) Make it fun
As many of us become more desk bound, we crave an excuse to get out and have some fun. Conferences should be the antidote to the flat-lining corporate HQ. How about trying some new presentation formats such Pecha Kucha? Or, perhaps you could use gamification as a way to involve the audience in the content?

Audiences are willing you to do something different, hopefully this list is a useful start-point.