Saturday, April 1, 2017

Hack your conference

"People who do not break things first will never learn to create anything." -Filipino Proverb via +Paul Andersen Imagine attending a conference with the same audience you are planning your conference for. Now, imagine a session on the agenda where they're going to hack your conference. They are not conference planners, they are the people for whom you plan your conference. When this happened to me at SXSWedu, I was thrilled! I help design a massive professional development experience for educators from all over the world and I was in a room with educators talking about how they would plan the perfect conference.
Harvard Business Review

You may be thinking, "I plan a conference for doctors or dog trainers. What does this have to do with me?" Well, educators have a lot to teach us about how to deliver professional development. They are delivering education every day and are challenged with concepts like personalizing learning, using students' mobile devices, and flipping their classrooms, to name a few. The brave ones are trying to disrupt the entire model to find a better way. I am most inspired by the ones who talk about unlearning.

Are you spending enough time unlearning? Probably not. Most of us don't even know how to do it! Have you ever been annoyed to hear about someone with no conference planning experience pull off a large, high profile, or otherwise complicated event? Did you consider that it might have been because they hadn't learned the way you're supposed to do it, they did it in a way that was much more useful for attendees? Mind you, I've been to plenty of events that were disappointing and I could tell there wasn't a professional involved. However, I've also been to plenty of events where professionals were involved and I was more disappointed that they didn't take more risks to create more value.

Back to the SXSWedu session: HackPDXXL. The educators who ran this session are clearly the best of the best when it comes to today's teaching methods. It was so well facilitated, we accomplished an amazing amount of work in two hours. This was the goal:
Teacher professional development has come a long way - we've incorporated social media, started grassroots un-conferences and found success in responsive, intimate workshops. But nothing can replace the large-scale, international conference as a venue for connection and inspiration. Yet these massive conferences present a critical unsolved problem of how to provide deep and complex learning opportunities of the type that we strive to offer our students. What constraints and assumptions can we challenge about what a conference looks, feels and sounds like? How might we disrupt the massive conference model, keeping the scale and broad connection while deepening participant learning?
Has your audience been connecting with each other online without your assistance? Have some of them created their own events without you? If you want to dive deep into what was created during this session, you can view the Google site. If you consume it without your professional conference organizer lenses, you may start to make connections to what your attendees really want and need. This would be like asking your attendees the questions you should really be asking them instead of asking them questions you already know the answers to. Let me know what connections you make!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Hygge for events

I read about hygge (pronounced 'hoo-ga') in December's issue of The Meeting Professional and was immediately intrigued. From what I've read since, I describe it as cuddling by the fireplace while drinking wine or hot cocoa. What in the world does this have to do with events? Well, that is exactly what I thought I'd try to figure out.

In my role as the Attendee Experience Manager for an association with a large conference, I'm always looking for ways to make my attendees more comfortable. Hence, why I made the connection to hygge. Events can be overstimulating and lonely (and cold!) - the exact opposite of hygge.

Challenge accepted!

Let's think about creating a cozy feeling for four of your attendees' five senses throughout your event.

The first sense your attendee uses when engaging with you is probably sight because they are most likely reading about your event online. Does your website give them a calming, comforting feeling that they belong at your event or are you too focused on making it sound super exciting?

Sight is also one of the first senses to be engaged upon arrival. Event professionals have very little control over our attendees' travel experience to our events. However, when I read about CES and PCMA Convening Leaders setting up badge pickup in an event-specific airport lounge, I was very excited by the opportunity for attendees to relax a bit while they were waiting for their luggage. I heard that PCMA had music (engaging their sense of hearing) and drinks (engaging their sense of taste). I wasn't there, but I would describe what I heard about as cozy!

Another way to engage with your attendees' sense of hearing is to have human greeters. Again, I wonder if our inclination would be to make sure the people welcoming our attendees are over-the-top excited when we say "friendly", when in fact, our attendees need a more calming welcoming into an environment that is overstimulating with excessive signage.

They may have had comfy couches for resting in this airport arrival lounge as well. Have you thought about extra comfy furniture for your arrival experience at the venue? I think our inclination often times is to look clean and modern and we lose the sense of coziness. This may also be a result of efficiency. A hard chair, stool, ottoman, etc will take up less space than something more plush. I will have two very different experiences using my sense of touch (even if I'm not using my hands to touch something!).

I attended an event in a small venue that used couches where you would normally have classroom or theater style seating. I felt very comfortable! It was also a little too dark at times so clearly we have to create the perfect balance of making our attendees cozy but not so comfortable that they fall asleep. Go back to what the purpose of the space is. Hopefully, your session rooms are designed for engagement.

Okay, so we want some stimulation, especially the learning/contributing variety and that isn't exactly hygge. I can think of a way to make audience participation a little more comfortable for some. Use technology like social media, event apps, crowd mics and other audience engagement apps to give a voice to those who aren't as comfortable using their actual voice.

I could probably keep rambling, but I'd love to hear your ideas as well!