Monday, February 28, 2011

How Engaging is Your Event?

Engagement. I’m not sure why this is such a new trend for conferences. Is it that we have finally taken seriously the studies on adult learning and decided to incorporate them into our events? “Maybe my attendees will learn more/come again/tell their friends if I encourage them to actively participate in the creation/sessions/feedback of my event.” Here’s my disclaimer: I love innovation, I love change, I love making things better, more than the average person and it has almost been to the detriment of my career, but I can’t help it. This is who I am. Therefore, this article will be written from the perspective of someone who thinks all of these new trends for our industry are just dandy.

On my way home from the Green Meetings Industry Council (GMIC) Sustainable Meetings Conference, I am pondering all of the relatively innovative practices that I experienced over the past few days. Making a meeting more sustainable in and of itself is innovative. That is a topic for another day. I want to write about all of the other cool things they did to get and keep attendees engaged.

It is not surprising that there were a large percentage of attendees on twitter. I guess the GMIC community is largely made up of people like us (innovation lovers) and therefore, are early adopters of social media, hybrid events, and technology like smart phones. According to the www.wthashtag.com, there were 3,499 tweets, 246 contributors and almost 500 tweets per day with the #gmic hashtag on twitter from 2/18 – 2/24/11 (at 1:17pm). The twitter feed at this event turned out to be one of the fastest moving feeds I have seen at a conference. Instead of complaints or suppliers begging planners to come to their booths, it was filled with educational content.

The folks that attended GMIC via the virtual pass (viewing the general sessions on their computers at home) were also engaged in the twitter feed. I was a virtual attendee at PCMA this year and found that experience to be highly fulfilling (and it created the desire for me to attend in person next year). The sense of community engagement was so tight-knit that the virtual attendees had no problem asking questions – and they got answered! Attendees on-site were helping other attendees with tips and tricks to using social media or using it more efficiently.

The mobile app and website that was created and sponsored by QuickMobile had all of the information the attendees needed to navigate the conference. Because this was a green conference, no one complained that they didn’t receive a printed program. We all knew we were expected to view the program online before we arrived if we were not going to bring a laptop or smart phone. Ponder that thought for a moment. If we communicate the expectation, slowly our attendees will adapt.

I was happy to be present at a conference full of people who were highly engaged, who’s planning team employed speakers who were engaging and who’s board of directors was willing to take risks to provide an experience full of innovation and new trends. How else are meeting planners going to learn about what works and what doesn’t work unless we experience it ourselves?