If you could reach a wider audience with your next conference and deliver a far more engaging, immersive experience onsite, would you want to?
How you answer that question—and the steps you’re prepared to take to set a new plan in motion—may not be as obvious as you might think. Your response will tell you how ready you are to embrace a new meetings economy that is less about hotel bookings and food service, and much more about the ideas, contacts, momentum, and results that participants take home from the meetings they attend.
This week, our firm is co-publishing case studies of two recent conferences that pushed the boundaries on what planners and participants can achieve onsite.
• Event Camp Twin Cities 2010 (ECTC) was a hybrid meeting last fall that brought together 75 face-to-face participants in Minneapolis with about 20 in Dallas, 10 in Basel, Switzerland, and about 550 online. The conference proved that an affordable hybrid can keep online audiences fully engaged, and the combination of one central conference with a couple of remote nodes showed how participants can get the benefit of a live meeting without buying an air ticket (and incurring far too high a carbon footprint) to get there. After the conference, organizers used session summaries and a very smart distribution strategy to generate more than 68,000 page views in three months.
• At its 2011 Sustainable Meetings Conference in February, the Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC) became the first meetings industry association to build the intensity and teamwork of online gaming into a face-to-face event. Participants divided into teams to complete case studies that captured some of the challenges involved in organizing a sustainable meeting. To complete their case studies, the teams had to assess different destinations and distill key information from conference sessions.
Neither event was perfect, and the case studies document the lessons organizers learned along the way. But we went out of our way to be involved with both meetings—we produced post-conference summaries for both, and I served on GMIC’s program committee—because we saw the opportunity to make meetings more resilient and deliver better results for participants.
None of this matters if you think the old style of programming is just what your next meeting needs. But if that’s your belief, you might want to check your assumptions. Meetings and events were hammered during the economic crash, partly because we hadn’t learned to tell our own story in a way that made the case for face-to-face meetings. Now we hear that the meetings economy is recovering, but there are risks around the corner that we ignore at our peril.
That’s not to say that the transition will be seamless, or that the path ahead will always be clearly marked. At ECTC, co-chair Samuel J. Smith made a comment that became a bit of a motto for the GMIC design team:
Experimentation is our get-out-of-jail-free card. If there aren’t a few tech glitches, we aren’t innovating.
That’s why both case studies talk about the lessons learned at each conference, as well as their considerable achievements.
With the release of the two case studies and the launch of our new website, we’re casting our lot with the new meetings economy. ECTC and GMIC’s Game ON! concept both point to meeting strategies that indirectly bolster an economic model built on room nights and registration numbers—but only because they deliver better results for participants. That audience-centric approach is the key ingredient that will turn your next program into the conference your conference could be.