BOSTON — A 5½-hour road trip from Montreal to Boston over the weekend showed that a chartered bus to a conference can be just the right place to deliver content, generate discussion, and help participants get ready for the networking and knowledge sharing ahead of them.
With the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) holding its annual conference in Boston January 12-15, Montreal- based JPdL International chartered a biodiesel bus to deliver 22 participants door to door from their offices in downtown Montreal to the Hynes Convention Center.
For the last two hours of what JPdL dubbed the Mobile Meeting Movement, Rachel Stephan of Sensov Event Marketing and I delivered a workshop on meetings technology, content marketing, and low-carbon meeting design that led to some rip-roaring debate. And not always on the topics that we thought would catch participants’ attention. [Tweet “A chartered bus to a conference can be just the right place to deliver #content. #ContentChat”]
The Mobile Meeting Advantage
As far as I know, this was the first time anyone tried to deliver a conference-style educational program while participants were on their way to and from the actual event. We launched the project with some informed hunches about what the format could achieve. Here’s how it worked out:
- Riders could either take part in the session or opt out. Opting out was particularly easy for anyone with a U.S. roaming plan. Most everyone chose to participate.
- The group engaged even though the session took place right after lunch—a time of day when participants are often less alert. Some speakers and moderators might find their audiences asleep within 15 minutes of the introduction. Most of our gang had to be woken up so we could start. (I’m told it got better from there.)
- After the return bus trip Wednesday, featuring a second session to recap what participants learned onsite, everyone will receive a continuing education certificate from PCMA.
- At about half the cost of the equivalent air fare, JPdL offered door-to-door service, with no security line at the border and a first-rate meal on the road.
- Participants took a big bite out of their onsite carbon footprint by riding in a biodiesel bus, rather than flying.
And due to treacherous weather, the bus reached Boston before the day’s flights from Montreal. That was sweet irony for a program where two hotel reps spontaneously raised climate change as a priority issue for meetings and hospitality, before we even got to the scheduled segment on low-carbon meeting design.[Tweet “#Biodiesel bus took a big bite out of conference travellers’ #carbon footprint. #EnergyMix”]
Innovation on Top of Innovation
When you look at how this journey began, you might conclude that it’s hard to put a lid on innovation once it begins to happen. Sensov’s Rachel Stephan told the story on her blog in the days before the event.
After attending the PCMA conference in San Diego in 2012, Rachel decided to attend virtually in 2013. By her account, the experience was great—the association did a good job with its hybrid platform, and the virtual group found they could chat and comment while sessions were under way without interrupting the speakers or disturbing other participants.
At one point, Rachel and JPdL’s Marie Lou Coupal had a wacky idea: With PCMA meeting in Boston in 2014, why not charter a bus for Montreal-area participants? A couple of months later, they began thinking about educational content for the ride, and this week’s road trip was born.
Being Willing to Fail
Rachel and Marie Lou knew that I had misgivings about this whole venture. I’m flat-out thrilled to admit how wrong I was.
I thought it would be hard for participants to see and hear, with the high coach seats blocking their view and the sounds of the road drowning out the discussion. In the end, the view inside the bus was fine, and audibility wasn’t too bad. In hindsight, we could have adapted the old Broken Telephone game to the situation, with participants in the middle of the bus repeating comments from people at the back who had no access to microphones.
Most of all, I fretted that participants wouldn’t engage with the content in such an unlikely time and place, leaving us to deliver a two-hour monologue that no one would appreciate. I needn’t have worried. The group had no trouble taking charge of the conversation, adding new perspectives to our material and going deep on a topic that we’d seen as just a minor addition to our session outline.
This is exactly how organizations can test and demonstrate new techniques, whether the focus is on content delivery or meeting design, content marketing or social media. This kind of experiment works when the hypothesis is at least mildly audacious, the organizers are willing to fail (though determined not to), and even a failure will deliver valuable lessons learned.
Now I’m looking forward to the return trip later today! [Tweet “Experiments deliver new learning when their originators are willing to risk failure. #ContentChat”]