Home > CMR, Events > It IS all about you

It IS all about you

I had the opportunity to attend PCMA Convening Leaders 2010 in Dallas last month. It was several days of new thinking and inspiration about the changing yet vital role of face to face meetings. While an entire month’s worth of blog posts could spill out of my observations from this event (I reserve the right even 1 month post), for this post I’ll focus in on the group that is playing a more important role in F2F meetings than every before.

The attendee.

Put your attendee hat on for a bit. We’ve all been to a trade show, corporate event or educational conference. In those hours of sessions, breakouts, networking events, boxed lunches & bar-hopping how many times have you thought to yourself:

“They should do ____________!” (Sidebar: every idea should end in an exclamation point. We need to get back to the passion we had when we were younger about ideas.)

  • Did you turn that idea into a suggestion? An e-mail? A tweet? Facebook fan page posting? Smoke signal? Carrier pigeon note? (you should have)
  • Did you blog about it? (you should)
  • Did you reach out to your social network and share your idea? (I hope so)

Now for the real question:

  • Did they listen?
  • Did they respond?
  • Did they sign you up to manage that part of the event next year?

Wait…what was that last part again?

Attendee as Contributor
Imagine, feedback, posted transparently, discussed openly and turned on it’s head to engage the attendee in making the event better by owning a part of the event.

Better yet, how do we turn our events into collaborative platforms and empower our attendees & exhibitors to take our event in completely different ways?

How do we truly turn the event over to the attendee?
I’m not sure the above question alone conveys the thought so I’ll add another thought to it. How do we turn our event into a platform on top of which the attendees can build the conference they want.

Event as a platform. Or to geek it up, “Event as a Service” (EaaS). Attendee as a developer, free to build on the event to explore new and different directions that make the event relevant to them at a given point in time with a given group of people (both in person and virtually). I get excited by the opportunity to use a platform (theme, direction, tool set & community) to create an experience that will offer exactly what I need, when I need it surrounded by the people who can help me understand and digest it.

And if I’m not getting that…I need only speak up and join in.

Can Events Do This?
I’d answer this with a quote from General Eric Shinseki (Ret. US Army)

If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.

Events are already doing this. Why? Because people are already doing this. Let’s not forget that the revolution that is causing this upheaval of top down everything is driven by people groping for new and different ways to connect and share.

Hmmmm…isn’t that a working definition of an event?

What’s so scary about this? (TRANSPARENT MOMENT: I really don’t understand)
I’ve asked that question a lot and the answers I get really come back to the concern for loss of control and inhearant change in this model. Yes it’s scary, but isn’t it more frightening to think about your attendees and exhibitor finding your event is no longer relevant simply because you refused to turn it over to them?

If we commit to combine the thought of looking from the outside in (customer vantage point) and support that view with a platform that encourages (can I say demands) social interactions on several levels, we’ve just created events that do more than inform or educate. We’ve created an infectious community.

See you on the platform.

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  1. February 15, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    Kevin – I’m glad to have found you via your post on my blog. I feel like I’m the kid in class who knows the answer to the question the teacher’s just asked and who sticks his hand high in the air.

    You ask a key question:

    “How do we turn our event into a platform on top of which the attendees can build the conference they want?”

    That’s precisely what I’ve been developing and doing since 1992. I explain what I’ve found out (so far) in my new book “Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love.”

    The book describes peer conferences–small, attendee-driven, inclusive, structured, safe, supportive, interactive, community-building events that also provide structured opportunities for personal and group reflection. Over the years, thousands of people have enjoyed these events, coming together and creating the conference they want.

    Although you can (optionally) include traditional predetermined sessions in Conferences That Work, you don’t need a program committee to create the heart of the conference–peer sessions. The attendees do this themselves, and they love the results.

    Because the conference model and processes I use are radically different from a traditional conference, marketing it is the hardest part. That’s why I wrote the book.

    For a conference to be maximally useful and meaningful for each attendee, we have to give up the old kind of control. Instead, we supply just enough top-down structure to support and encourage attendees to build the event they need and want. An outline of the processes I use is on my website, and the book contains the details…

    • February 16, 2010 at 9:15 am

      Adrian – I appreciate your insights and love that you’ve been doing this since 1992. Certainly ahead of the curve. One question – based on your experience is marketing the hardest part or is changing the minds of conference organizers harder? Is that becoming easier with the social movement?

      Here’s to continuing the idea sharing and hopefully through that persuading more conferences to see that attendees want to shape their own experiences.

  2. February 16, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    Kevin Richardson :
    Adrian – I appreciate your insights and love that you’ve been doing this since 1992. Certainly ahead of the curve. One question – based on your experience is marketing the hardest part or is changing the minds of conference organizers harder? Is that becoming easier with the social movement?

    Good question! First of all, it’s necessary to convince the conference organizers that Conferences That Work is the way to go. If I can’t convince them, we certainly won’t be successful marketing the event to people who haven’t been exposed to my passion for peer conference process.

    Once the organizers are on board, if they are known to and have credibility with the target audience we’re usually successful marketing the conference to attendees.

    Are people are becoming more comfortable with this approach due to the rise of SM? I think so, but it’s too early to tell for sure. Up to now, I’ve been personally involved in every peer conference held. Part of my motivation for writing the book was to see others independently use the peer conference model for their own events. This has just started to happen since the book’s publication in November. Over the next year I’ll have more data.

  3. February 17, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    Good insights Adrian. I look forward to continuing the journey and personally getting more engaged.

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