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Planners – be architects!!

Learning, networking and motivation are your materials, says John Fisher
Have you ever come across the term ‘meeting architecture’? Experienced conference producers will say they have been doing it for years - constructing the content of meetings in such a way as to get the best audience impact.


But given that 75% of all meetings organisers say they have little or no current input into the content of the meetings that they organise, the whole concept has fallen a little by the wayside.

How many meetings have you organised in the last 5 years that you can honestly say will stay in the minds of the participants for many years, if not all their lives? This objective can be achieved with incentive travel, of course. But what about straightforward seminars, conferences and management meetings?

It was in 2007 that some credibility was given to the idea of thinking more carefully about event content following a book (by the Belgian event planner and entrepreneur Maarten Vanneste) called ‘Meeting Architecture’. It is based on the idea that every meeting should include the ‘three terrain formula’ of learning, networking and motivation.

Even if you have no current mandate for providing the content of a meeting that you are organising, there is no doubt, as the planner, that there will be opportunities to intervene in the planning process and suggest ways to make your event better.

The easiest time to do this is at the original briefing stage, when ideas are being tossed around and you may be sitting on the edge of the process, waiting for the definite ‘list of speakers’. It would not take much intervention to suggest that the event team should revisit the main purpose of the meeting and review whether the venue is suitable for the best experience the delegates could have within the given budget. The medium is often the message.

So, if you are talking about ‘the future’, why not have a venue with futuristic or new features.? If the meeting is to report on and discuss solid progress, then an iconic grand’dame venue may be the most appropriate. If you want to get delegates really involved with the topic, could the venue be simply a ‘space’, indoors or outdoors, that you dress up accordingly, so they can interact more easily.

When confronted with a fixed list of corporate speakers who ‘must’ have a speaking slot, why not suggest the idea of some ebb and flow, like waves breaking on a beach. Position speakers in such a way that they build up your event’s story gradually or alternatively, that they contrast directly with one another. In that way delegates do not hear the same type of presentation, one after the other. There is a lot to be said for building up to any breaks with some ‘good news’ just prior to the break, so that when delegates network they can discuss the positive idea. Keep the big announcement to the end, so that there is a climax to the day that is both memorable and uplifting. In contrast, any bad news should be got rid of early on. Negative feelings can then be dealt with and will not spoil an otherwise successful day.

The style of presentation can have a big influence on how the message is perceived. A CEO hoping to get co-operation with his or her vision is best advised to talk from the centre of the stage with no lectern… any barriers suggests you have something to hide. Financial reports can be particularly tedious as formal presentations. Why not do these reports as informal interviews in a TV chat show style? Not only will delegates be more receptive, they may even change their perception of the finance person as being a human being rather than simply a corporate robot.

Delegates often complain that there is never enough time at meetings to meet their peers and simply talk. After all, most meetings should really be about meeting with others. Opportunities to network should actually have a higher priority than ‘learning’ for most meetings, as discussing your individual issues with someone just like you, perhaps from another sector or country, can be the difference between having a wasted day and a business–changing experience. And finally, what about using technology? Just because you can, doesn’t mean you have to. Event technology is moving so fast that there are many more new communication ideas than there are opportunities to use them. But if you do use them, make them enhance the meeting objective, not obscure it.

VR (virtual reality) is certainly a great idea to launch a travel incentive. But it’s not so great if the whole point of the meeting was to meet other people and exchange ideas. VR is a solitary occupation.

Don’t be tempted to overuse any technology you hire in, simply because you feel you have to justify its total day-hire cost. It either enhances the messages or it doesn’t. Novelty for novelty’s sake is poor meetings architecture.

Building your meeting from the bottom up with firm foundations, good use of available space, relevant content and changes of style should be delivering what the delegates want, not what the sponsors want to present.

The world where meetings and travel collide
 

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