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We cannot go on meeting like this…can we?

Start the event with a bang, urges John Fisher
Vacation time is a good opportunity to step back and think a bit about what we are all doing…before we rush back into the thick of things.
I realise that meetings come in many guises - from seminars to forums to conferences to symposia to briefings to pow-wows to good old talking shops. As organisers, it is very easy to close the door on the delegates and get on with more important things going on outside, such as delegate badging, coach logistics and the timings of the gala dinner.


But how many of us actually venture into the meeting room itself and take notice of what is going on in there? Not too many, I would guess. After all, for organisers the most pressing issues usually occur outside the conference room.

But meetings are not all the same and some sponsors are changing the way they do things in order to make the most of their investment.

From time to time organisers are asked what advice we might give to improve the effectiveness of meetings. We huff and puff and hum and hah, but have we ever really thought about making things better - or is that just ‘not our job’? Here are some common meeting scenarios you might want to consider next time a client says ‘if only our event was more engaging...’

Social loafing
In 1913 scientist Max Ringelmann pioneered research into the amount of effort humans make when part of a group. Typically, he looked at tug-of-war teams and discovered, in general, that the more people you have in a team, the less individually productive they were. We find this in business meetings all over the world. It begs the question whether your 4,000-delegate conference is really more for the benefit of the organiser than for the delegates themselves. Just invite less people: 6 delegates are better than 60.

Boring beginnings
It is a well-known fact in entertainment circles that it is in the opening of any showbiz act that audiences are won and lost. This is why experienced performers use shock or surprise openings to grab the attention of the audience. But, in the meetings industry, most sponsors persist in health and safety notices, thanks to the advertisers, a tedious run through of the programme that the delegates already have written down in their briefing notes and endless explanations as to how to claim your attendance credits. You just need to start with a bang and present something interesting from the outset. Perhaps, get your expensive star speaker to say hello and chat, saying they will return later, so keep watching.

Invite some gritty speakers
Industry events can become parodies of themselves by inviting the same old stalwarts to air (once again!) their well-known views about membership, taxation, education or fees. What people really want to hear is how someone completely different views things, such as a 21-year old entrepreneur, a heart surgeon or a convicted - but reformed - criminal. Believe it or not, not everyone is familiar with the intricacies of your industry sector. So, inviting someone from the other side of the fence may just produce a few insights you had never thought of. (Ever thought it odd that most ‘expert presentations’ rely on purely verbal delivery when everyone knows this is the least effective way to communicate in terms of delegate memory?)

Mix up the format
Associations in particular seem so overwhelmed by event logistics that they slavishly adopt a strict pattern in the way they gather and impart knowledge. When was the last time you attended a pharmaceutical association event which did not involve a vast auditorium for the opening and closing, break-out sessions for specialists in small rooms with rubbish AV and amateurish PowerPoint presentations, a poorly-attended exhibition hall and complicated, old-fashioned dine-around venues, which no-one wants to go to? Spread the event over two weeks, use smaller venues, make people sit on the floor or better still make them stand up!

Less is more
It is tempting to do things on a regular basis, monthly or annually, because it is easier for the number-crunchers to report on progress with reference to the past. But, most of the time, delegates already know the numbers. What they want is to discuss the burning issues or the new techniques or the future. So why not do the meeting when the time is right, not just every January? Keep them guessing, surprise them, make it fun not predictable. Challenge the record-keepers to tell us something new. As an organiser it is clear that large numbers of delegates meeting on a regular basis in a set format means less work for me and probably more profit.

But don’t we owe it to ourselves and our delegates to try and make attending an event a business calendar highlight not a work chore, which, when coupled with economy travel, becomes the perfect storm for disengagement?

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