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Back to basics

It can’t be easy. Organising a conference that manages to retain, over several days, a special relevance for thousands of delegates while having that ineffable ‘wow’ factor. No wonder ‘event manager’ always features near the top of those ‘Most Stressful Jobs in the World’ lists.

Just getting all the component parts in place and working properly is one thing. Making sure they gel to form a coherent, entertaining and intellectually stimulating whole is another. Hard work.

And very difficult to pull off. Which explains why meetings about meetings continue to be so popular and why the search for new ways to improve the delegate experience is never ending.

Meeting design has gone way beyond deciding whether the room should be configured in theatre or roundtable. The Fresh Conference, for example, is at the cutting edge of attempts to make meetings more productive through a combo of innovation, interaction, technology and co-creation.

Planners now have access to tools like EventCanvas, which help them design better events more efficiently by articulating the value of their event to stakeholders. Or the EventRoi Institute, which similarly helps organisers demonstrate return on investment from meetings.

Organisations like C2 International, founded by Cirque de Soleil, is proving to be a disruptive force in the business events industry (its Skylab literally encourages attendees to air their ideas).

All of this stuff is great and much-needed if face-to-face meetings are to survive. But, while striving to innovate and keep things fresh, organisers should also continually re-evaluate the basics.

From my experience the best conferences are those where most of the hard work has gone into the actual programme, specifically the topic-led sessions and workshops.  That might sound obvious, but a lurching drop in quality between glitzy plenary sessions and ‘the rest’ is a common complaint.

Keynote speakers are usually pushed front and centre by conference organisers hoping to attract wavering delegates, and there is no doubt a bit of star quality at both ends of the day helps. But a bit of Razzamataz is absolutely no substitute for carefully designed and well-presented sessions that engage delegates and leave them alight with conversation and debate in the breakout sessions.

When it comes to meetings content will always be king.