Technology enhanced meetings can be a wonderful thing when the technology drives attendee engagement and learning enablement. Doing more with less and increasing the attendees’ return on registration, travel, and lodging investment (ROI) serves everyone. However, when technology becomes the controller and the audience becomes the controlled, the value of technology quickly diminishes.
Why We Meet
My research has exposed the fact that networking first and education second, are the primary reasons for live meeting attendance. Additionally this research, conducted across a wide assortment of trade associations and professional societies, has revealed the yearly sustainable real-dollar value of networking to be worth just over $4,000 in reference to annual membership. Yet, the conventional wisdom among meetings industry publications is that the networking-capable number of attendees is decreasing. This could offer possible proof that the art of social contact is disappearing.
The drawbacks of technology can be many. Of the simplest meeting technology is PowerPoint. Unfortunately, this helpful software also enables monotone and boring presentations. It is easy for a presenter to get caught up in unsocial behavior; reading their bullet points and forgetting to engage the audience through voice modulation, story telling, and audience participation. This mechanical kind of presentation loses social contact
From the perspective of audience members, technology driven meetings and presentations can easily facilitate risk avoidance by eliminating the need for live social contact. The use of Twitter and Twitter based application software during a live meeting can be a useful novelty however this also allows audience members to avoid expressing and defending a particular position or perspective on an issue. Much of the technology for meetings allows for anonymous participation, which is not always a good thing because it also minimizes social contact.
Meeting organizers that incorporate social networking prior to meetings can help their attendees to make live connections at meetings. Twitter postings, Facebook pages and groups, and Linkedin groups offer planners free cyber social contact enablement conduits. Meeting software, such as Certain Software, offers planners amazing integration—elements from RFPs to attendee registration to creative flexibility in developing pre-meeting special interest groups are available.
Strategies for Re-Socialization
For meeting planners that truly desire to help their meeting attendees receive the maximum ROI from their attendance, consider facilitating quality social contact pre-meeting, throughout the meeting, and post-meeting.
- Set up a Twitter account for your meeting. Send an email invitation to constituents asking them to become followers. Then tweet weekly with new information about the meeting.
- Set up a meeting group at either Facebook or Linkedin. Email invitations asking constituents to join the group. About six months before the meeting, start posting discussion questions weekly designed to elicit discussion among members. Closer in, start posting individual notices about each specific activity. Just before the meeting invite all the “cyber” buddies to an “organization hosted” pre-meeting live networking gathering.
- Add to attendee badges some sort of (attendee approved) interesting information about that attendee that will cause others to ask questions.
- Ask EVERY presenter, including the keynoter, to add an element of networking driven audience participation to their program. While this is generally much easier for professional speakers to achieve, it is perfectly acceptable to expect “invited” industry speakers to comply. Inexperienced presenters can always employ the “round table” question discussion, regardless of the room setup.
- At the first night cocktail welcoming event, employ a networking game. The best are the games where everyone gets a sheet with a list of questions that they have to get the answers from other attendees. One answer per attendee please. If you have GREAT door prizes, most everyone will participate.
- Be reasonable about the meeting schedule. This is the area most susceptible to planner sabotage of networking possibilities. Breaks between sessions, depending on the distance attendees must walk, need to be closer to 30 minutes than the typical 5-15 minutes.
- Buffet meals will cause much more networking possibilities than will “served or platted” meals.
- For served-meal events, try assigned seating. There are a number of “seating formulas” that will work, yet the important element is a diversity of meal mates at each table. Sure it is a bit of work, but this causes quite a bit of interaction among attendees from trying to find their seat to meal discussions.
- Many organizations use the buddy/mentor system very successfully. This is where every first time attendee is assigned a buddy/mentor. The buddy/mentor is responsible to take this new person around to all his or her social networks and effectively guide the person through the meeting maze. Also the buddy/mentor does some post-meeting follow up to see that the first-timer actually implements new skills learned at the meeting.
- Post meeting interaction can be easily facilitated through the social networking activities mentioned above. The most effective will be centered on discussions and activities encouraging implementation of the new skills learned and follow up with new persons met.
Ed is the Founder and CEO of the 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity, Cigar PEG Philanthropy through Fun, and president at Rigsbee Research which conducts qualitative member ROI research and consulting for associations and societies. He has been called “the dynamite that broke up our log jam” by association executives—rarely politically correct and almost always provocative—and from a dozen years as a United States Soccer Federation referee, Ed calls it the way he sees it. Exceptional resources at www.rigsbee.com.