Three recent event-related articles have plenty of takeaways for association meeting planners. How can you incorporate one or all of these ideas into your next conference?
I spent some time on Amtrak over the past few days, which means that I got a little caught up on the reading I have fallen woefully behind on. While the reading spanned both personal and professional interests, here are three articles related to the meetings and events space that made me stop and think. I hope they do the same for you.
The most basic problem with traditional networking events is that they are mixing bowls for professionals who are there for different reasons.
Lunch buddies. Last month, the Huffington Post posted a story about a new app created by 16-year-old Natalie Hampton called “Sit With Us.” Its goal is to help students, who may be eating alone, find lunch buddies.
The app allows students to designate themselves as “ambassadors” and invite others to join them. Ambassadors can then post “open lunch” events, signaling to anyone seeking lunch buddies that they’re invited to join an ambassador’s table.
Hampton, who ate alone while she was in seventh grade, told NPR’s All Things Considered that she believed an app like this was necessary to keep kids from being socially rejected. “This way it’s very private. It’s through the phone. No one else has to know,” she said. “And you know that you’re not going to be rejected once you get to the table.”
Consider how a similar function in your conference app could help your first-time or introverted attendees in particular. Showing up to a reception or luncheon not knowing a single person can be intimidating. But knowing that there’s a table with an open seat welcoming them could alleviate some anxiety. You could even assign some of your more-seasoned attendees to serve as table ambassadors.
More than millennials. Don’t get me wrong, millennials matter to your meeting, but they’re not the only generation of attendees to focus on. Earlier this week Donna Kastner posted a good reminder that baby boomers still matter for events on LinkedIn.
Kastner, a boomer herself, points out a number of trends related to this generation that meeting planners should consider. Among them: More boomers want to stay engaged in their profession well beyond age 65, event justification is less of a factor for them, and they are becoming more purpose-driven in their personal and professional pursuits.
“Keep courting the millennials and Gen X. But remember, there’s still a good decade or more of meaningful event value runway for boomers,” she writes. “Show them you care and want to help them navigate this next exciting life chapter and you’ll be amazed at what follows.”
How can your organization better engage this segment of your meeting attendees?
Forget networking events. Crazy idea I know, but over at Harvard Business Review, Derek Coburn makes the case that attendees probably are not getting the consistent results they’re looking for by attending them.
Why? “The most basic problem with traditional networking events is that they are mixing bowls for professionals who are there for different reasons,” he writes. “Everyone there is focused on his or her own personal agenda. … Everyone is playing a different game, which is why there are usually no clear winners.”
Instead, Coburn suggests professionals spend time focusing more on their existing relationships. He offers three strategies: Hosting your own events, reconnecting with dormant ties, and double dating. The latter involves inviting a current connection to a specific event like a concert or cooking class. Ask them to bring someone they think you should meet, and then you invite someone you think they should meet.
“Using these strategies will allow you to deepen existing relationships while meeting new connections,” he says. While organizations have already started hosting brain dates between two attendees at their conferences, consider how to expand the idea.
What meeting- or event-related content have you come across lately that made you stop and think? Please share in the comments.