Last week, three members of the Omnipress team had the privilege of participating in the launch of ASAE’s newest conference, Xperience Design Project (XDP). Leading up to the conference, we polled numerous association executives and conference planners at other events to see whether they were planning to attend. There was an overwhelming sentiment of “wait and see,” as no one really knew what to expect. For us 1,200+ that did attend, we are now the early adopters of a new mindset: we are no longer conference planners. We are Experience Designers.
A Next Generation Event for the Next Generation of Conferences
Why is it so important to embrace an experience-based approach to conferences? Because, as Rick Karlgaard, Editor-at-Large at Forbes pointed out during the conference, the rate, incidence and impact of business disruption is guaranteed to accelerate. The concept of an organization maintaining a sustainable competitive advantage is dying. Creating a transient advantage through ongoing adaptability is how organizations will succeed. Conferences have plenty of disruptors to deal with: new technologies, changing demographics, increased expectations and new innovations in learning, just to name a few. Yet in general, the conference format has not really evolved much.
ASAE’s XDP was designed to ignite the long-overdue evolution of the conference, not by simply telling us, but by showing us how to fuse all aspects of a conference together into a unifying vision that treated learning as an experiential event.
Our greatest takeaway? There are so many aspects of a conference that we completely take for granted.
Creating Memorable Micro-Moments
Most of us spend a majority of our energy focusing on the major moments – the session leaders, the content topics, the food and beverage, the layout of the ballroom and breakout rooms, the informational emails to get people to register. What we tend to overlook are the “micro-moments” that can enhance learning, deliver memorable experiences and help people make connections. Here are some great examples of ways to create micro-moments that we heard from our Zone Leaders, our fellow attendees and witnessed first-hand as part of our own XDP experience:
- There is an opportunity to broaden our definition and use of “location.” Do you have a 30-minute bus ride to a reception? Use it to deliver CE-credit programming. Want to offer more hands-on learning? Create mobile workshops within the host city. Need to deliver more sessions with less space? XDP showed us how to use a simple radio and earbuds to turn a large ballroom filled with 1,200 people into five intimate learning zones.
- Even the most mundane aspect of a conference can become a positive, memorable experience. Instead of a traditional registration line, create a “welcome center” complete with local music, food, beverages, etc. Don’t have the resources to take it quite that far? Have personal greeters on hand that make everyone feel welcome and set a fun, personable tone.
- Find ways to engage all five senses before, during and after the meeting as a way to drive attendance and generate FOMO (fear of missing out). Rather than a static agenda and speaker bios, make your conference three-dimensional by hosting an interactive Q&A with your keynote speaker via Google Hangout. Turn conference presentations into follow-up videos, articles and virtual discussions to maintain engagement after the event. Use your local DMO to help bring the sights and sounds of the city to life in your marketing materials.
- Attendees want to co-create, collaborate and learn from each other as much as (if not more than) they want to learn from a subject matter expert. Help facilitate these discussions, but don’t over-engineer them. Provide white space in your agenda and physical spaces within your venue to allow this to happen.
- Draw inspiration from anywhere and everywhere. Reimagining a new conference experience can be a difficult hurdle to jump. Certainly gather ideas from other conferences. But also look to unconventional sources of inspiration: popular apps and infotainment; coffee shops; elementary school classroom configurations; the workspaces top employers; online shopping portals, etc.
The conference as we’ve always known it is going to change because the expectations of our attendees are changing. Learning is no longer static and two-dimensional. It is hands-on, organic, entertainment-based and fluid. The time to take advantage of micro-moments to reimagine the conference experience is here. The question is, where will you start?