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Creating Interactive Meetings: How to Turn Attendees Into Active Participants

When I look around me, I feel like the world is screaming for more interaction and dialog at meetings and events. (In fact, I’ve been noticing this for years as I mentioned in my first IMT blog post.)  There are too many events where attendees are stuffed in chairs, lined up in rows, and forced to listen to speakers talk for hours on end.  Doesn’t everyone realize that attendees stop paying attention after the first 10 minutes? If they do, then why-oh-WHY do our colleagues continue to tie attendees to chairs in rows for 4-6 hours per day?

(Ok. That might be a slight exaggeration. According to Andrea Sullivan, president of BrainStrength Systems, a company that provides corporate training and learning services using scientific research, “People can listen only so long at a time…After they’ve listened to a speaker/presenter for even 15 or 20 minutes, they need to make a shift to some kind of active participation…”)

The point is, sitting for hours on end is stupid and it needs to stop!

Last month, we helped an association merge their networking reception and general session for 3,000 people into a single event. We developed 10 different interactive experiences that were designed to influence networking, create conversations and connect people to content.  We turned attendees into active participants and helped them create a networking and social media buzz.

A few weeks earlier, we helped another association execute their first hybrid event and create conversations.

Every day, we help event organizers take the bold step of moving away from a world of attendees sitting in chairs in neatly organized rows toward a world where event attendees are active contributors.  We have worked with national sales meetings, all employee meeting, customer events, galas, road shows, trade show booths, expos and many other types of events.

Today, I want to share our proven formula with you so you too can join our army of people trying to change the world of meetings and events. Please take notes and share these tips with your colleagues. You can save us all.

How do we take an ordinary event from Snoozeville to engaging?

Step 1: Identify Goals and Objectives

We start by looking at the goals and objectives of the event. It is important to understand our client’s audience and ultimately what they want them to do or take away from the event.

How often do you ask yourself those questions when planning your events? It sounds simple, but if this crucial first step is missed, all other efforts are futile.

Step #2: Segment the Audience

When preparing for an event, it’s important to know who is expected to attend as well as future attendees who are not attending or are disengaged from the event. Once that is complete, we look at the audience by behavioral type.

This step involves doing some secondary research about trends and challenges. Sometimes we have to get other people involved to learn more about the attendee. Useful information includes your audience’s demographic makeup, learning needs, challenges and job tasks.

Step 3: Identify Constraints & Resources

Some clients have lots of volunteers and no budget. Some have budgets but no people. Some clients have a CEO that needs to speak for 90 minutes. Some have agendas that are “filled up and unchangeable.” Some have spaces that have challenges or vendors or technologies that we have to work with.

At the same time, we look at the resources. Did someone donate 47 monitors? Do you have as much carpet as you want? Is one of the sponsors a large format printer?

Step 4: Brainstorm Boogie

Finally, we get ready to brainstorm.  Our goal here is to come up with simple, fun and smart engagement solutions that match attendees’ needs and behavior style.  Also, we look for ways to pull together a theme that can be carried throughout the entire event.

In this process, we use a set of “engagement cards” that we helped MPI create for their meeting design curriculum.  There are about 50 cards that are extremely useful in getting everyone to contribute new ideas for their meetings and events.  We recommend allocating 2-4 hours for this step. The output of the step is several different ideas for solutions that hopefully map out to satisfy all of the attendee needs.

Step 5: Piece Together the Event Concept. Challenge Assumptions.

In this step, we pull together the event concept, challenge our assumptions and validate budgets.  It’s important that we make sure that our recommendations align with objectives, attendee segmentation and behavioral segmentation. IF YOU DON’T DO THIS THE PLAN WILL FAIL. (Yes, I shouted that!)

When you are compiling your recommendations, here are some important things to note:

  1. Incorporate notes about light, space, sound, digital and structure.  These things matter. For example, if you set the room with chairs in rows — then you are likely not creating space for conversations. In many respects, you literally “set the stage” for the type of engagement your event encourages.
  2. Recognize that not 100% of the attendees will do or be interested in everything that you are recommending.  Please be sure to recognize that and scale appropriately.  (For example, you might not need 1,000 buttons if only 100 people are going to collect buttons.)
  3. For what it’s worth, budgeting can be tricky here, because you are probably coming up with new to the world ideas.  How do you figure out how much a laser maze is going to cost?  Or, where do you get a custom art piece built? Who can make these concepts a reality?
  4. Do you need the 5 star version of everything or will the 2 star version be sufficient?  (Expect future posts on this, as I have plenty to say on the topic.)
  5. Technology is not the answer.  Ever.  Always start with people and process, then get to technology.

Note: For the budget conscious, we packaged our most popular games, interactive touch screens and social media executions into turnkey solutions under our SocialPoint® digital solutions brand. They plug into your event seamlessly and are budget friendly.

Step 6: Propose Solutions to Your Stakeholders

In this step, we find it much easier to get senior leaders to sign off on the concepts.  This works well when you remind them of the objectives and review how the concepts tie to their vision.

However, the individuals that are part of the execution on the stakeholder side are usually much more resistant…because you are asking them to change what they do.  It might be undefined, feel squishy and they might be just plain scared of change.

We get these individuals on board by scheduling smaller meetings with them to review the concept and get their alternative input.  In some cases, they approve the concepts-as-is.  In some cases, they have lots of creative ideas to make it better based on initiatives that they are doing that nobody on the core team knew about.

Step 7: Pre-production Phase

Sun-Tzu wrote that the battle is often won before you take the field.  In my opinion, the same thing is true when you are turning attendees into participants.  By completing the steps above you have already laid out your strategy and won the battle.

So, your goal in this phase is to make sure that nobody unwittingly sends you off course.

Here’s how it can happen.  You will have experienced people doing new things that they might not be good at, or totally understand.  Be sure to allocate extra time in your schedule and keep everyone reminded of your goals and objectives.  IF YOU DO NOT YOU MIGHT FAIL.

Also, beware of executives or other stakeholders that want to make late changes.  Usually a late addition means removing something and adding something the executive thinks is cool…like a chocolate fountain.

Step 8: Onsite Execution

Execution onsite should be similar to what you have seen in the past. Remember to double check that the pieces are coming together as you designed. Allow for extra time during your loading. When you are trying something new like this – be wary of the details – if your room for error is small, details matter.

Step 9: Measurement & Follow-up

We like to do follow-up surveys based on the goals and objectives of the event rather than the logistics.  For example, if our goal was to improve networking – how will we know if we achieved that goal? Setting specific metrics for measurement beforehand is key to evaluating the effectiveness of an event.

One smart person we met likes to ask the following questions: “Did you meet anyone new at this meeting? Yes or NO? If Yes, who was it and how will you do business together?”

Bottom Line

You can save us all from perpetuating the cycle of stuffing people in chairs for hours on end at meetings and events. I need your help!

The steps above outline our formula for turning passive event attendees into active participants.  Of course, there are more details and some secret sauce that we left out. You should be able to get pretty far by following these steps.

Please do me a favor – give this process a try at your next event and share it with your customers and colleagues.  Call me if you need guidance.

Good Luck! We are counting on you!

Social Media in Events: Beyond Facebook & Twitter

Does it seem like every post about social media in events talks about Facebook and Twitter? Do you feel like your creativity is being constrained, because so many people are talking about the same 3-4 solutions?

I do.

In a followup to my last post (Real World Likes – The Next Big Thing in Social Media in Events), I want to show you two fresh examples that will help you open your mind to new possibilities for social media at your events.

New York City Marathon 2010


See how Asics used videos and location based tracking to help family and friends at home cheer on their marathoners. This is really cool stuff. Fans record videos and leave messages for runners. Then as the runners go past a checkpoint, the videos and messages play on large screens. 

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Real World Likes – the Next Big Thing for Social Media in Events

What happens if I think that the ice sculpture and chocolate fountain at your event are off the hook? How do I tell my facebook friends and my twitter buddies?

I have to pull out my phone, take a picture, enter a short message and upload it. I miss valuable networking time at your event – plus my iphone will probably autocorrect what I type into some gibberish.

In my opinion, the greatest challenge to spreading the use of social media at events is getting people to express themselves digitally without having to use a laptop or handheld device.

What would happen if you could give people a simple way to “like” something in the real world without having to use a laptop or mobile device?

Here are three videos of how events are using RFID and Social Media to allow attendees to express themselves digitally.

Coca-Cola and the Like Machine


Liking Renault at the NLRAI Autoshow


Rock Concert in Belgium


Why is this the next big thing?

There are four reasons why I think this technology will be the next big thing for social media in events.

(1) Ease of Use for Attendees – It is so simple to swipe a wristband or badge against a touchpoint that automatically updates your status. You take the technology complexity out of the experience.

(2) Awareness – If your brand or event is new and lacking widspread awareness, this is the perfect way to tap into the Digital word of mouth power of social media.

(3) Data – You get data about what people like at your event.  Plus, you can collect data on what was shared with others and clicked on. When you combine this data with other landing page, registration for newsletters, etc. data to see how it contributed to driving people into your marketing funnel.

(4) Widespread application – This technology will work for the galas, weddings, conferences, tradeshows, national sales meetings, association conferences, parties, etc.

Bottom Line

In my opinion, allowing people to express themselves digitally without the need for a device is the next evolution in the integration of social media in events.

Now you know where I stand. What do you think?  What’s the next big thing for social media in events – if this isn’t it?

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WEC Final: Love 161, Fiasco Zero

One of the great things about Social Media is your ability to monitor conversations.

The general consensus at MPI’s World Education Conference in Vancouver last month was that the Twitter conversations were up and complaining via Twitter was down.

So, I did a short analysis on the Twitter conversations from WEC to see if this was true. My analysis was purely structural and did not allow me to do any deep categorization of the tweets.

MPI WEC WordCloud

Here are some statistics:

  • 511 Unique Tweeters on the #wec10 hashtag from 24-28 July
  • 5126 Individual Tweets under this hashtag.
  • 80% of the Tweets (4100) were made by 20% of the Tweeters (97 people).
  • 36% (1826) of the Tweets were “RT” version retweets.
  • The word love appeared in 161 Tweets, the word great in 469 tweets and the word like in 200 tweets.
  • The word bad appeared in about 40 tweets.

For those of you that are curious, the word “Fiasco” appeared zero times.

What do these statistics mean?

First, they show that we can measure and frame the conversation. However, statistics on their own need to be put into context. I don’t have any statistics about the other MPI events to know if these statistics are above, below or on par with the normal tweetage. (I just made that word up.)

Second, the large number of retweets tells me that the twitterati found ideas tweeted by others worth sharing with their own social networks. Since, we were trying to spread ideas and information outside of the MPI and WEC community – I think this is a valuable statistic.

Third, I did a light keyword analysis and found that the sentiment was mostly positive among the tweeters. I think this is great – because at some events – the twitterati can be brutal. If I had the resources, I would have taken a closer at the keywords and phrases to see what appeared to be the most popular. (The wordcloud above is the best that I could do.)

Finally, these statistics give us insights on participation. Social Media participation does not follow a standard bell curve distribution. You rely on a few people to create most of the Social Media content and a larger group to comment and share that content.

A Word About “Social Media Kung Fu”

Live Tweeting during a session takes some Social Media Kung Fu type skills. Speaking from experience it is hard. Here’s what your live-tweeters have to do: Listen to a sound bite from a speaker, synthesize it into a simple 140 character message, type it into your smartphone without errors and tweet it. All of this happens in seconds. It takes practice to become proficient at it. Not all Social Media people can perform at this level on-site at an event. I still consider myself a student.

Bottom Line

If your intent is to spread ideas from your event to the world, then be sure to recruit some twitterati to live tweet during sessions. When selecting them make sure that they know Social Media Kung Fu and have some tools (like a table and chair with power) so they can type faster.

There is a lot here for us to talk about. What else would you add?

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Note: I did receive partial registration reduction for agreeing to participate in the Social Media Guru program at MPI’s World Education Conference.

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Attendees: What is in Your Social Media Toolkit?

Recently, I was selected to be one of the MPI Social Media Guru’s for the Meeting Professionals International World Education Conference in Vancouver.

As part of the deal, I made this little video with my iphone:


The video immediately prompted questions about what I am bringing to participate in Social Media onsite. So, here is a list of what I am packing for the event.

iPhone 3GS: My Social Media Swiss Army Knife

The iphone has a camera, video camera, wifi capability, auto-upload to YouTube and photo editing software. plus a number of social apps. I plan to use my phone for most of my on-the-spot content capture and creation that will occur in the hallway conversations and during meals. Expect to see tons of photos and videos from me. All via the iphone.

Macbook Pro 13 inch: My workshop

I can type like a world champion with the keyboard and film short videos with the built-in webcam. I can edit movies, write power tweets, schedule tweets, write/publish blog posts and podcast. I will use the Macbook Pro during sessions to write and respond to tweets – because I type to slow on my iphone 3GS.

Powerstrip and Extension Cord: My Lifeline

Apple makes great products – but they never have enough battery power. To keep myself plugged-in to the content, I will carry a powerstrip and an extension cord around with me.

Headphones: My Podcasting Tools

Mike McAllen and I plan to record a few editions of our Going Digital Podcast. So, I will bring along my headphones with microphone to make sure that I am ready to record a show in the hallways or on the Expo floor.

Paper / Pen / Pencil: My Old School Tools

While I am mostly digital, I still like to use paper and pen to frame up ideas or solidify my understanding of interesting concepts. So, I plan to have a pad of paper and pencil in my bag as well.

Small Rollerbag: My Transportion

While the A-Team has a cool van to carry their gear, I will have a roller bag – backpack thing. Um, not so cool. But I need it! One of the challenges of carrying your gear is that you need compartments and organization. The roller bag backpack gives me an office on the go type of setup. So, I can setup and unpack in a few minutes. (If you have a cooler suggestion – let me know. I am all listening.)

Bottom Line

In my opinion, these tools will be more than sufficient to engage with you all of the on-site and remote attendees via Social Media. 

What do you have in your Social Media Toolkit?  Is there anything else that you recommend?

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Are You Ready for Social Media in the New Event World?

Social Media in the New Events World Report PictureA few months ago, I was asked to contribute to a research report on Social Media in events. The researcher was looking for insight on social media in events across several different dimensions – technology tools, event strategy, event design, co-creation, collaboration, etc.

Yesterday, that report was finally published by Echelon Design. The report highlights several case studies that reflect the possibilities for enhancing and enriching any event strategy. There are thoughts and insights from many people including:
> Kenny Lauer, Executive Director of Digital Experience at George P. Johnson Company
> Dennis Shiao, VP Product Marketing for InXpo
> Jeff Hurt, Director of Education and Engagement, Velvet Chain Consulting
> John Jainschigg, Director of Internet and Community at Ziff-Davis Enterprise
> Eric Lukazewski, Marketing Director and Social Media Strategist, Echelon Design

Talking about the report, Eric Lukazewski said, “we’ll continue to see an evolving event world with accelerated change and technology will forevermore be one of these primary factors.” This report helps all event professionals understand the new opportunities that social media brings to the table for marketing and expanding their own events.

Download the Free Report: Social Media in the New Event World.

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After 110 Pages of Tweets is Twitter Worth It?

On March 5, 2010 – I celebrated my first Twitterversary. It came and went without much fanfare as I forgot that it happened. However, I thought it was worth reviewing my progress over the past year.

In my first 365 days, I wrote 2,743 tweets – which is about 110 pages worth of tweeting. I have to admit that I was shocked that I had written so many pages of tweets. (For the math people this assumes that each tweet takes up 1 line in a page and there are 25 lines per page.) It made stop for a few minutes and reflect on what I had learned over the past year from using this new tool.

Below are some things that I have learned. Have a look and then let me know if you think all of this tweeting was really worth it? or was it a massive waste of time? Of course, if you have things to add from your own experiences – please do so. The more the merrier!

20 Things I Learned in My First Year of Tweeting

  1. Twitter is a super-simple way to publish messages. How hard is it to write one sentence and hit send? Not hard.
  2. When you have 1,000 followers it is impossible to listen to what everyone is saying with equal attention.
  3. Tools like TweetDeck and Hootsuite help me organize my Twitter “ears” and listen to the people and conversations that are most important to me.
  4. I choose the conversations to follow and dip my toe into other conversations of interest throughout the day.
  5. In some twitter groups – members find and share articles that would be impossible for 1 person to find on his own and in a timely manner.
  6. Twitter is a great way to spread content to like-minded individuals.
  7. Twitter isn’t for all people.
  8. Twitter is public – so it won’t work for any private or confidential corporate events.
  9. Many-to-Many conversations on Twitter are fast-moving, action packed and fully archived. Watch what you say!
  10. Conversations on Twitter can be archived at This is a great resource to go back and review what was said.
  11. I once summarized a full conversation of tweets with 1 tweet. Is that good or bad?
  12. I started this blog because of Twitter. I know 10 others that did the same.
  13. Twitter is a super-simple way to connect remote and virtual attendees.
  14. While the movers were packing boxes at my home, I participated in a conference via Twitter 4000 miles and nine time zones away.
  15. Luckily, not everyone is on Twitter.
  16. I never had any interest in following Shaq, Britney Oprah or Aston Kucher.
  17. The #eventprofs community on Twitter is awesome.
  18. I attended a conference in February because of the people that I met on Twitter. I had an awesome time! Some people think I was crazy.
  19. I attended a conference in March because someone tweeted that they were attending. Does that make me a stalker?
  20. Twitter introduced me to thousands of interesting people in the past year. If it weren’t for them – I would have left this technology long ago.

Bottom Line

While Twitter is a simple technology – it is a powerful communication tool. After 110 pages of tweets, I am very thankful for the people that I met on Twitter this past year. Without them – I probably would have abandoned the technology very quickly. Thank you Twitter friends!

image credit: @cdharrison
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Free Webinar: Beyond Social Media – Uncover New Ways To Connect, Engage and Educate Your Audience Physically And Virtually

This morning, I joined Jeff Hurt (Velvet Chainsaw Consulting) and Michael McCurry (Experient) in a webinar called: Beyond Social Media: Uncover New Ways To Connect, Engage and Educate Your Audience Physically and Virtually. The webinar was organized by InXpo and was part of their InXpoLive program. The webinar gave us a great opportunity to experience the InXpo platform from behind the curtain.

The slide deck is below and the webinar recording is available here: Webinar recording.

[slideshare id=3469467&doc=march18inxposmwebinarfinal-100318131139-phpapp01]

Bottom Line

Social Media is creating new opportunities for you to connect, engage and educate your attendees. As your attendees get used to having more of these two way experiences in their real lives – they will start expecting similar experiences from your events. While there are many technologies that can help you – you need to make sure that you (1) set your objectives, (2) assess your audience and (3) map your needs to the resources that are available to you.

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Staying Connected to 5 Conferences While Packing Boxes

I am in full blown moving mode. We are moving from Switzerland to the United States. As I write this, I am sitting on the floor of my empty apartment with only the wifi access remaining. Our furniture is loaded into a container that is starting a six week voyage to the US.

What is really strange is that I still feel connected to five different conferences that are happening around me in other parts of the world:

> MeetDifferent, Cancun: This event just finished and had a virtual access pass. On Sunday, I played Midori Connolly’s The Hybrid Meeting Dissected in the background while I was making some final arrangements before the movers arrived on Monday morning. Midori and Glenn Thayer did an excellent job of engaging the virtual audience in the presentations and discussion. If you are an MPI member you should watch the presentation and pay close attention to Glenn and how he bridges the virtual and face-to-face audience. Also, I liked the Meet Different iphone application. This free application did a nice job of giving me information on the schedule, speakers, twitter stream, etc. for the conferences.

> Confex, London: Confex is the most important show for the UK meetings and events industry.  Some big news from this event was the launch of the IML Connector. This new blackberry-like-device transforms into a voting keypad, “private” backchannel, simultaneous translation device, audio player and a microphone during events. I think the software behind the device is the most interesting. It seems simple enough that a junior A/V tech,  IT staff member or even a speaker could operate the system. If that is true, this solution could open doors for using interactive technology at many smaller corporate events.

> Virtual Edge 2010, California: This virtual conference had about 200 people onsite and many in the virtual audience. The conference allowed attendees to try 5 different virtual events platforms. I thought this was a great way to give attendees get an apples-to-apples comparison of the different platforms. Sadly, I was only connected to the conference through the twitter backchannel (hashtag: #ve10) on my iphone. I guess you would call it being in the virtual third world. But – I learned alot even from this format. I will be sharing insights from the virtual third world in an upcoming post.

> LikeMinds, Exter UK: This social media conference (starting on Friday) is supposed to be one of the first events where Social Media experts actually bring the many-to-many feature of Social Media into Face-to-Face events. I am eager to see how they do it. If you want to follow the event, you can watch the livestream on the Twitterface. Twitterface is a web based solution that allows you to include twitter streams and webcasting into the same user interface. It looks like a cool way to engage virtual attendees.

> MPI European Meetings & Events Conference, Spain: This conference starts on Sunday and I will be there speaking about event technology at two sessions. One session is on Virtual Events 101 and the other is called building a Digital Gameplan for Events. You can follow the backchannel for this event at #EMEC10. I will try to recruit some MPI Europe members to join me on the backchannel. Here is a video about my two sessions:


Bottom Line

Even though, I have been packing boxes and going through the moving process – I have found it remarkably easy to stay connected with several different events this week. Consider “opening a window” into your next event, so remote or virtual attendees can participate in one way or another. Who knows – maybe they will attend in person the following year.

So, what do you do while packing boxes?

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Social Media in Events Video from Event Camp

I created this video as a thought starter for the “Integrating Social Media in Events” Fishbowl discussion that I led at Event Camp. Due to popular demand, I have been asked to share this video with you. I hope that you enjoy it!

[wpvideo 7YeVtUoW]


This video was created using Apple Keynote (Apple’s version of PowerPoint). It is really a combination of ideas and statistics from these blog posts:

10 Ways Social Media Will Transform Events in 2010

>  Are Your Events Haunted By The Blackberry Prayer?

>  Do You Allocate Enough Time For Interaction?

The Transformation Begins

Right now the digital world and face-to-face worlds are colliding. I think this collision will create new opportunities for events. As attendees become more comfortable with these two way experiences in their own lives – they are going to start demanding similar experiences from you. Maybe they already are?

If you have experienced any interesting applications of Social Media or Event Technology during an event – please share your stories. I would love to hear what you think is working or not working in your events.

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