February 1, 2012
Feeding Off the Energy
Too many meetings are anything but effervescent, but that can be turned around through intentional design. It requires a careful calibration of the right attractions in the right space. Indy tourism once used the motto "Everything you want connected to everything you need." That mantra is one that every meeting or conference planner should adopt for an event: how do we design this experience so that people have/find everything they want connected to everything they need?
Connections are the underdesigned aspect of most conferences. A good layout and program creates a concentrated core of community and content while simultaneously allowing for informal interaction and serendipity to occur. It's about what is happening, but it also is about the way it is happening and the space in which it occurs. And this is as true for a small dinner party you might host at home as it is for an event being held for 150,000 visitors.
And the details matter. Have all your meals at 72" banquet round with plated services and you've pretty much ensured people have more formal conversations with the folks primary on either side of them. Whereas 60" rounds allow for the entire table to be in conversation, a buffet allows you to engage with folks while standing in line, family-style service at any size table creates a sense of a whole box lunches let you grab and go wherever you want. Each is a viable option, but must be decided with intention.
You really can't ever get it 100% right ... at least not for every individual. And while what works for one event won't necessarily work for another and the answers aren't always obvious, the question is: how do we design this experience so that people have/find everything they want connected to everything they need?. You just have to ask it and answer it, then repeat again. More thoughtful attention to what's being offered, how it's being done, and where it's being done can increase the likelihood of effervescence. But remember that while some people prefer sparkling water with a meal, others prefer flat. It's important to allow for individuals to feel a part of the action without becoming exhausted by it.
As the old Alka Seltzer commercial used to sing "Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz, Oh what a relief it is." Without sufficient attention to design and its details, all you get is Plop, Plop, and a slow erosion of interest and attention. Go for the Fizz!