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Diversity ‘one of the megatrends’ in events industry, says GCB

Matthias Schultze, managing director of the German Convention Bureau (GCB) discussed with M&IT about the future of meetings from the results of their research project, Future Meeting Space.

What were your findings on diversity?
The study survey did not specifically cover this topic. However, we have already identified diversity as one of the megatrends influencing the meetings industry in our 2013 study Meetings and conventions 2030: A study of megatrends shaping our industry. The individuality of people and their needs in all situations and in any context very much impacts event organisers who should consider all the different requirements attendees have, and obviously, the different attendees types that we have identified through our current FMS research can be of help in this context. Apart from that, any other requirements that can be based on a variety of aspects (e.g., religion, ethnicity, demographics, and disabilities) need to be taken into account, too.

How do you characterise ‘disruptive’ elements?
A disruptive element can be anything that catches attendees by surprise and is completely unexpected. Within this framework, disruption can be many things. If your event is of a more “conventional” nature, for example, a yoga session during the lunch break could already be a real surprise for attendees. Or, think of things that have, on the surface, nothing to do with the actual theme of the event or take people out of their comfort zone. As long as it is not purely gimmicky! The speakers you put on can also be a good starting point: Who could, for example, inspire your audience but comes from outside their industry/field of expertise and might therefore be unexpected and provide a fresh perspective?

Another aspect that can create positive disruption is the type of venue you choose. The Berlin Convention Office’s MEET+CHANGE initiative is a great example how venues can create special and meaningful experiences for your attendees: Under the headline “professional meetings with social responsibility”, the project promotes a growing portfolio of different kinds of social/educational/cultural organisations as event venues, such as children’s homes, primary schools, sheltered workshops or advice centres.

Last but not least, the formats you use come into play again here as they can be deployed to create disruptive moments. Lego Serious Play, for example, is a methodology fostering creative thinking and as a hands-on approach also supports deeper learning and understanding. Introducing your attendees to such methods and other out-of-the-box learning ideas can be a surprising and meaningful experience for many, too.

Much has been made of the ‘Ted Talks’ type of meeting and how this has changed conferences.
Ted Talks definitely had/have an influence on our industry. When they came on the scene, they were themselves a disruption, a new perspective and fresh approach to how things were conventionally done. In this context, new and innovative formats have increasingly been implemented in recent years. However, many meetings and conferences are still very “staid” and rigid. In this context, our study has shown that if you use innovative formats, it definitely pays because it has positive effects on, e.g. knowledge transfer, and increases the overall satisfaction level. Ultimately, as events mirror what happens in society, the ways we meet and come together naturally evolve with processes in our living and working patterns.

What are the best ways to ensure knowledge transfer in meetings of the future?
Our research has shown that innovative, interactive formats, digital tools as well as visualisation aids (i.e., visualising whatever kind of content/knowledge you’re presenting) make it easier for attendees to really retain information and apply it once back at their desks. If attendees can be made to get involved themselves and actually do something that is related to the new know-how – all the better as this intensifies the development of knowledge. A good range of speakers/coaches that can cover a topic from every angle are also key to knowledge transfer.

With respect to interactivity, we have seen that interaction between attendees on the one hand and between attendees and speakers on the others is vital, so interactive formats such fishbowl discussions, feedback apps or sessions with small groups are not to be underestimated.

How do you support the more introvert or less tech-savvy attendees?
Crucially, you always need to consider the different attendee types from the very start of organising an event. Technology in this context can be a help but it can also, in the case of people who are less tech-savvy, become an issue that prevents attendees from fully engaging which can result in an overall lower satisfaction level. For example, apps are a great way to provide information about your event, however, less-savvy attendees who don’t use apps need to have access to any relevant event information, too. Therefore, make sure to also use more conventional means of communication or, depending on the context, provide help to make access to new technologies easier.

What ways can you ensure effective networking for shy attendees?
At the same time, apps can encourage introvert types to take part in discussions because they can ask questions without having to “expose” themselves. In general, any kind of communication guidance you can give to more introvert attendees is a good thing because this personality type often just waits for someone to actively approach and integrate them.

 Other aspects to consider are the formats you work with to engage people. Think about the set-up of individual sessions and bring people together in smaller groups as many people are more inclined to open up then. Working with design thinking and agile working methods is also helpful as these formats to not require any specific tech tools on the one hand and on the other, support networking in a more playful way because people come together in smaller groups and naturally get to know each other then.

How do you encourage networking?
It makes a lot of sense to place “icebreakers” that facilitate interaction and communication at the start of an event and then, most importantly, not leave networking to chance (i.e. coffee breaks). You need to make sure that dedicated networking elements that require people to talk to each other are scattered throughout your event so that even shy people have frequent chances to make new contacts. It is also worthwhile to look at matchmaking systems such as Brain Dates, a platform that helps people make meaningful connections to share knowledge.