Your meeting is telling a story — whether you realize it or not, said Kristi Casey Sanders, vice president for creative and chief storyteller for Plan Your Meetings, an educational resource for planners.
The elements that go into a meeting or event — room sets, staging, marketing messages — are all part of the narrative, along with “the experience that you create for [attendees] and opportunities for them to connect with each other,” said Sanders, who is featured in “Digital Tribe Building,” this month’s video for The Intersection: Where Technology Meets Inspiration, presented by PCMA and PSAV Presentation Services. “All of these things end up being a story that [attendees] tell people about your event.”
And those stories are best told not just at a live event, but through a variety of channels. “Online, through Twitter, by posting pictures, and by having [face-to-face] conversations,” Sanders said, “… you are building a tribe and creating stories and narratives.”
What can planners do to make it more likely that their stories will be not just told, but heard? One key is to consider attendees as co-creators of an experience, said Ryan Hanson, CSEP, an award-winning creative event strategist and producer at Minneapolis-based BeEvents. “The mantra I’ve been on,” Hanson said, “is that we have got to start designing experiences worth having for the attendee — not necessarily for the client.”
It may sound counterintuitive to design for attendees first and not for the client, but “I very strongly believe that the guest is the best asset you have at any event,” Hanson said. “Nobody goes to a meeting or an event anymore and believes that they’re supposed to sit passively in the audience and just listen to the expert spewing them content from the stage. We have to start acknowledging that what we really need to do is facilitate conversation, not talk at people.”
That need to create not just a “wow” experience but true social participation is what has led Hanson to think deeply about attendee engagement. The questions he tackles include: “How do we facilitate conversation? How do you design space to drive it to be collaborative?”
At a recent meeting for a corporate client, Hanson and his partners used social-media concierges who connected with attendees during breaks, meals, and other social times, to record their insights and ideas with iPads. A custom software program was used to project the ideas onto seven-foot-tall touch screens, where they could be read and “favorited” by attendees. At the end of the meeting, Hanson said, organizers and attendees had a ranked and prioritized list of ideas that had been generated on site.
One of the challenges in designing a meeting is that not every attendee wants the same thing, Hanson said. “How are we possibly supposed to create value among a diverse range of attendees?” he said. “For me, the answer to that question is by empowering the attendees to create value for themselves.”