The desire to belong and make connections is human nature. The tricky part, according to Don Neal, founder and CEO of 360 Live Media, is to pull meeting attendees off their devices and remind them that face-to-face interactions are irreplaceable. “Technology is a great way to have a conversation,” Neal says in the latest video for The Intersection, presented by PCMA and PSAV, “but human contact is the core.”
The best way to foster that human contact while still providing a 21st-century experience, according to Neal, is to craft a meeting program that individuals can interact with on their own terms. The United States has become an “experience economy,” Neal says in the video, and as a result many people expect the same level of personalization they have come to know from brands such as Starbucks and Disney.
“They’re looking for something very personal, they’re looking for individual connections, they’re looking for a curated experience,” Neal says, “and we like to think of designing, instead of a 2,000-person event, an event for 2,000 different individuals.”
While that might sound overwhelming, Neal suggests providing attendees with a “journey map” — a menu of program options from which they can choose based on what they would like to learn or accomplish. Some options will be appealing to first-time attendees, but seasoned attendees might opt for an entirely different set of breakout sessions based on their own set of criteria.
David Peckinpaugh, CMP, CIS, president of Maritz Global Events, uses journey maps to help personalize the attendee experience. But instead of looking at whether an attendee is a first-timer or what their age is, Maritz deploys “personas,” or personality types, to provide a curated experience.
“Mass customization or personalization is really down to the work-around personas,” Peckinpaugh said in an interview. “We think that’s more attributable to how groups and the meetings and incentives industry operates.”
The Maritz Institute, an arm of the Maritz organization, has been dedicated to studying behavioral science to better understand meeting attendees. Through this work, the institute has pinpointed 24 different personas that commonly appear at meetings. These personas, Peckinpaugh said, are shaped by behavioral expectations.
For example, one persona is called the “Front Row Junkie.” “Seeing value in every aspect of the proceedings, the Front Row Junkie will not miss a moment from the grandest plenary session, to the smallest of receptions,” Peckinpaugh said. “Always prompt and completely engaged, the Front Row Junkie’s attendance is a testimony to a commitment to get the greatest return on attending.”
After identifying such a persona, it’s easier to curate a valuable experience. “You might use technology as a way to do that,” Peckinpaugh said, “Or for a Front Row Junkie, maybe if we identify who those people are in advance, we’re going to give them a VIP pass that already gives them a spot in the front row, so they don’t have to get there early and fight for it.”
Although it’s a lot of work to tear down your current meeting models to provide new levels of customization, Peckinpaugh is a believer in starting from scratch for the best results. “So many organizations are trapped in the cut-and-paste world of events, and the same old, same old,” he said. “We feel strongly that you have to go through that sort of pain in order to gain in the opportunity of re-visioning an event. Well, it’s not painful — it’s usually incredibly enjoyable and empowering. But there is work involved.”
TIPS FOR CREATING AN EXPERIENTIAL MEETING
1. Identify a design methodology that makes sense for the goals of the meeting.
2. Work internally or partner with an organization that can help craft an execution plan with firm objectives and a design document that will inform future event strategies.
3. Instead of making incremental changes, revamp the entire meeting experience for the highest impact.
Watch the latest video from The Intersection.