Quick disclaimer – I’m on the Board of Directors and incoming President of the Green Meetings Industry Council (GMIC).
When we set out to design the annual conference for GMIC for 2011, we had many robust conversations about what direction to take it. All of us involved in the conversation were feeling a lot of what others in the event industry have been feeling – how do we break the mold of a conference that had good content but was still a series of panels and stand alone presentations and deliver something unique, highly experiential and still capable of delivering the great content that the organization is known for.
This is something I think a lot of events and conferences talk about, but somehow, despite the best intentions, we seem to continue to fall back into conferences and meetings that have sessions dependent on panels and stand alone presentations where audiences continue to be passive listeners rather than engaged participants.
There are exceptions, of course. Great examples of different formats like Event Camp and the Learning Lounge at PCMA have attempted to break the mold and experiment with different learning environments and levels of participation.
This week, in our humble opinion, the Green Meetings Industry Council delivered. Was it perfect? No, but as our good friend Sam Smith has said in the past if you’re not taking risks and there aren’t hiccups, then you’re not innovating.
Using concepts from the world of gaming as the foundation for a collaborative, competitive learning environment, Elizabeth Henderson and her design team took some early conversations that I was involved in and some ideas from Byron Reeve’s book “Total Engagement” and designed a program format that was intended to immerse the audience into the world of sustainable events with a combination of group work on case studies, combined with more traditional classroom sessions, keynotes and general sessions.
There was some worry that we were stepping out of the comfort zone of attendees and that people would decide not to participate in the group work. Some people are just not comfortable working in groups and prefer the experience of attending sessions on their own and absorbing content singularly. We even had some conversation about allowing people to opt out of the case study groups, but in the end decided to just go for it and assigned everyone to a team. If people chose to not participate, we felt it would be their choice, but their loss.
To our pleasant surprise, there was nearly 100% participation in the group case study work and in the game. To me, this exhibits that audiences are indeed looking for something different in their event experiences and are willing to work more collaboratively to create a great learning experience for each other, new ways of networking and increasing their connections and having fun at the same time.
The game was delivered through a great mobile app created for us by QuickMobile. Team leaders had a pre-loaded iPad that had the case studies for each team, a leaderboard (points could be amassed by posting on twitter – through the app – blogging, attending sessions and getting scanned, visiting and talking to exhibitors and getting scanned and entering data about their case study into the iPad app), a twitter feed, the overall conference schedule and profiles of each team member.
The case studies were actually fairly involved, with both business requirements to consider as well as sustainability goals. The focus of GMIC is, after all, on mainstreaming sustainable events and the ultimate outcome of the game and the conference was learnings on best practices for running a sustainable event, meeting or conference. Thus the game and the conference all had a sustainability lens to the design of it.
The game actually ended up taking on a very organic nature to it. We were also live streaming the keynotes and general sessions through the Sonic Foundry webcasting platform and some of the remote attendees ended up joining the case study teams via Skype and participating in the game. It was a whole new level of hybrid engagement, where we really broke down the wall between remote and live attendees. Sam Smith wrote a great summary of his experience on his blog.
There is much more to go into on the conference content overall, which I will do in a subsequent post and many members and attendees have already been doing. But, for me, what we accomplished this week is the start of a good model for a truly effective meeting that combines great learning, great networking and fun all through a lens of sustainability.
Game On event industry!