Have you heard the word “innovation” just a few too many times? Yeah, me too, especially when it comes to meetings. Let’s throw “engagement” in there too as a word that’s been used so often—and so often in reference to things that really don’t make people squeal in excitement—as to become almost meaningless.
In fact, if “Meeting Industry Catchwords” were ever a category on Wheel of Fortune, contestants would have to buy a lot of vowels to get their words started. The problem is that all too often, the “I”-word in question represents the interests of the meeting organizer, not those of the participants. If the brainstorming sessions start with, “How can we attract more attendees to increase our bottom line?” or “What new things can we do on the show floor to keep exhibitors buying booth space?” it’s starting with the wrong audience in mind.
What you’re shooting for, always, should be “What’s in it for them?”, with “them” being your participants. If you get that right, what you want for your organization will follow. When you plan with self-interest first and foremost, it will show, no matter how many bells and whistles you add in the name of “innovation” and “engagement.”
Every year, we start with the “What’s in it for them?” question when we begin planning the Pharma Forum, which this year was held in March in New York City, with our co-organizers at CBI. What can we do to surprise, delight, educate, and enable the pharmaceutical, biomedical device, and other life sciences meetings professionals who come to the conference to connect with new ideas, ways of doing business, and each other?
After 12 years, we, like everyone else with a long-running show, have certain tried-and-true elements, but can we tweak them to make them more meaningful and impactful? We don’t want to throw in new things just to have new things, but cherry-pick the things that will help people learn more deeply and connect more productively than they have before.
Are we always successful? Of course not, but we’d had plenty of wins (here are some of the innovations we tried this year that worked by placing the focus squarely on the participant experience).
But no matter how cutting-edge a meeting is, that edge is dull before you know it, and once again it’s up to you to find a whole new dimension of “What’s in it for them?” But isn’t that what’s really the most fun, if also the most frustrating, about this business?
What have you done to add some experiential, participant-centered zing to your meetings?