Meeting design is becoming a hot topic in the events industry. And while there is a lot of talk, not much of it is translated into action. Fortunately, there are events that do not hesitate to experiment in this field. In fact, saying that Eventex 2016 only experimented would be a serious understatement.
For the 2016 edition, the Eventex team brought in meeting designer and moderator Jan-Jaap In der Maur, along with his Masters in Moderation team, who conceived a holistic event design that engaged both the body and mind of the participants.
As a result, over 250 attendees had a chance to experience a plethora of interaction techniques, innovative event technologies and collaborative learning in a high-tech multifunctional hall, the Sofia Event Center.
Having been part of this event, we bring you seven meeting design learnings from Eventex 2016.
An introduction that brings in the mind
You know those introductions where a moderator dryly welcomes guests and takes them step by step through an agenda? Stressing how much needs to be covered that day, before conceding the stage to the first speaker.
Well, Jan-Jaap’s opening couldn’t be more different.
He started with helping attendees identify their personal objectives, revealing the reasons why they were there. To do that, Jan-Jaap threw Catchbox to the audience and asked a number of people why they had decided to attend Eventex.
Next, Hans Etman took over the stage and narrated an evocative snowball story. The aim was to make people squeeze all their daily worries into a snowball and throw it away. Since the “body” was already in the room, the intention was to bring the mind into the meeting too. Therefore, tune it in to the day of learning.
With these activities, Jan-Jaap and Hans clearly set the tone for this event. Eventex supposed to be about active involvement, co-creation and great engagement.
Using polls to introduce speakers
Speaker introductions don’t need to be just biography recitals. After all, all the necessary information is on the agenda.
Here again, Jan-Jaap opted for a radically different approach. To introduce speaker Charles Marcus and his session, Success is Not a Spectator Sport, Jan-Jaap ran two simple polls. By doing this he made all participants an active part of the introduction.
So instead of telling people about success, he gave delegates the opportunity to tell him what success meant to them.
The first poll results revealed that 87% of the audience saw themselves as successful people. The subsequent poll, What determines success for you?, helped to uncover what the term meant to each participant individually. The entries were displayed in the form of a word cloud highlighting the most frequently used words. As a result the crowd could clearly see their common stances.
Coffee-break assignments to endorse networking
Coffee breaks are often one of the most underutilized aspects of events. While some people do want to network freely, there might be others who are too shy to approach strangers. In the latter case, a slight poke to make new acquaintances can work wonders.
Jan-Jaap followed up on the opening keynote, during which Charles Marcus talked about the value of personal stories, with a related networking assignment. Before people left the room, he instructed them to meet three new people during the upcoming break and ask them their stories.
Once people gathered back in the room after the recess, he got people to throw around the Catchbox while the guys from Mash Machine spun tunes. When the music stopped, the person caught holding the mic shared one of the stories he collected during the break.
Improving traditional Q&A by preparing questions in advance
At many traditional conferences, Q&A sessions are the only time dedicated to audience interaction. And even then, they are rarely handled to their fullest potential – people don’t have questions, many say. But they do. You just need to give them space and time to formulate them.
Before the second speaker of the day, Ruchi Aggarwal, opened her session, Jan-Jaap got the audience to come up with three questions related to Ruchi’s talk and then had participants write them down on a piece of paper. During the presentation, they were to tick off the topics that Ruchi addressed.
Once Ruchi was through with her talk, Jan-Jaap prompted participants to submit the remaining unanswered questions via Slido. Giving people 2-3 minutes to refocus on Q&A and submit their questions crucial. After a brief silence, over 20 questions came in, with What kind of event agency team would charm you?, which received 13 likes, being the top one.
By taking the top three questions that had the highest number of votes, Jan-Jaap ensured that the 10 minutes dedicated to Q&A were used to their maximal potential.
As the end of a conference draws near, people start to drift away in their minds, thinking of all the tasks in which they fell behind and now need to catch up on. Rarely do they have time to digest what they absorbed during the day.
To help people identify and better absorb the most important learnings, Jan-Jaap combined peer-to-peer interaction with event tech voting.
Jan-Jaap split the audience into groups of 10 and instructed each participant to write down the one top learning that he or she would take away from the conference.
After the group members had jotted down their personal lessons, each person passed his or her paper to the neighbor on the left, who graded the learning on a scale of 1-10 based on how valuable he or she found it. The papers passed from a person to person, until each participant received his or her own paper back with 9 grades.
Once they had their own papers back, participants totaled up their score. Jan-Jaap then prompted the person with the highest figure within the group to submit his or her learning via Slido. Once the entries came in, I created a poll, on which all participants collectively voted in order to identify the top learnings from the conference.
The results revealed that 23% of the audience voted for “Sweat the small things! Relationships are the gravity that holds teams together” and 21% for “Find what inspires you and works for your dream” as the most important lessons.
Extra tip: If you’d like to replicate this exercise, it is not necessary to create a poll. You can simply let people upvote the entries to get the list of top learnings.
Venue – the silent participant with the greatest impact
Moving away from the moderation now, one of the most decisive factors of Eventex’s success was the venue itself.
This year’s edition was hosted in a unique multifunctional hall, the Sofia Event Center – just being in the room was an experience in itself. The ambiance was different from that of the usual conference hall – no theater, no schoolroom setup. There were no rows, only circles.
A podium occupied the central position in the middle of the room with different types of chairs and sofas revolving around it. The circle setup instantly evoked feelings of inclusivity and closeness and induced the perception of all of us being together. The furniture was movable and the entire room setup transformed a number of times based on the needs of the facilitators. Equipped with top-notch technology, multiple screens positioned all around the hall ensured that every participant had a great view of the visual content.
Rephrasing the words of events expert Joan L. Eisenstodt: “It was an environment that delighted and encouraged our brains and bodies to think differently from the minute we walked in.”
Strategic integration of event technology
And finally, Eventex was also about the strategic use of event technology.
We like to say that event technology is a means to achieve event objectives, be it greater engagement or better learning. And Eventex was its great example. To execute his meeting design, Jan-Jaap leveraged a number of complementing event technology tools and ensured the maximal impact on the audience interaction.
While Jan-Jaap tossed around Catchbox to get instant audience reactions, he used Slido to engage people with live polls as well as to crowdsource the best questions in order to maximize the effectiveness of the Q&A time.
Embedding Slido in the official event app by Attendify helped to avoid any miscommunication about using multiple platforms – all could be found under one roof. Finally, Mash Machine literally brought people together in the process of music creation and thus added another layer of togetherness.
The success of Eventex 2016 was based on the inspiring venue, thoughtful meeting design, well-used event technology and fantastic execution. We experienced what a dramatic impact a professional moderator, who approaches meetings holistically and uses the right tech tools, can have on an event. The Eventex team organized a world-class event. And it was our privilege to work with industry leaders and help deliver an engaging experience.