Association North’s Meeting Planning Symposium is all about stepping out on the leading edge to demonstrate what’s possible for association events. This year’s focus was engagement and the innovations we must embrace to level up our meeting experience.
So many details woven throughout the day went unmentioned but contributed to an impressive experience:
- Several seating configurations in both the general session and breakout rooms offering participants more options,
- Fidgets on the general session tables were not only fun, but scientifically proven to assist with focus and engagement,
- Association swag strategically placed in conversation spaces around the event,
- The effective use of music for transitions and energy management,
- Crafting innovative opportunities for sponsors to be recognized and tell their story,
- Unique food options to boost brain power and allow autonomy with an array of fun choices from milkshake mixology to a build-you-own ramen buffet,
- And, scheduling a follow-up webinar with the keynote three weeks after the event to extend the learning experience – discussing strategies for applying what we’ve learned about engagement.
Big Engagement Wins
Triggering engagement requires careful design of an experience that will foster specific outcomes. Four examples of big engagement wins at the Symposium were intentional reflection, keynote experiences, problem solving, and practical micro sessions.
- Intentional Reflection: The event pocket guide featured my idea-to-action model guiding participants to identify challenges they were there to solve, and transitioning ideas collected throughout the day into actionable next steps. Before the first learning session, participants were asked to pause and jot down what they hoped to get from the Symposium and were prompted to collect ideas related to those goals at each session. At the close of the day, we reflected upon our notes and developed action steps we could take back to our own events.
- Keynote Experiences: We were privileged to have Roger Haskett from Engagement Unlimited join us as keynote. His presentations are light-years away from the stuffy lectures of old offering multi-level experiences engaging the hive mind of the room. In his morning conversation, he introduced, and we experienced, several fundamentals of engagement. The afternoon Engagement Experience introduced trusted techniques through a series of activities rooted in improvisation, storytelling, team-work and scenario based challenges. Fun. Inspiring. Engaging.
- Problem Solving. While chicken was an option on the ramen buffet, this was no ordinary conference luncheon. Table groups were issued a challenge: In ten minutes, design a unique and innovative campaign to create effective post-event follow-up. Three industry leaders served as “Sharks” evaluating the Shark Tank idea pitch from each table. The Sharks evaluated ideas upon engagement, innovation, and feasibility. No traditional post-event email’s allowed! The entire room buzzed with creative competition – and the array of amazing ideas presented produced many tactical take-aways. (And the winning table team took home $150 in cash!)
- Practical Micro Sessions. Three tracks of micro sessions offered participants options to think about engagement through the lenses of meeting design, technology, and learning design. In my session on Learning Engagement Strategies, I introduced my new eBook, produced in collaboration with Aaron Wolowiec, clarifying what learning engagement is and how we can trigger it in our learning sessions. In those 30 minutes I demonstrated three of the dozen learning design pro moves we feature in the eBook – allowing participants to experience meaningful interaction even in a short session. If we consider ourselves in the learning business, we have to invest in producing engaging sessions. Because without engagement, there is no learning. Access my Engaging Learners eBook.
Roger Haskett shared, “Engagement is active, inclusive, and contagious.” That’s the kind of contagion we want at our events – because the returns in member loyalty, return registration, and community buzz ignite the ROI we are looking for.