Rethinking Conferences; leverage the digital to maximize the physical

Last week I attended the inaugural women@google event at Google’s new innovation center (TheFoundry) in Dublin, Ireland. By all accounts it was a very well organized event with a really excellent set of speakers that I would have happily listened to for twice as long as the allotted 80 minutes. The rest of the time was scheduled for “networking & drinks” and while they really did a fantastic job of the drinks part (the hors d’oeuvre were to die for) the networking part was less than successful; a complaint I would make of every single networking event I’ve attended in the last year. So just to be clear, the purpose of this post is not to beat up on Google but rather to highlight what I believe is a missed opportunity.

People go to events to meet people. While the content is important, it can frequently be found online after the event, whereas you can never digitally reproduce those physical face-to-face conversations. When attending an event attendees want to share stories and experiences, make quality connections, and feel part of a community. They want to know which people may have complementary interests so that instead of wandering around aimlessly introducing themselves to random strangers, they can identify those people with whom connecting may result in the greatest mutual benefit. Few events facilitate this type of active personalized targeted social networking and this is the missed opportunity I refer to.

So why am I writing this post now?

  • I’ve attended numerous similar events in the last year and they’ve all been equally disappointing in terms of maximizing networking potential.
  • We already have all the data we need within existing online social networks, such as LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, etc., in order to generate rich event networks and apply the appropriate analytics.
  • We have a plethora of social and mobile tools out there that give us all the required infrastructure to allow us to organize events that maximize the networking experience, instead of just bolting it on as an afterthought.
  • Being a Google event, it was impossible to miss the irony that with even the smallest amount of up-front preparation, such as creating a Google+ community around the event, could have significantly maximized the networking success of the event; and got more people signed up to Google+.
  • It also jumped out at me that Google Now could provide Google the perfect platform with which to deliver these types event-based social recommendations or “Social Cards”.

So how would I want an event organized in order to maximize the networking potential? As the saying goes “fail to prepare, prepare to fail”, so it shouldn’t be surprising that for most events we don’t maximize the networking potential since for most events we have limited to no ability to do the prerequisite preparation work. There is rarely a list of attendees provided in advance, and there is definitely no information provided to help us recognize the people that we would be most interested in talking with. So what needs to change?

Pre-event

  • Provide a Community (public or private) for event registration. Allow people to share information about themselves, perhaps register with their LinkedIn account, in order allow attendees have visibility on who will be attending so they can do their homework (prepare to succeed).
  • Perform mining of the network data in order to activate engagement and allow attendees to easily find people with whom they share common or complementary interests.
  • Provide social networking features inside the community (friend, follow, share, like) so that people can express their interest to connect in advance of the event. Maybe even allow sub-groups of people to emerge from the melee.

In-event

  • Provide a mobile application for the event to provide real-time recommendations (Google Now “social cards”?) to ensure attendees maximize their social networking opportunities.
  • Include light-touch social features (like, tag, check-in, broadcast) to allow people to publish their interests. Just imagine a couple of people start to talk about a particular Topic and are curious to see if there is anyone else around that would be interested in joining the conversation, they can broadcast the Topic and see if it attracts interest. Micro-groups could form all over the place :-)

Post-event

  • Allow all event interactions to be captured in the community.
  • Allow the community to live after the event as a destination for attendees to visit in order to re-engage with their friends from the event.
  • Use the community as a way to share information post-event.

So that’s my wishlist… I’m not at all demanding, am I? :-)

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2 Responses to “Rethinking Conferences; leverage the digital to maximize the physical”

  1. Reblogged this on Insurance Insights and commented:
    Intentional networking using social media to facilitate the filter and find aspect of connecting with the people you most want to know. Always pushing technology capabilities to better serve the physical interpersonal. After all that is where the real connections begin.

    Like

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