“How friendly is my brain and is there going to be a quiz?” That’s the first thought that occurred to me when I heard about PCMA’s recent educational session in Dallas called Brain-Friendly Networking presented by Sarah Michel from Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.
To my relief there was no quiz, but I did learn how attendees hunger for new experiences through networking and how adding five principles to your conference design results in a smarter event for attendees.
Sarah explained that we are wired to be social. No matter if you have hermit-like tendencies; when a subject comes up that you are passionate about, you want to share your likes, dislikes and opinions. When you find your community and make that connection it is… Connexity.
How have networking experiences at conferences you’ve attended made you smarter? That was the question posed to our small table of five people. Answers included one from a woman who made a networking connection in the restroom that developed into cost savings for her business. Another mentioned meeting a fellow attendee in a bar and learning about a new category of lighting that was more informative than any session she attended. Both examples emphasize that attendees come to conferences for education and networking.
These types of interactions don’t have to be chance meetings. Organizers can strategically design conferences to make attendees smarter, using these tips from Sarah.
5 WAYS TO MAKE YOUR ATTENDEES SMARTER
Novelty: Something new or different can stimulate the brain. A great example of creating a memorable experience involved an event that issued badges with the name of half a famous duo on the bottom like “Siskel” or “Batman.” Attendees were tasked with meeting other attendees until they found their other half. (Ebert and Robin, in case you were wondering.) Also walking tours are a great way to stimulate the mind and generate conversations.
Challenge: Attendees want answers to their problems, not necessarily a speech with great content. Have a panel of experts do a Q & A with folks lined up and ready to ask their questions. Be prepared for follow up to see if the answers worked out the way they expected and what could be improved.
Thinking: Just like our table was allowed to converse during this presentation, go ahead and embed questions to spark networking conversations in education sessions. Peer-to-peer learning is valuable and can be accomplished by having attendees utlize small tables, chairs in a circle or even standing.
Creativity: Co-create learning experiences by offering ways for the attendee to participate. One event used an “idea runway” with sticky notes attached to a graphic airplane on a wall. They were encouraged to write down their challenge with their email address or twitter handle and then get solutions from colleagues. Or they could simply share their great idea or comment offering solutions to others.
Networking: There’s a reason we gather at the water cooler. It’s a place to relax (hopefully), get refreshed, learn and grow. Have designated and maybe even sponsored areas for attendees to feel comfortable and down their guard.
Thanks to Sarah Michel and my fellow attendees, I did feel a little smarter after this PCMA event. And, after making a few connections, even my brain started to feel more friendly. Keep in mind attendees are hungry for new experiences and if you keep feeding them, they will return to your event for years to come.
Todd Carruth is the Interactive Marketing Manager for The Expo Group and has pledged to make his brain friendly in all his future interaction. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sarah Michel is VP Professional Connexity for Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.