The Transformational Event: Creating Meetings with Meaning

Over the last decade a new kind of attendee has emerged. This attendee wants to do more than sit in their chair and absorb information. They don’t attend events simply to be entertained or educated.

This new kind of attendee is looking for an experience that somehow leaves them a better person, more connected, more engaged and better equipped not just for their jobs but for their life. They want to attend meetings with meaning.

In this article we look at some of the elements that elevate an event from ordinary to transformational and how you can deliver meetings with meaning.

The Transformational Event_

When the personal growth and development industry first began in the early 70s it attracted a fringe audience of hippies and forward-thinkers. Now, personal growth has become mainstream and appeals to people of all ages and backgrounds that are seeking life-altering experiences and a more profound connection to the world around them.

The explosion of interest in personal growth has impacted our entire industry. Attendees of all types of meetings, from corporate events to association conferences, are looking to be inspired, motivated and connected.

Attendees are seeking self-awareness, a sense of purpose and the ability to fulfill their dreams. They want to go beyond networking and superficial conversations to creating trusted friendships that last for years. They want to be challenged, inspired, provoked and stimulated. They want to attend events that leave them not just with more knowledge but with a different sense of themselves and what is possible in life.

The meetings and events that are able to cater to this new need are the ones that are likely to grow and thrive. However, creating meetings with meaning is not an easy matter. It takes thinking and planning way beyond the normal model. Here we look at some of the ingredients of a transformational meeting.

Focus on the Participants

The easy way to add an element of inspiration to your event is to include a motivational speaker or performer. Motivational speakers have a story to tell, they are people who overcame an obstacle or adversity and made a difference. These “everyday heroes” are inspiring because they give us hope that if they did it, perhaps we can too.

However, if your motivational speaker spends the whole time talking about themselves you are unlikely to achieve the result you are looking for. At best your attendees may glean some new ideas or perspectives. While this is nice, it doesn’t leave them with the ability to affect change in their own lives.

The transformational event is immersive, engaging and enlivening. The focus is on the participants and having them be active and creating their own experience. Find speakers who put the spotlight on the attendees and have the ability to get them up on their feet, sharing, talking and engaging with each other.

Create Authenticity

The transformational meeting provides a safe space where the participants are able to reveal their true selves, to talk about the hard times, the challenges and obstacles they face.

This is not how we normally talk. For the most part we want to be known as successful and a good person, covering up our fears and insecurities. Yet, if we are honest, most of us hate “small talk” and we are seeking an opportunity for conversations that reach below the surface.

Creating a safe space for people to share and tell the truth is not always easy, especially with a large group. You need a skilled facilitator, someone who is able to put people at ease, bring them out of themselves and ask good questions.

It’s important to involve everyone, don’t let a few people dominate the room. Encourage people to share their stories with each other, perhaps in pairs or in small round tables.

Each layer of the event provides a new opportunity to deepen the conversation. People don’t walk through the door on the first day ready to share their hearts, their fears and their dreams. Design each session and section of the event to build trust and to peel away another layer and your attendees will naturally and spontaneously find themselves sharing their stories.

Value Contribution

Most people welcome the opportunity to make a difference for someone else. We actually feel happier and more fulfilled when we are being a contribution.

Since they began in 2007, the We Day events have attracted hundreds of thousands of young people who want to make the world a better place. You can’t buy a ticket to We Day, you have to earn it by supporting and helping local and global charities. The huge success of these events points to a new generation who are motivated by the desire to be a contribution.

It’s not just the young people who want to make a difference. We all do. When we get together and do something for a good cause we feel better about ourselves.

Creating the opportunities at events for people to come together and make a difference provides a sense of community and teamwork that’s hard to beat.

Go Beyond the Comfort Zone

I attended an event where the entertainment for the evening was a fire-eater. The 500 or so attendees broke into applause as the woman on stage swallowed blazing balls of fire. However, the real surprise was yet to come: we were going to learn to eat fire ourselves! This was no longer a show, we were being challenged to face our fears and try something that would take us well out of our comfort zone.

You don’t have to walk over hot coals or eat fire to challenge your attendees. For some people, speaking in front of a room full of people is enough. For others, a morning yoga routine could be something they have never tried before.

The point is, that most of want to be challenged. Despite the fear or discomfort, when we are challenged we fee alive. There are lots of companies that offer out-side the box activities, from amazing-race style adventures to learning to sing or drum.

Give your attendees the opportunity to let their guard down and try something new. Even if this is just a small part of your event, the ripple effect will impact their whole experience. use

Do a Technology Striptease

These days it is easy to hide behind technology. Checking my phone for messages or ducking into my laptop to send a tweet is an effective social shield. As long as I am behind the screen I don’t have to connect.

The transformational event doesn’t require technology. Strip away the phones and devices and we are left simply with a group of people who want to get to know each other better. Perhaps we are a bit awkward and unsure of ourselves, but at least we are being real. To truly immerse your attendees in a transformational experience, don’t be afraid of asking them to put away their devices.

If a totally unplugged event is unrealistic or undesirable, then your next best option is to embrace and include technology. For example, you can use polling, mobile apps or social media to have people ask questions or create discussions. Use technology to create networking and connection games. Think about how you use the tools available to create community, pose challenges or fire up the imagination.

In Conclusion

The recent Event Trends Report predicts that in 2015 we’ll see a growing number of events that are vibrant, immersive and fully involve the attendee in creating an unforgettable experience.

We can’t afford to be complacent. Attendees are growing more sophisticated and a new generation of millennials are demanding events that are provocative, inspiring and make a difference. Creating meetings with meaning challenges us to think differently about our event programming, venues and technology. What makes this exciting is that by creating transformational events we have the opportunity to transform ourselves in the process.

About The Author
Cathy Key
Dr Cathy Key has been working in the event technology industry since 2002. During this time she worked side-by-side with meeting planners and built her own successful conference software platform. She is now an independent consultant and writer for Online Registration Review.
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