A successful business event should be all about making connections. We should be creating our environment to maximise the interaction between our attendees. However many of the things we do at our traditional business events tend to put up barriers rather than remove them.
The psychology team at the Meetology Group specialise in exploring human behaviour at meetings and psychological research has shown that for example the environmental limitation (small rooms) can impact on our mental abilities and they agree that fewer physical barriers may hinder cognitive performance as well as networking.
So with a bit of science to back up my ideas here are 10 barriers busting ways to improve the interaction and engagement of your participants:
1. Structure Networking
I believe it is one of the priorities of planners to structure networking to ensure that those who want to meet and value networking are properly supported. As soon as attendees arrive, you should be thinking about how to subtly and not so subtly structure networking.
So let’s do that, for example having an area specifically for “new attendees” during the first half of your event is a wonderful way to help your new participants meet and mingle. There are loads of simple and easy ways to structure networking, try to break down those walls between attendees.
2. Go Without Badges
Recently at an event I started speaking to a lady on a stand without introducing myself. It was an exhibition so everyone had a badge and I knew that eventually I would see her badge and then be able to call her by her name. Talk about a barrier!
Why didn’t I just say “Hello, my name is William, and you are......?” I didn’t do this because there was this 4 inch by 3 inch plastic barrier between us. If you don’t have badges, people tend to speak to each other and more informally.
The Event Innovation Summit in Barcelona did exactly that and ditched badges altogether. Eric Eventoplus Director General said: “The idea is that people really connect rather than awkwardly try to read a name when the other party is not looking. It is true you really do listen to the other party rather than try to spot a name.” No doubt a brave and bold decision for any organiser but I say GO FOR IT!
3. If You Are Wedded to Badges Change Them
I know crashing down the badge wall can be a big step so how about reducing their destructive power by not sticking with the labels of “Speaker”, “Delegate”, “Exhibitor” and “Sponsor”. These labels tend to tell you who NOT to speak with rather than who to converse with.
What about letting people choose between labels that allow them to identify with the topic? At one of our events last year we had badges for “Top Dog” and “Scaredy Cat” and participants chose them with regard to their knowledge of Event Technology. This really helped people instantly talk about the content and their knowledge and removed those awkward mid rift squinting moments.
4. Don’t Have Speakers on Stage Until They Speak
One of the best barriers to concentrate on removing is the one that sits awkwardly between speakers and attendees. When we place them all on a table at the start of the session and they move, like on air, from table to lectern we are placing them on a platform that is hard for our attendees to get over.
So let’s invite our speakers up from the audience when they are ready to speak and send them back to be among the other participants in a barrier crumbling way.
5. Ask Your Chair to Moderate From the Audience
I suppose this is similar to the above but this places your chairman rather than your speakers at the heart of the event; think of her as the Quarterback!
She’s among the audience at one point and then darting up to the stage to introduce a speaker. This really helps create a more communal atmosphere and helps us turn our attendees into participants.
6. Have a Social Sidekick
Not everyone likes to stick up their hand, wait for a mic and then voice their thoughts or concerns to a packed audience. This is the barrier for so many of our attendees. Having another way for our participants to engage with speakers and indeed other attendees is crucial.
Having a social sidekick monitoring and pitching in with comments from social networks or being in charge of the specific event technology designed for anonymous questions will increase the interaction and blow away that barrier.
7. Throw Some Mics Around
What a wall exists as we sit and wait for a mic to be passed or carried around the room! Throwing a mic between attendees and maybe even between stage and audience will see the barriers fall like the Berlin wall.
8. Remove Tables and Shell Schemes from Our Exhibition
Expos and smaller exhibitions seem to be designed to place barriers between people. Horrible grey stands with trestle tables and all manor of things between seller and buyer do little to bring people together. The conformity of the fixed shape and size of traditional exhibitions does nothing to create a space where people want to mingle. Start from scratch and look to remove physical barriers rather than add them.
John Bardshaw MD at Meetology agrees with me and he’s pitched in his view on this “It’s always been a surprise to me that many exhibition stands/booths have a barrier between the supplier and potential customer. Whilst things have certainly improved in recent years with open stands being more prevalent I hope one day the majority of stands will adopt this more welcoming approach”
9. Reinvent Registration
Is your registration point a flood wall like barrier at your event? There is nothing worse than arriving at an event to find those kiosk with “A to F”, “G to P” etc. What a massive eyesore of a barrier to your event! Let’s reinvent registration. Let’s make sure your attendees don’t spend unwanted and unnecessary time queuing to get into your event; to pick up an unnecessary badge or paper copies of the things they could already have electronically.
Attendees hate queuing and nothing smacks of bad event management more than lines especially at your registration. So look at quick registration tools and seriously ask yourself do we actually need the first point of call at your event to be your registration?
10. Go To a Creative Venue
If you hold your event in a stale, white, lightless room you will create so many barriers to a successful event. Spaces like this become a barrier to learning, they stymie genuine interaction and they suck the life blood from your event. So rather than break down these barriers seek out the creative spaces. We will host our Who Stole My Audience? event at Bounce in London and this is a great example of the type of creative meeting space that is cropping up in almost every big city.
John Bradshaw supports my feelings with some science, he adds:
“In terms of creative venues there is a huge amount of scientific research around what works and what doesn’t. Small groups, creative art, blue walls and green plants have all been shown to impact positively on creativity levels but at the heart of group creativity is people meeting more easily” and this is surely done by reducing some of the barriers we’ve highlighted."
William Thomson is an event consultant for Gallus Events and curator of events for event professionals. His events try to practice what he preaches. Who Stole My Audience in April and Tech Fest in June both take place in London.