The festivalization of meetings and events, whereby multiple activities from a variety of fields are programmed to take place over several days, has created a new meetings and events trend: purposeful sub-group meetings.
“It’s about the race for relevance and trying to really find your tribe,” said Dave Lutz, managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, an organization dedicated to improving meetings and events. “I think, over time, people are getting smarter and more precise about what those tribes might look like and trying to have ‘birds of a feather’ come together by design more than by serendipity.”
Lutz sees more roundtables and intentionally designed networking at meetings and events these days, and organizers are arranging groups and conversations around predetermined challenges for discussion.
“[The organizers] basically use those issues to attract dialogue and to have commonality where five or 10 people with similar problems can sit down and try to solve them,” Lutz said. “You can all put your heads together or, if nothing else, cry on each other’s shoulders.”
Just as Twitter users curate specific follow lists or how Facebook users dictate which posts different individuals can see, attendees often find value when event planners segment their experiences at conferences.
“I think everybody’s time-starved and they’re trying to make the most of the time away,” Lutz said. “If I’m a physician, a vet, or a dentist, for example, when I’m not in my practice I’m not making money. I’m willing to invest in my professional development, so how can I get the most of that over a few days at a conference?”
Consider SXSW Interactive and its convergence programing. For SXSports, sessions and networking events were held at the Four Seasons Hotel Austin. Attendees interested in sports business and technology stayed there, only leaving for general keynotes and the trade show.
“Meetings are increasingly focused on making new, high-quality connections (a.k.a. building tribes) and participant-driven learning,” said Adrian Segar, founder of Conferences That Work, which designs and facilitates engaging events. “Both outcomes are more easily achieved in small groups.”
Another example is the International Association of Venue Managers, which is bringing its sector events together for the first time this year at its annual VenueConnect conference. In the past, different sectors such as performing arts and arenas held their own yearly events in different locations. Attendees would go to either the sector or annual conference but rarely both because of time and budget challenges. For VenueConnect in August, sector representatives programmed their own sessions and networking events. What will result is meetings within a meeting, with keynotes and the trade show open for all attendees.
Andrea Driessen, founder of No More Boring Meetings in Seattle, said the idea of sub-group meetings at large events is trending because of specialization, conversation, and customization.
“More fields are becoming highly specialized, so the need and opportunity to meet and talk in depth with colleagues who both understand and can contribute to helping solve a particular problem set is valuable,” Driessen said. “With more demands on our time than ever, meeting goers are hungry for gatherings to offer ‘in-the-trenches’ custom solutions for the most pressing issues.”
Segar said better processes for creating meetings within meetings is important for the continued vitality of large meetings.
“Large meetings/festivals that facilitate and support sub-group meetings related to specific professional jobs or interests or specific entertainment/personal interests, etc., improve stakeholder and attendee satisfaction,” Segar said.