Recently I wrote Meetings And Events As Systems Thinking: The Contact Sport.
I talked about viewing each meeting or event within the larger context of a system using the analogy of a sports season.
Here’s another way to think about your annual conference, event or meeting: part of a community ecosystem.
An ecosystem (or ecological system) is a collection of organisms and the environment in which they live. Ecosystems contain dynamic interactions between plants, animals, microorganisms and their environment. These interactions work together as a functional unit and everything is interrelated.
Ecosystems can vary greatly in size. Some examples of small ecosystems are tidal pools, a home garden, or the stomach of an individual cow. (Yeah, that’s gross but it shows the variety of ecosystems. And, we’ve all attended conferences that felt like all the content and experiences were regurgitation—and not in a good way—of stuff we’ve already had.) Larger ecosystems might encompass lakes, farm fields or forests.
So now, take that concept of the ecosystem and consider your annual face-to-face meeting. Attendees at your event are part of a larger community. The face-to-face meeting is just one event in a specific time that is part of the larger series of community events and experiences. Dynamic interactions occur between attendees, customers, employees, exhibitors, members, sponsors, vendors and the conference organizers throughout the entire year.
Instead of seeing the annual event in isolation as a one-time occurrence, conference organizers could view it as one touch point within a variety of touch points. Then, the event professional might consider connecting that annual event to other face-to-face and virtual events. Conference organizers would think about integrating content through Webinars, blogs, eCommunities and enewsletters. Event organizers might think about yearlong over-arching themes, users’ experiences and global outcomes.
In this model, organizers would build an integrated, spiraling experience across four seasons and the customer would have many opportunities to digest, ponder and consider the content. Learning and retention would increase. Attendees would design customized experiences with multiple ways to connect with others and the content.
So how do you plan such an event?
- the community planning and engagement team (includes content, marketing, meetings and technology members)
- meetings/events experience delivery team (these are the folks that would design online and face-to-face experiences and include player from AV, education, entertainment, logistics, speakers, tradeshow, etc.)
- attendee touch points (webinars, conference eCommunity, eMarketing, online chats, virtual experiences)
- content and experience development
Final thoughts: Ecosystems will fail if they do not remain in balance. Ecologists see an ecosystem as a fundamental life-support service upon which human civilization depends.
It’s time to view the annual face-to-face event as a way to help create a more sustainable community. Don’t see each meeting or event as an isolated production unit that produces specific outcomes that only occur once each year. Instead, view them as ways to generate the life-blood, pulse, oxygen, water, and nutrients for sustainable growth of the community ecosystem. Then you’ll create a healthy community wanting to consume each experience you provide.
So, how could you plan your next event differently with an eye towards creating a sustainable community ecosystem for all of your stakeholders and players?