Q&A: All About the Hall
Discover five tips for creating a compelling attendee experience through great hallway conversationsby Michael McAllen | Published in September 2009 meetings | networking | Q&A | Departments
Discover five tips for creating a compelling attendee experience through great hallway conversations
With more and more great content available online, the in-person meeting planner needs to deliver powerful face-to-face experiences. The biggest benefit of the face-to-face experience is interaction with other attendees — those informal, peer-to-peer conversations that spring up in the hallways outside of the formal meeting program — says Jay Smethurst, director of Orlando, Fla.-based Sente Corporation. Recently, Michael McAllen of MeetingsPodcast sat down to talk with Smethurst, whose company provides strategic modeling and conference visualization services. Here are Smethurst’s five tips for making those hallway conversations extraordinary, and your meeting unforgettable.
1. Create a “Town Center.” If you think of hallways as the way to get from here to there, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity. The speakers and breakouts are an important part of meetings, but people are increasingly coming expressly to talk with other attendees. Consequently, the hallways are becoming the main event. Design your foyer to be the “village green” or “Grand Central Station.” People are coming and going throughout the day, but they need a place to sit comfortably, get a refreshment, and discover new people and ideas.
2. Design Spaces for Conversation. Your village green needs to have some variety. Think about the most vibrant piazzas of Europe — they include both open spaces and nooks and crannies for comfortable, intimate conversations. Your seating areas should include both prospect and refuge. “Prospect” means that each small seating area should offer a vista onto the rest of the community — you want to be able to see at least a glimpse of the ideas and people swirling through the event. “Refuge” means that each conversation space should offer some sense of privacy and safety — use plants, couches and small tables to carve out spaces for groups of three to five to sit and talk.
3. Bring Content into the Light! You’ve assembled a great group of speakers, facilitators and content experts for your meeting. Why not bring all of those great ideas out of the darkened ballrooms and into the town center? Create a display of the content from your keynotes, panels and breakout sessions, and invite your attendees to engage with it. Ask speakers to create a single slide that highlights their most important ideas. Ask attendees to share the notes they took. Or hire graphic recorders to create illustrated notes from each breakout session and display the results in the commons. Any of these techniques will encourage people to discuss the content, give them immediate access to the content from the sessions they attended, and provide them with highlights from sessions they were not able to attend.
4. Give Them Tools. Have you ever found yourself in a great discussion at a meeting, madly patting your pockets or rifling through your bag for a pen and a piece of paper? “Here, I just want to show you this idea!” These hallway conversations are about collaboration — sharing ideas and experiences to, ideally, create something new. So let’s give our attendees all the tools we can think of to help them share and develop their ideas. Even a small smattering of whiteboards in your town center will encourage spontaneous brainstorming sessions to take place. Flip cameras allow people to give a quick reaction to the session they just attended. Surveys and kiosks allow people to engage with each other and with virtual attendees to your event. Be creative — any tools will be more helpful than what is normally available in a hallway.
5. Attract People to the Commons. Once you’ve assembled all of these resources in a central place, use every trick you can think of to drive traffic there. Play music (strategically). Project photos of attendees at various sessions and activities. Put up the Twitter feed from your event’s hashtag in the center of the village green. Offer live surveys of attendees, and post the results. Record an interview with the CEO. Put the coffee and snacks in the center of this space. Make this space the place to be — the nexus of great content, great people and great conversations — and your event will be unforgettable.