Surprise Them GF Going to TED for the first time in 2005 was like the road-to-Damascus experience for me, in terms of totally altering how I think about my own work and how I think about the potential of what a conference could be. One of the things that they did that I absolutely loved was, as we were leaving the auditorium, they had us group up with six people who were immediately around us. And instead of herding us into a ballroom for lunch at a round table, they gave us picnic baskets. Every picnic basket had enough food for six people. They gave us an assortment of drinks and they gave us blankets. They had us go out into a grassy area and flop down your blanket to have a picnic lunch with these people. The thing that immediately struck me about this experience was it was so much easier to fall into this fun, natural conversation with people I didn’t know while we were sitting on a blanket sharing a picnic together than if we had been in a banquet hall at a round table. And that’s where the thing about the challenge
of engagement is — that it can never be formu- lated. You can’t just pick up what works some- where else and say, “Do this here.” What if your event is very formal and the dress code is business suits? It would completely backfire to give people blankets, picnic baskets, and for women trying to sit there in their skirts. You have to apply it in ways that work for your audience and for your situation.
Give the People What They Like DS We always try to invite the top three speakers based on the attendee evaluations back the follow- ing year. We like to do that because we feel that if [the speakers] hit it, we pretty much let the people decide — two years in a row and then we kind of rotate them out.
Don’t Trap Them GF When you’re going to have interaction for the sake of interaction, you’re forcing it and doing it in a way that makes people feel a little bit trapped. Interaction can be a really good thing, and it should be a part of the meeting. It’s a part of what makes a conference engaging and a part of what makes people feel [they’ve] bought into it when they have that opportunity. The problem is when we try to make people do it on our terms instead of their terms. You might have a phenomenal lineup of
56 PCMA CONVENE FEBRUARY 2013
From Facebook to Face-to-Face For the first two years, SoMeT was organized entirely through Facebook and Twitter, said founder Dave Serino. Top, Mary Szymkowiak, Dublin Ohio CVB; below, Anne Hornyak, Sparkloft Media, and Harvey and Overby.