THE buzz word for meetings and events in 2019. Every client I meet, every event I attend, every article I read...sustainability is at the forefront of every event planner, convention bureau and venue’s mind – How can we make our meetings greener? How can we reduce, reuse and recycle? How can we decrease our carbon footprint? All extremely relevant and important questions that need answers – but, I am not the one to answer these. I could have written an article highlighting what sustainable measures millennials are looking for at events, however just by googling ‘ The MICE Industry and sustainability’, I got over 2 million results, full of extremely interesting advice and data, written by experts in the field. Instead I am going to discuss the other side of sustainability that is important to millennials and all age groups alike- the importance of building sustainable connections, sustainable networks and sustainable contacts.
In a ‘Decision to attend study’ carried out by the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) it was found that 76% of all generations say events are important to network and build connections – with 49% of millennials rating it as very important, the highest of all the generations. But what is the point of attending these meetings, networking and building these connections, if once back at home – the connection is lost? What are we doing as event planners to ensure the sustainability and longevity of these connections?
I have frequently come back from networking events with a bag full of business cards, delighted with myself that I had made connections with X amount of people. But how can I call it a connection when I look at the business card and cannot put an actual face to the card? Connections should be based on the quality instead of the quantity. It is not physically possible to attend a 2-hour networking lunch and make 50 connections, but it is possible instead to come away with 1-2 good connections.
A recent study conducted by the Havard Business Review (HBR) and published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that face-to-face meetings were 34 times more successful than email. This is obviously fantastic for us and our industry - the MICE industry is built on this power of face-to-face meetings. However, we need to ensure that we are harnessing this power and giving our delegates the instruments and tools that are needed to turn that name on a business card into an actual connection.
I’ve suggested some tips below that can be incorporated before, during and after a conference to help ensure the sustainability of the connections made.
1.Before: Fail to prepare, prepare to fail! You might already be offering your delegates a platform/app to upload their bio, and connect with other delegates before attending a conference... but are you making it compulsory for all delegates to use? When a conference’s programme is uploaded to an app, you can get push notifications to let you know when it is happening. But are you getting notifications to let you know WHO is attending the session too? Apps can facilitate networking and foster connections, but we need to set them up that way. For example, at a recent conference I attended – while 67% of attendees downloaded the app, only 18% actively used it and had their bio and picture uploaded. As one of the people who did use the app, I was disappointed to see so few peoples’ faces and while there were plenty of people I wanted to connect with, I’m not going to contact an egg (avatar) to arrange a meeting!
2. During: During the conference, give time and space for these connections to happen in an organic way – not just during tea/coffee breaks when people typically tend to reach for their phones and emails. An example of how you might facilitate this is by using a solution like E180’s Brain Dates. I personally experienced this at the ICCA Congress in Prague in 2017 and found it really effective. Delegates could find and connect with other attendees through the brain dates app and identify meaningful topics of conversations they could have. A designated room was given to facilitate these meetings at any time and for any length of time i.e. not just during a coffee break!
3. After: Don’t kill the app! Set up your app to be evergreen to allow connections made and content consumed to be accessible year-on-year and all year round. If you can facilitate step 1 and 2 giving delegates the tools and time to foster these connections then step 3, sustaining these connections, will come naturally!
In a recent book by Johann Hari, ‘Lost Connections’, Hari looks at the importance human connections have on our emotional and mental health. As Hari puts it, ‘Connection is the experience of oneness – its having shared experiences, relatable feelings or similar ideas. It is the feeling of belonging to something greater than oneself’. We are so fortunate to work in such an industry where one of our key objectives is connection. We get to offer our delegates a platform to create and foster connections, so let’s ensure we give these connections the ability to sustain for years to come.