Who’s Responsible For Happiness At Your Event?

A couple of months ago I started a workshop with 16 event organizers from a top international organization by asking the question “If you had a magic wand*, what would you like to obtain with your event?”. Surprisingly, most answers were a variation of “I would like the participants to be happy”, “I want to change the world [with this event]”, “I want people to be smiling”. “I want to provide hope and solutions”.

The loquacity of those attending my workshop ended though when I made my following question: “In your organization, who is responsible for the participant’s happiness? Who is the Chief Happiness Officer?”.

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SXSW Panel Proposal – The Future of Conferences: Designing Experiences

I want you
Your vote can take me to SXSW '11

Your vote can take me to SXSW! South by Southwest, the festival dedicated to music, film and interactive technology, gives the opportunity to members of the community to propose panel sessions that will be then exposed to a ponderated voting round by the staff (30% weight on the final decision), the board (40%) and the members themselves (30%).

After my positive experience running the workshop on “The Future of Conferences” at the Lift Conference in Geneva, I decided to up the ante and propose a full session on the new paradigm of conferences which are still governed by solutions to problems from the past.

Visit and vote my proposal here: http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/ideas/view/7711

Description of the panel proposal:

Until recently, organizing a good event consisted in getting a room, a bunch of speakers and an audience. The scarcity of access to quality or updated content was enough a motivator to make people meet. Now, thanks to the Internet we are meeting (physically) more than ever, but our main drive has changed. The focus has moved to offering a remarkable experience. While content is still important, your event or conference has to also be useful, relevant and/or entertaining.

Event organizers have to bring new abilities to the room and concentrate in the crossroads of interaction design, psychology, technology and customer service. Do you still need a big screen? Do you need to have all the attendees or event the speakers in the same room to generate positive interaction? How important is it to have a functional venue, and iPhone app or offer basic commodities like Internet access, a cheap bag full of meaningless (for the attendee) SWAG or free coffee?

Together we’ll explore some of the challenges and possible solutions to organizing this new breed of events that embrace modern technology and create a new kind of experience.

My presentation aims to answer the following questions:

  1. What has changed in the world of live events?
  2. How can interaction and experience design be applied to live events?
  3. Is content still the supreme driver in live events?
  4. Which constrains from live events have changed and how should we address them?
  5. How to apply technology (Internet, mobile, RFID, etc), social networking and other advancements to events?

How to Design a Conference Experience (for Experience Designers)

How do you design an experience for experience designers? Interaction10 was the third edition of an annual conference hosted by the Interaction Design Association (IxDA) that gathered the interaction design community to connect, educate, and inspire each other. Jennifer Bove, co-chair of Interaction10 together with Bill DeRouchey, describes the process of designing the experience of the conference in this article published in FastCompany. The lessons learned during the process are perfectly valid for other events.

Follows an extract of the main points described by Bove (I recommend you to read the full story):

Collaborating with a large team of designers, who all worked as volunteers, we decided to approach the conference experience as designers creating a service, taking every aspect of the experience into account. We thought through the lifecycle of the event, in light of the needs and motivations of the 600+ participants at the event, in their various roles from attendees and speakers to sponsors, volunteers, and conference staff. We used our empathy as designers to imagine what was important to each user at each stage of the experience.

Celebrate the diversity of the community

We had so many quality submissions that we decided to lengthen the curated short sessions, add more community-sourced sessions, and extend the conference from 2.5 to 3 days to make more room for both discussion and content. […] With a diversity of topics, and more concurrent sessions, there would be something for everyone.

Create space for engagement

Instead of booking a sterile convention center, the conference was designed around the idea of a mini-village, with a tented square at the center, an old theatre, an even older restaurant, a pharmacy, a blacksmith’s quarters, and a library. Each of the venues was within walking distance, and each had a distinct character. We matched activities to venues–whether facilitating presentations, discussions, or a quiet crowd–and we designed the flow of traffic to encourage people to engage with the city, and each other, as they walked between venues.

Design for flexibility

While we tried to plan the hell out of everything we could control, we still had to be ready for the unexpected. […] We quickly came to understand that, like a service, we’d never be able to specify how everything would work out to a T, and that we needed to create a framework for the weekend to flow in the ways we’d intended.

Think of the little things

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The Montemagno Recipe for improving Le Web (and any other tech conference)

Marco Montemagno
Marco Montemagno

Marco Montemagno (blog, twitter) followed the live streaming of Le Web Paris 2009 and was terribly bored. He’s no ordinary spectator though. Montemagno is an Italian technology speaker & evangelist, web entrepreneur, TV host… in a few words a 360 degree communicator that has been running an  “internet evangelizing show” throughout Itally called Codice Internet. As most true-heart entrepreneurs, he likes to create (as opposed to destroy) so he compiled a list of 19 suggestions to improve Le Web.

I attended Le Web 2009 and shared many of Marco’s concerns so I decided to re-publish some of his points and build up on top of them. Before going on I warmly recommend you to first read Marco Montemagno’s original article: Why watching LeWeb2009 (and 95% of the conferences) is so boring: 19 things to change

“I started asking myself how it’s possible for a video to be so boring if the speakers and moderators are top level in their business, the content is rich and full of information, the online streaming was excellent and the room was full?” Marco Montemagno

The 19 suggestions issued by Montemagno can be grouped in 3 blocks that are part of the global “event experience”: Format, Show and Interaction. To maintain the correspondence between my comments and those of Marco I will indicate between brackets -like this (1), (2), (3), etc – the link between his suggestions and mine.

The Format

The Format is the structure that holds your event upright and makes it stand out (or not) in the city of skyscrapers made by other events. Like with a building, many elements are at play: design (looks, user experience, etc), functionality, location (venue), the content (who works inside the building)… Marco writes “LeWeb2009 has amazing content ‘served’ in a conference format that’s 30 years old” (1)

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