As an Advisory Board member of SXSW 2012 and a 3-times veteran of the event, the organizers interviewed me about what is the best “tool” to network with other attendees. SXSW was interested in stories about particularly serendipitous moments from past SXSW Interactive Festival that we have attended.
Reflecting over a busy year of conferences and the main characteristics that made my experience as an attendee better, I always come back to event size and intimacy.
In his recent article “An industry challenge: build “MicroSXSW” to bring back fun times at SXSW”, Robert Scoble complains on the big size that South by Southwest (Interactive) has gained over the last editions and the negative consequences that it has brought (over crowded, long waiting/queuing times, packed spaces, absurdly high prices of hotels and “big massive parties where you collect a lot of business cards but don’t have any good conversations to show for it”).
As a conference organizer it is your responsibility to address this issue by acknowledging the causes and designing into your event experience several moments for smaller groups to gather, increasing the possibilities for good conversations to occur.
In a previous article I wrote that the 2010 edition of Le Web had about 3,000 attendees which could be both a networking blessing or a nightmare. For me it was the former as I managed to have those 8 or 10 meaningful meetings that justified my stay in Paris. I was able to do so thanks to Presdo Match, an online tool for messaging and scheduling meetings during conferences which makes it easy for the attendees and exhibitors to find each other based on matching interests, enabling them to securely communicate and schedule one-on-one meetings at an event
Eric Ly (linkedin, twitter), previously a co-founder of Linkedin, is the founder of Presdo which launched the scheduling tool Presdo Match in September 2010. In the video below he describes the features and future goals for Presdo Match.
I’m not surprised that Eric had received meeting requests from several of the other conference organizers attending Le Web, as facilitating networking between attendees is one of the main goals we have when organizing an event. There are not many good off-the-shelf tools out there that can be easily implemented and building your own is often not a road we want to follow (costs, maintenance, constant tech updates, etc). As he said at the end of the interview, “It seems we touched a pain point here”.
When talking about a conference, past or present, one of the first questions asked is the number of attendees involved. It seems that an event for 3.000 people is better than one for 30. Apart from events that live through selling tickets, in which the amount of units sold is one of the main metrics to judge its success, the quality of the relationships created is the most influential characteristic on the long term.
Imagine the Davos World Economic Forum with 10.000 people… no effective discussions could take place. When you participate to a conference what do you value most, to meet a lot of prospects that never become clients/partners/providers/etc or few ones that boost your business?
Gianluca Diegoli, an Italian marketer that has created the famous blog of “minimalistc marketing” [mini]marketing (in Italian), presents a similar point of view in his popular e-book “[mini]marketing – 91 arguable thesis for a different marketing” (title in Italian: “[mini]marketing – 91 discutibili tesi per un marketing diverso“). The book presents 91 marketing concepts derived from Diegoli’s own experience. For now it is only in Italian but it should be translated to English soon.
I noticed with interest the following one:
If you organize an event, the number of participants is no longer a fundamental issue: consider instead the quality of the conversation created by the event.
The Poken is a small cute electronic gadget resembling a USB key that according to the small Swiss company that created it can become your social business card.
It is based on RFID technology and it allows you to share your online social profiles like LinkedIn, Facebook and MySpace or instant messaging contact like MSN (much more services are added frequently through Poken’s powerful API that does not require the company to make a partnership agreement with the websites involved).
The Poken resembles a japanized creature with a white four-fingered hand. To connect to a friend you simply have to do a “high-four” between two Poken’s little hands. A light will blink showing the result of the connection and the data communication lasts about one second (it can hold up to 64 profiles at once inside the memory of the Poken). It even has a “discreet mode” so that you can fake a connection with people you don’t really want to share your information with.