The evolution of conferencing
Humans have been coming together and sharing information since the dawn of time –imagine early cave men gathered around the fire planning the next day’s hunting trip. While a rudimentary example – this is conferencing – a formal meeting of people with a shared interest who come together to exchange information.
Today, conferencing has evolved into an entirely different ball game, as different from those early meetings as chalk is to cheese. We explore just how much conferencing has evolved since those fireside chats…
Conferencing is big business and contributes significantly to the economy. During last year’s Meetings Africa conference, it was revealed that business tourism contributed a whopping R115bn to the South African economy. And these business visitors generally spend more than the leisure traveller – more on hotels, conference centres, restaurants, country clubs and convention centres. According to statistics from The South African National Convention Bureau, SA hosts about one million delegates at business events every year, supporting over 250 000 jobs directly and indirectly in this sub-sector alone.
The early years
Interestingly enough, it seems like no one’s really sure of just when people started coming together and working collaboratively. But for sure, collaboration back then wasn’t about meeting in formal boardrooms – think The Great Wall of China or The Pyramids of Giza.
Collaboration took a more formal turn around the time of the Industrial Revolution – the late 1700s to the 1800s – a period of major industrialisation. It was here that the idea of co-operating for a common business goal became seen as crucial for business success – hence this period had a profound impact on how people lived and the way businesses operate.
Fast forward to the early 1950s and modern project management began to take hold of the business world, using a number of techniques developed in the early 20th century to improve collaboration and teamwork. While this emerging conferencing technology provided the launching pad for conferencing methods still in place today, it was expensive and impractical.
Two notable advancements in the 1950s and 60s paved the way for today’s technology. In 1956, Bell Labs started putting together its first audio conferencing prototypes. In 1964, Bell Labs created the Picturephone, the first videoconferencing phone that debuted at the New York World’s fair. While praised for the sound and picture quality and ability to transmit a video signal across the US, the technology was still limited and expensive. So, it never reached commercial success, but it marked the beginning of interesting research in the field.
Given the massive cost, conferencing was seen as a gimmick for the rich and powerful, and because it was so exclusive – it wasn’t really useful. In 1984 teleconferencing technology took a huge leap, thanks to the work of Concept Communications. At the time teleconferencing was hugely expensive, because of the cost and size of circuitry needed. It cost $100 000 (just over R1.4 million) for computers that weighed around 45 kilograms each. But Concept Communications worked on reducing the circuitry cost to $12 000 so it would fit in a PC and increased the frame rate 15 frames per second to 30, which changed the sector. Their advancements opened up the space for other commercial videoconferencing options.
Technology takes the lead
Today, advancements in technology have transformed the conferencing industry. Smartphones have revolutionised the way we collaborate. It’s changed the basics of conferencing; now a free, fast, stable wi-fi connection is a standard.
Ironically, despite our desire to be constantly connected – we crave more human connections – which is what conferencing offers. Face-to-face connections with like-minded people who can offer new ideas and fresh insights into your areas of interest are invaluable.
Now that we’re a global village, your audience isn’t limited by location. Guests and speakers can attend from anywhere if parts of your event are friendly to virtual attendees; your content gets far more exposure.
Having the internet in the palm of our hands is the norm. Checking into an event is as easy having a cell phone or tablet scanned. But taking this further are innovative applications of Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID). With the rise of wearable technology, you can wear a smart all-access pass on your wrist, which allows for more real-time information collection without interrupting the experience of the occasion.
But an even more exciting advancement is the new updated tracking software that allows event markets to track their event programmes from end to end. A recent report from Splash and the Harvard Business Review examined the impact of tracking on the return of investment of events. This software offers a much deeper look than the usual top of the funnel metrics like number of attendees. The report offers some fascinating insights: “It starts with tracking who’s attending these events and calculating how much potential business is represented by existing customers on that list, based on their previous interactions with the company.”
Post-event, it then tracks the number of new opportunities created within the first 90 days after the event. Finally the software can follow it all the way through to closed sales – so you can have a more detailed report on your actual return of investment.
An added bonus is that the software can also help you understand which events worked and why – so you can do an even better job at meeting your customer’s needs.
Social media has also taken the industry further, as pre event you can leverage social media posts to create added exposure. Exciting, teaser posts not only broaden your audience base but online engagements can help you reach out and connect with your target market both pre and post event. During the event, the use of hashtags is vital to keep the publicity going. This creates added interest and is now also being used to start impromptu get-togethers for attendees so they can engage in conversations in real time.
The science behind it all
There is a science to creating a memorable event. The key is to tap into certain biological responses in the brain to reduce stress, create positive emotions, and free the mind to form memories.
The thinking behind this is that studying the brain, its functions, and needs, provides a better understanding of how to plan for optimal human engagement. Pieter Swart, a Business Events Strategist and the Founder of Conference Consultancy recently ran an International Master Class, The Neuroscience of Event Design.
As he explained at the event, “We are looking closer at science to understand our profession better, to create meaningful meetings and events with impact. To understand what we need to do, we have to understand who we are doing it for. This can become really complex when considering age, gender and various other demographic factors as well as experience and exposure, and above all the event or meeting objectives and desired outcomes. Despite these aforesaid variables, human needs remain the same.”
Because our social concerns are the main drivers of our behaviour, the brain selects or inhibits information based on our motivations and needs. By tapping into this knowledge and getting a deeper understanding of how our brain works, event organisers can create experiences that will optimise attendee’s brainpower and get supercharged results. So in the end it’s all about creating the right brain food – physically and psychologically – which you can do by curating experiences that engage the social brain.
Three tips to help you ensure your next corporate event is a success.
Set goals for attendees:
First ask yourself:
“What do attendees of this event want to accomplish?” Whatever the goal is, design the event with that very specific task in mind and share it with your attendees on event day. Having something to accomplish at the event unlocks pleasure centres of the brain creating happier and more engaged attendees.
Go big and make it a spectacle
Wherever possible, go for the “wow factor!” Having even just one moment that really impresses attendees is a huge bonus. You want your event to be as much of a spectacle as possible – something people won’t forget. This wow factor heightens the ability to comprehend and a shared experience helps people bond better.
Help create new connections
Want to have your attendees walk away happy? Design a format that helps them make new connections with fellow attendees. Getting to know a stranger, gives us something new to focus on. In the beginning it’s like a shot of adrenaline, but as the connection deepens we relax and feel more engaged, thanks to the brain’s release of dopamine-sensitive transmitters.