Opening roundtable – summary, evaluations, and comments

Here’s our first in a series of summaries of the sessions held at EventCamp™ East Coast. We begin at the beginning, with a summary of the opening roundtable. We have also added participants’ evaluations of and comments on this session.

Photo by Karen Brown

Opening Roundtable
EventCamp East Coast (EC²) co-organizer Traci Browne recalled the history of the EventCamp series, beginning with informal conversations and twice-weekly chats over the #eventprofs hashtag on Twitter. After getting to know each other online, participants agreed to meet in person in New York City last February, then at three concurrent locations for EventCamp Twin Cities in September, providing powerful proof that online meetings needn’t take away from face-to-face—in some communities, virtual events actually create more live engagement.

Facilitator Adrian Segar congratulated the EventCamp community for creating “the freedom to do regional events and do them differently.” He explained that the “structured unconference” format of participant-driven events began about 20 years ago, a product of participants’ dissatisfaction with traditional meeting formats. As an academic, Segar found it frustrating to attend meetings with hundreds of participants that provided no mechanism to find the 10 or 20 he would have wanted to talk to.

“It was all about status and getting to ask a question at the end,” he said. In response, Segar spent the ensuing 20 years “trying to create events I would want to go to,” gradually countering skepticism about events that have no pre-determined agenda until the participants themselves create it.

“I’m fascinated that this is a self-referential event, since it’s for event planners,” he said. “I learn from every event, but you people are particularly well set to provide great feedback about making this approach even better.”

Segar stressed the importance of the networking session Friday evening, part of which would be devoted to identifying possible session topics for Saturday and gauging participants’ interest in attending them. “You all know what traditional events are like,” with planning committees spending six to 12 months figuring out what participants will want to talk about onsite. “It’s structured around the content and speakers, and there’s this truism that most of the exciting stuff really happens in the hallways. This kind of event is different. We don’t have any agenda. I have no idea what we’ll be doing tomorrow, but by the end of this evening, we will.”

Segar said a principal goal of the Conferences That Work design is to create an “intimate kind of structure, where it’s possible to talk about things you probably wouldn’t talk about at a traditional event.” That atmosphere doesn’t always lead participants to discuss sensitive or confidential topics, but the possibility is always there—which is why EC² organizers decided not to live-stream their event. While participants were free to tweet content from the conference floor, Segar asked them to hold any notes from the opening roundtable until after it concluded, so they could concentrate on listening to each participant. The content capture team onsite was asked not to attribute individual participants by name or quote sensitive content in the post-conference report.

Segar presented the ground rules for the conference, in the form of four freedoms and two rules:

  • The freedom to talk about the way you see things, rather than the way others want you to see
  • The freedom to ask about anything puzzling
  • The freedom to talk about whatever is coming up for you
  • The freedom to say that you don’t feel you have one or more of the first three freedoms
  • The understanding that conference deliberations will remain confidential
  • An undertaking to start and end sessions on time

“If you apply the four freedoms in our next day and a half together, you’ll create an empowering event for yourself,” Segar said. He described the structure of the meeting as an opportunity to “participate and contribute to what this event is and turn it into what you want it to be. If you don’t say anything, the event will go on without you, but you won’t be reflected in it.”

For the remainder of the session, participants talked about what brought them to EC², what they hoped would happen during the conference, and what experience or expertise they might be able to share with the group. In their comments, they focused on:

  • The importance of understanding issues from clients’ perspective
  • How effective communications and “practical creative” can build better brands, communities, and events
  • Opportunities to treat conference content as a strategic resource that helps clients build engagement and draw wider audiences after a meeting concludes
  • The importance of effective speakers and peer-to-peer events in keeping participants engaged, particularly with more experienced audiences
  • The need to “get out of this observing and absorbing model” of face-to-face meetings and adopt more innovative speakers and approaches
  • The possibility of using participant-driven events to create connections among people who have issues or objectives in common
  • The need for an online community or some other resource to help event professionals get information, answers, and mentoring on participant-driven events
  • Strategies for drawing attendees and sponsors to trade shows, making the onsite experience more valuable to them, and designing floor plans that promote greater interaction
  • Methods of using improv as a learning tool
  • The challenges some participants anticipated in encouraging their organizations to step outside comfortable patterns and try new approaches to their events
  • The need for every meeting and event professional to develop expertise in onsite emergency planning
  • The importance of clear standards that will help distinguish qualified event professionals from people who occasionally plan a relative’s wedding
  • Uses of technology to create social and collaborative experiences at meetings and events
  • The importance of people and process in ensuring that meetings make best use of available technologies
  • Opportunities to “stop shoving people into chairs” by introducing more creative uses of meeting design, social media, exhibit design, and onsite content
  • The importance of mapping the design, message, and content of a meeting back to the host organization’s wider communications strategy
  • Methods of combining social media with face-to-face meetings to build a continuum from before to during to after the event
  • The need to make meetings more sustainable, particularly since the industry is the second-largest producer of waste by sector, after construction
  • Uses of hybrid meetings to keep participants engaged and build larger audiences in spite of severe travel restrictions
  • Opportunities for meeting and event professionals to share tips and best practices
  • The need for a revenue model for participant-driven events
  • The power of partnerships and integration in building a successful meeting and event industry
  • The importance of telling the industry’s story at a time when meetings have unfairly been portrayed as a wasteful in a tough economy
  • The role of Unconferences and other peer-driven meeting models as the economy recovers
  • The need for event planners to “abolish that lowly supplier category” and think of their vendors as partners, community members, leaders, and event advocates
  • The impact of room design features on the success of an event
  • The continuing search for new ways to get adults engaged in learning—some of them presented at “the most not engaging sessions” at past conferences
  • The opportunity to design interactive meetings in a way that helps participants optimize their brain functioning
  • Uses of social media to build engagement with associations and “make people want to be a part of something”
  • The potential of different mobile applications to add value and impact to meetings and events
  • Use of sponsorship and technology tools to build meetings “that make money, not just for us, but for our clients”
  • Opportunities to engage and build relationships through Twitter and other innovative tools
  • Ways of building on an amazing community of event professionals that began with a moderated chat online and grew into a forum for sharing ideas and best practices

A participant said she had become “totally engaged” with the EventCamp community after deciding to check out EventCamp Twin Cities “for maybe 15 minutes, maybe 15 seconds,” then realizing she had found a center for innovation and creativity at events. “I am the ROI people are looking for as far as proof that a virtual event can attract a face-to-face attendee” she said. “I’m here because ECTC captured my imagination.”

Session summaries produced by The Conference Publishers, the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repackaging conference content.

Roundtable evaluations and comments

It was a wonderful way to get to know the group dynamic and personalities
It was a great way to meet everyone and so much more effective than any speed-intro process I’ve ever participated in. The facebook really allowed me to maximize who was who and why they were attending.
Could have saved a little time with less explanation of the freedoms.
It was wonderful to be able to hear a little bit about everyone prior to the social, so we could start conversation.  Perhaps only give people 2 minutes with a group over 40 people, and ask that they spend most of their time on their expertise and what they want to get out of the event, rather than promoing their company or product.
Very interesting and very valuable comments by all about the topics at hand. Learned a lot..
I enjoyed learning about the people that were attending the event. I appreciated that a lot. In fact – this was a key to the success of the event…and why i rate it so high. 

Opportunity area for improvement: you need to learn how to get to the point a little faster or use some visual aides for us visual learners.

Seemed very long.  enjoyed getting to know everyone but wonder if it could be more streamlines; have the “facebook” include bios or post the questions to attendees in advance so we may prepare them ahead of time.
Excellent process for getting to know each other and knowing the composition of the group.  I felt it was a bit too much sitting and listening.  Suggest some breaks and/or interactive teambuilding activities to break it up.
it was not a discussion we rushed through out input in a minute. moderator used most of the time. a more balanced time allotment might give attendee time to offer input and ideas without rushing
I think the explanation of the freedoms and confidentiality could have been a bit quicker.  Many comments on this that they understood just by reading them.  No need to expand unless someone has a question.
It was a great opportunity to learn about people. I loved the sharing and the chance to speak.  That said, it was a little hard to follow because after a certain number of people differentiation became increasingly difficult. Perhaps having a shorter break between every 10 people as opposed to every 20 would have made it easier
Great way to introduce the group to each other and encourage conversation within the group.
Only reason I didn’t give it a High rating was that many of the attendees overstepped their time limit. I realize it’s hard to shut down someone when they’re on a roll! I’ve been a president of a networking group where they only had 60 seconds per person. Tough to do, but necessary, since the later participants get short-changed.
Great way to break the ice. Another thing that I enjoyed a lot was the 2 page attendee list with the pic of the attendees. Allowed us to write notes on who each person was at the roundtable discussion.
Time could have been better managed. Distractions should have been better managed.
Some good resources were discussed – would have preferred that each roundtable been led by someone with more background in that particular area
My rating for the end result of the roundtable discussion is a high but I was a bit skeptical for parts of the process. 

Perhaps because I can be a typical New Yorker at times I felt the Roundtable was a bit too “touchy/feely” at times.  I also wondered if a portion of this process could have been done online before hand, allowing us to jump into the Unconference a bit sooner.   Of course it was not long before I saw the value in the process, although have spent quite a bit of time since I’m home trying to figure out how to create the same intimacy in a much larger group.  I can not imagine going through the Roundtable process with more than 40 people.  What is the cut off when it losses it’s effectiveness?

do rules and policies prior to coming to conference and have everyone tweet their consent perhaps? we wanted to get to the meeting and getting into topics
Incredibly helpful in getting to know everyone. I was confused by the pens in the middle of the room…kept thinking we would use them for a group exercise.
It took a long time, but I don’t think there’s anyway around it. Maybe have more and longer breaks in between? With snacks? or (dare I say it) wine?
Great discussions, but could have used a bit more physical activity and or change of pace.
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2 Responses to Opening roundtable – summary, evaluations, and comments

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