Conferences: Rethinking the status quo
In August 1981, the entire International team at General Electric Information Services (GEISCO) crowded into John Wood’s cubicle to gaze, drop-jawed, at the newly unveiled IBM PC. Soon, everyone would be turning away from their typewriters and rushing toward their state-of-the-art computer keyboards. The future had arrived! But, what were our first applications? Why, we dragged our office chairs belly up to the keyboards and began to type! We used these space-age devices to do what we had always done. Granted, for the fastest typists, we no longer had to wait for the carriage return. But, still, all we saw was a sleeker version of what we already knew.
Within a few years, all that was blown out of the water. Coupled with the Internet, the computer age exploded into what innovative thinker and one of the world’s leading authorities on the impact of technology on business and society Don Tapscott titles “Paradigm Shift” in his 1993 book and “Digital Economy: Promise and Peril in the Age of Networked Intelligence” in his book the following year. Since then, technology has upended everything we thought we knew and opened up infinite possibilities for innovation and collaboration.
One more point. Sometimes, restrictions imposed on us, whether it be a business challenge or lack of resources, can spur creativity. Some artists intentionally self-impose restrictions. Such was the case with American-British singer David Byrne, founding member, songwriter, and lead singer of the 80’s band Talking Heads. In 2004, Byrne produced a multimedia avant-garde art project using PowerPoint by “turning PowerPoint’s bars and lines, stock images and clichéd phrases into his creative playground.”
Paradoxically, the restrictions of COVID-19 may also be providing us with the next paradigm shift and prodding us into ground-breaking creativity. Associations that previously depended on in-person conferences to both meet their members needs and to generate necessary revenue must find new ways to satisfy those needs. This is the perfect time to apply the procurement professional’s tool of value analysis, an organized effort directed at analyzing the functions of a product or service including specifications, standards, practices, and procedures with the intent to satisfy the required function at the lowest possible cost without impacting functional need and suitability.
Let’s begin by laying out the functional needs. Why do members attend Forum? Requirements include opportunities to network, bond, learn new practices, deepen our knowledge and experience of one another, benchmark, experience, vent, challenge ourselves, lead, stimulate our minds, become inspired. If we can’t network in the grand ballroom or outside on a patio with games and never-ending trays of food and drink, what can we do? What about breakout rooms that participants are randomly placed in that change every 15 minutes while colleagues sit comfortably and safely at home cradling beer, wine, cocktails, or juice boxes and savor conversation and customized appetizers?
Did you meet someone new and make plans to follow up after the conference? Score a free webinar, textbook, or online class. Watch for the next cloudburst of digital swag! How many of you were able to attend the conference this year because it was virtual? Is it your first Conference? Use breakout rooms to meet with mentors who can advise you on how to get the most out of the conference. How about a benchmarking session? Participants in the session all respond to polling questions on a particular topic, view the results in real time, and then discuss their different laws and approaches.
Want to know your colleagues better? You’re invited into their homes, virtually, of course. Meet their families, have their children introduce learning sessions, and provide between-session entertainment. Or share some family rituals with your colleagues. Are there special books you read or songs you sing when it’s bedtime for your children? Would you like to tell the story behind a favorite piece of art or a treasured family heirloom? Maybe an association leader would like to share a recipe and actually lead a cooking class, after which you all sit down together to a virtual dinner? Let’s find out who members would like to spend time with, hold a conversation with. Let’s arrange it!
What about best practices that we can bring back to our offices? Attend virtual conferences with online chat features to hold dynamic conversations during pre-recorded presentations with time at the end for live Q&A with the presenter? How about an “open house” with informal conversations with experts on topics important to you?
Not ready to call it a day? Visit the all-night Zoom room to hold your person debrief with colleagues. Feel like creative expression? There’s a Zoom Marketing room, where you can play reporter or podcaster, or create blogs, articles, poems, or stories.
And what about the keynote speakers? How will conference organizers inspire their members? With travel expense no longer being a concern, we can now engage almost anyone as a keynote speaker. And with technology continually advancing, how can we use 3-D backgrounds and images to amaze and entertain our audience? We can deliver! The question is: When we have opportunities to blast open the lid and create something new, will we take the leap, or will we withdraw to safety and choose to recreate what we already know?
Lisa Frank , NIGP Global Practices Manager, collaborates with public procurement practitioners and academics to conduct research and develop useful guidance on public procurement topics.