Our mantra at Engagement Unlimited is "put the participant first."
Well, what do we really mean by that? To us it doesn’t mean choosing smoothies instead of bagels, or rounds instead of theatre style. It means a philosophical shift towards prioritizing each individual over the organizers and speakers. With some extra effort and insight on behalf of the conference organizing committee, the overall value of the conference increases dramatically.
I am a new mother, and my best possible analogy is my personal experience with regards to planning for my labor and delivery. I had a vision in my head of giving birth on my back in a hospital gown with a doctor telling me what to do. After my pre-natal classes (Thank you Childbearing Society! I love you!), I learned that with a midwife and a progressive birthing centre, like BC Women's, I could give birth in a way that is best for me and my baby. That meant possible birthing positions that are more comfortable for me, but could be physically challenging for the midwife. It also meant I could have the supportive team around me helping me along the way (I had a doula, my mom and my mother in law). I was also encouraged to dim the lights, bring a playlist of my favourite music, and wear my own clothes.
Me and my baby were the most important people in the room. I also had an organization (hospital) and a professional (midwife) that embraced the philosophy of allowing me to do what came naturally. They had policies in place and training programs that allowed them to adapt to me vs me having to adapt to them. They understood that the end result is instrumentally better.
What was the result? A safe, healthy, positive birth experience.
So here's is a question you don’t hear every day - Why can’t meeting planners be more like midwives? Well, the answer is that they can.
They have to put the participant experience ahead of their own and ahead of the needs of the venue, the organizational committee, the sponsors, and the speakers. They need to make an extra effort early on to hire the right people, and structure the conference in such a way where people truly learn, connect, and enjoy themselves; the learning will be retained and applied, the connections will turn into a valuable network, and the enjoyment will become lasting shared memories. In the end you’ll have infinitely more ROI, plus a happy venue, organizational committee, sponsors, and speakers. Most importantly you, the planner, will take pride in your work knowing it made a difference and that the extra effort you made up front to put the participant experience was all worth it.