Taking Events Beyond the Status Quo

Lori Halley 05 March 2012 0 comments

Based on the feedback we received in our recent Blog Reader Survey,  it looks like there are a lot of conferences, workshops, fundraisers and other membership events in the works for 2012. To ensure your events stand out from the crowd, create an experience that engages your participants and offer useful, relevant information, you might want to consider taking a fresh – innovative and disruptive – look at your events.

Event innovation

How many people come to your conferences or workshops, take notes and never look at them again? Ed Barnacki, a speaker on innovative thinking, asks this in a thoughtful article - Designing Your Conferences for Ideas and Innovation  - that I found in the CSAE ResourcesBarnacki suggests that if you want to hold meaningful events that engage your membership, you should “question all assumptions to see if they are still useful and relevant,” including the assumption that “conferences are about learning.” He asks “Why do we limit ourselves to learning?”

Barnacki believes that organizations need to establish learning, engagement or innovation objectives or strategies to shape their event.” He challenges event organizers to “question all assumptions” about the sessions you have planned to ensure they are still useful and relevant to your members or your community. He suggests that the core motives or needs of events, such as conferences, should be to:

  • Develop and share ideas
  • Educate and inform
  • Network and socialize
  • Change attitudes and behaviors

In order to ensure that your events are “unique in their focus and design,” Barnacki suggests you apply two rules to your event planning:

Rule #1: The experts at your conference are in the audience, not on the stage.
… For example, the BC Human Resource Management Association emails articles to registrants to prompt them to define a challenge or problem to solve or develop at the event. The goal is to have people leave with enough ideas to shape a solution to a problem they face. 

Rule #2: Always use the brainpower of an audience to create something.
Great ideas are possible when people come together to collaborate.

Event app banner


Use Disruption to Shake Up Your Conference Planning

Gianfranco Chicco (Conference Basics) suggests that to be innovative, event planners should learn – How to Disrupt Your ConferenceIn a blog post a while back, Chicco suggested that while “the Digital Age has not killed in-person events as many predicted but reinforced our need to meet beyond the screen…the industry has become quite mediocre (with notable exceptions of course), filled with what at times seems an unstoppable inertia for how we used to run events 5, 10 or even 50 years ago.”

To ensure your events take your participants beyond the mediocre, he suggests you take the advice of Luke Williams, Professor of Innovation at NYU Stern School of Business and author of Disrupt: Think the Unthinkable to Spark Transformation in Your Business.  In the post, Chicco offers a video in which Williams explains “the steps a conference organizer can take to create a new disruptive experience for the participants and the event business itself.”

In this brief video Williams notes that  he believes the events industry is ripe for disruption. Both organizers and participants want to experience events, like conferences, in a new way. Here are the steps he suggests you go through to “Disrupt your Conference Experience:”

The Steps to Disruption

  1. Identify the clichés of the conference experience - get everything out on the table so you can challenge your “assumptions”
  2. Form disruptive hypothesis  - flip your assumptions inside out (e.g., what if there were no presenters or presentations) - then  you can start thinking creatively
  3. Identify the unmet needs & draft Specific ideas - this can come from insight into problems participants encounter and identify an opportunity …come up with an idea that will allow you to put the identified opportunity into action
  4. Prototype the experience -- test your disruptive idea through a small-scale experiment 
  5. Pitch the idea to the key stakeholders -- be sure you sell the idea to those who control the purse-strings or the sponsors or investors through this 3-step process:
    1. Build empathy -- why should they care? stakeholders (build their empathy by identifying the participants frustration and bring that to life (by telling a story);
    2. Create tension -- spark their curiosity by telling them something they don’t know, an insight they didn’t know about your event participants – identify an unmet need that is driving your new idea.
    3. Build belief in the value of your solution – accurately describe the experience and the advantages involved in making this change. Give your solution a higher purpose or “ethos.” What’s this event doing for the world?

If you want to check out the Luke Williams video – How to Disrupt Your Conference Experience – visit the Conference Basics blog – here. 

Need some help managing your events?


Check out our free webinar: 
Wild Apricot is offering a free webinar on “Managing Events” in Wild Apricot" on March 21 at 3:00 PM (Eastern).

If you are new to Wild Apricot membership management software or want to more information about how to use its features to publish and promote your events – sign up for the 1-hour webinar – here.

Want more information on event planning?


Review the following resources: And, if you're looking for advice on cyclic events, here's a great read on how to maintain high attendance at cyclic events.


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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Monday, 05 March 2012 at 9:35 AM

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