Eric de Groot says conferences shouldn’t have audiences they should have participants.

What would your delegates do if they walked into a conference room to be met with a man standing on a stage in the centre of the room surrounded by chairs and nowhere to sit?

Would they be confused? Apprehensive? Wonder if those working at the venue hadn’t got the room set up completed on time? Or would they simply be curious?

Some of those thoughts were rushing around the heads of MEA attendees when the doors opened to Eric de Groot’s Meeting Design Workshop. There was the Dutchman, dressed in jeans and a smart jacket, standing on a stage with chairs piled all around him.

The co-author of a book on meeting design – Into the Heart of Meetings – the Netherlands-based trained actor and presenter said that if we calculate the return on investment of every single meeting that is taking place in the world right now, 90 per cent of those meetings should be cancelled immediately.

“Because ROI comes from what people do afterwards. Meetings should be about behavioural change, and that happens when you do stuff [in the conference],” he said.

de Groot told delegates to close their eyes where they were standing and picture 10 green frogs sitting on a log on a lake.

“At the same moment five of them decide to jump. After that how many frogs are still on the log? You may have said, of course five, but that seems so simple, there must be something else going on… The answer is there are still 10 frogs on the log because making a decision doesn’t change the situation. To change the situation you have to jump.

“And that’s what’s going on in meetings all the time. We make decisions [within the meeting] and then afterwards we don’t do anything. We as a meetings industry have to guarantee that the people coming home from their meeting change stuff, otherwise we’ve lost.

“Meetings should have an impact in the real world. This is a virtual world here [in the conference room]. The real world is out there when the meeting is over.”

Destination selection

Another key presenter at the conference, Siobhan McRay, from Nandos Australia, who in 2014 has a $500,000 budget for the company’s conference, told delegates that with such a huge investment Nandos established its objectives for the conference before doing anything else: “If you know your objective, you can then understand what success looks like. It can then be measured and, therefore, as a business you can understand if you received a positive ROI,” she said.

The conference was book-ended by Nigel Collin who asked the question: Is your conference too boring? Collin sited statistics taken from micenet AUSTRALIA’s most recent independent research on meetings which found that meetings should have more participation to achieve greater outcomes.

To the question: What is your view on increasing interaction at conferences? results were:

  • Vital as it increases engagement, retention of information and improves networking – 56 per cent
  • Good as it maintains the attention of the audience and makes the experience more enjoyable – 35 per cent
  • Irritating and a distraction from the business purpose – two per cent
  • No opinion as it makes little or no difference to the business outcome – seven per cent

He left MEA delegates with the question: What are you doing to keep your audience engaged? and asked delegates to think about one thing they would change or action as a result of their experiences at the conference.