Trendwatch: Reinventing Meeting  Formats

Corporate meetings are at a crossroads. Attendance is lagging, and while there may be some economic factors keeping people away, meeting fatigue is a significant factor. Potential attendees who traditionally sought educational and networking opportunities at events are seeking the information and community they need online, so planners are finding the sell harder than ever before.

There is a new model that may be lighting the way for meetings. It is turning the traditional meeting structure on its head, and it’s responding to the way people are interacting and doing business in 21st century.

In the 2014 book, “Reinventing Organizations: A Guide To Creating Organizations Inspired By the Next Stage of Human Consciousness,” Frederic Laloux articulates the framework needed for better organizations that can grow and adapt to work in complex environments. He found that the most successful organizations organize by natural hierarchies, rather than power pyramids, and that they are living entities that must constantly adapt to change, opportunity, and external forces.

What Does This Mean for Meetings?

Meetings are becoming more unstructured, hands-on, and focused on networking and collaboration. Millennials are driving this change, but innovative meeting planners are implementing these approaches to make events more appealing to the full range of attendees.

One way this manifests is the unconference concept. At an unconference, no topics are predetermined, no keynote speakers are invited, no panels are arranged. Instead, the event is defined by the participation of its attendees, who decide what topics will be discussed and they convene the individual breakout sessions. An unconference has no agenda until the participants create it.

Unconferences are about empowering attendees: they share their expertise while having the opportunity to have an unfiltered exchange of ideas. They’re the Burning Man of meetings. Actually, they share quite a lot with the Burning Man ethic; unconferences emphasize participation on every level. There are technical organizers, but the content belongs to and comes from the participants, who build the events in a bottom-up self-organized process. Participants don’t know what they will discover, but they do know that there will be a chance to present their ideas or proposals, to learn from others, and to get new contacts or to refresh old ones.

Creative Collaboration Sessions

Another angle is all-day collaboration sessions. For example, we’re offering a team collaboration option in which attendees tap into the musical creativity to develop an original composition in a small group. At the end of the day, there are performances that not only demonstrate a range of musical styles, but also a range of decision-making and interaction styles.

There are myriad other approaches, of course. Afterburner seminars teach flawless execution. Open space problem solving is replacing breakout tracks on core education the corporation wanted covered. Webinars are taking meetings outside of physical space, reaching thousands who can’t attend.

As technology continues to drive innovation, and as participants become excited by and become accustomed to nontraditional, unstructured, collaborative events, we will be seeing rapid evolution in meeting formats. We’re eager to see where it’s headed.

How do you feel about this new mode of meeting? Is it curing your meeting fatigue? Tell us what works for you, and what doesn’t.