You have been managing educational content for MPI’s conferences for more than 10 years. What has changed in society which affects your way of planning this content?
Ten years ago, we would not have had so much content available online, now you can find pretty much anything, both traditional sessions and, increasingly, educational webinars. Also, in the last few years, the experience economy has really kicked in. Four years ago, for MPI’s World Education Congress in Las Vegas, we introduced our participants to the definition of the experience economy; many people saw this as new information which did not really apply to events. Now event professionals understand it, many agencies have rebranded themselves as experiential agencies and their events as experiential marketing. And this view of experience affects professional education: people know now they learn by participating in the experience, not by listening, and people also increasingly want to contribute to the experience.
Leadership has always been very important as an educational topic and we were offering leadership sessions. Now we are making them experiential: for instance, in Seville, we will take delegates to a horse ranch where they can learn about leadership in a new way, using the HorseDream Leadership Development methodology. This requires real leadership: horses don’t care about your rank, and don’t have to be polite with you; they will follow you if you know how to convince them, pay attention to them, know how to lead…and follow.
Do people really want to participate in such a way? Isn’t there also a desire to sit and listen?
People are enthusiastic indeed; I get calls from attendees very eager to participate… but it is true they can get tired; we have to strike a balance. In Seville, half the sessions will be in a more traditional setting, in the conference center, and the other half will be experiential, generally outside the center.
Another growing trend is to get people from outside our industry to bring their perspective…
Yes, this is big, but it is not really new. I have always been very interested in bringing speakers from different environments, that is where inspiration often comes from. You have to find relevant external speakers and help build or identify the bridges with the delegates’ activity. I also still believe attendees can learn a lot from each other.
Yes, the idea that “the wisdom is in the room” gas been around for a while but it is hard to capture people’s knowledge and get them to share it, isn’t it?
Indeed, people don’t always dare, they don’t consider themselves as experts; also they really don’t know what they know and what they can bring to others. There is a lot of room for adding facilitating exchange of knowledge amongst participants. In Seville, we will have a session like this, following the idea that everyone in the room is an expert.
Another thing you have been doing in the previous EMEC is to take people out of the meeting room, a growing trend…
Yes, I have seen a boom of taking people out of the meeting room, but we should do it with a purpose. There has to be an educational opportunity. For instance, in Seville, we will take people to the Airbus factory; there, our facilitators will set up flight simulators where attendees will learn about stress management and decision-making under pressure. And the session at the opera will not be a mere visit, but an opportunity to learn about storytelling.
Are topics changing? Are we moving to softer, more human sciences?
In the future, many technical skills will be outsourced to machines and AI, so the key skills will be what you can’t automate. Educational topics are moving in that direction too, to ensure our community is future ready. And in our industry, there is a huge rise of experience design. Design thinking is very much adopted in companies; now the new layer is the experience design and that is where I see more interest of meeting professionals. 2017 was a year where I was immersed into the world of experience design when I attended conferences such as the College of Extraordinary Experiences and C2 in Montreal. I now see more and more professionals interested in that topic. I learned about many different models, but I especially like the PERMA model (acronym of the five components of good experience design: positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, accomplishment).
This idea of personalized experiences has been around for a while, but we still see personalization of content limited to selecting amongst just four educational tracks…
Tracks is just one way of personalization, but I would like to go beyond that and design education in such a way that we can upscale personalization and make experiences available to larger groups. Personalization is still challenging in a live event setting in financial and logistical terms, but there are also other challenges: if there is too much choice, people get stressed, so you have to make choosing it easy for people.
CSR, topic of the moment, will have its place in EMEC? Is there still much need for education?
Certain elements of CSR have become a standard in meeting design, but there is still a long way to go, there is always room for improvement. In EMEC, one of the learning journeys is centered on CSR: we will go to the Alalá Foundation (a foundation for unprivileged kids) where we will organize a design thinking session where event designers will learn how to have a positive impact on society. Many meeting professionals don’t realize the power they have to change the world; we will make them more aware of it and help them with the skills to start that change.
Final words on this upcoming conference?
The theme is “push your boundaries”, we want participants to change, explore, innovate. Our opening keynote session by Dear World is a wonderful example to get people to move, to push their boundaries. I hope people will just let it happen. They will come out transformed!
EMEC takes place in Sevilla, 9-11 February.