How to Disrupt a Meeting

Mike Walsh is the CEO of Tomorrow, a global consultancy on designing companies for the 21st century. He advises leaders on how to thrive in the current era of disruptive technological change. Mike’s bestselling books include Futuretainment and The Dictionary of Dangerous Ideas. He hosts the weekly podcast, Between Worlds, and travels worldwide over 300 days a year researching trends and giving keynote speeches on the future of business and innovation.

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As a futurist, I’ve attended thousands of events over the years. Some good, some bad–yet ironically, despite the fact that most meetings are focused on innovation, the basic format of the conference is relatively unchanged. But what if we took a more disruptive, data-driven approach?

Data is a curious thing. As consumers, we have an inkling that our daily activities–what we buy, what we do, and where we go–are analyzed and acted upon. But somehow, when it comes to wrangling a herd of humans into a room, we forget that the very same tools are available to us as well. You don’t have to be a software engineer from Google or Amazon to run a smarter meeting. You just need to think like one for a minute.

Here are a few ideas to get you started!

Integrate with Your Cloud Platforms

I’m betting your company has already made investments in a number of cloud-based, enterprise platforms. Here is your chance to put them to work. Whether your meeting involves clients, investors, media, or even just your own team–you have an incredible opportunity to collect and share data with those very systems.

Work with HR, marketing and IT to learn whether your event registration page can be integrated with your company’s CRM or HR system. If so, you will be able to track when someone who attends a meeting becomes a customer, when a formerly loyal client stops coming to your events, or how engaged a team member is–providing valuable, indisputable ROI insights for when you seek approval for next year’s meeting budget.

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Create a Live Data Visualization

Data is most powerful when it can be used to inspire action. A tweet wall might have been exciting when you did it in 2012, but in 20016, you should think bigger.

Brainstorm potential real-time data sources that you can share and visualize on screens around your event. You might display interesting demographics of attendees (cities of origin, languages spoken, birthday month clusters), destination data (traffic, popular hashtags, breaking news) or even internal data from your company (web visits, brand mentions, new customer sign-ups). Use Infogr.am to take this data and create a live data visualization.

Retail technology can be another useful tool to analyze attendee behavior at your event. Aislelabs, for instance, provides a way to track and visualize where people are congregating based on their wifi usage. In a big event, using a heat map to show where the action is, is a great way to encourage spontaneous networking activity or help someone find a less crowded room to watch a session in.

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Rethink the Attendee Survey

Sometimes the best data comes not from what people say, but rather from what they do. Measure how many tweets are sent during a particular session or how many photos were shared on Instagram during social events–as a gauge for impact. You might ask your speakers to create a summary of their talk, and then track how many people actually download it–to measure how interested people were in the topic.

If you want to survey your audience, consider using Typeform, which allows you to create more interesting, human ways of asking questions. Rather than prompting for a star rating, ask attendees for 3 words that best describe the session and what they learned, and create a tag cloud of their responses.

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Hold a Data Debrief

The key to running a good data debrief is to think carefully in advance about what you want to measure, and why. In your planning stages, challenge your team to identify performance metrics, and make sure you can track them. Think about how you might link the data you collect with broader company or team objectives. If the goal is to boost your Net Promoter Score, explore what other numbers might impact or drive that number. When you are all done, schedule time for a fact-driven discussion about what worked and what could be improved.

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Create an Infographic for Your Leadership Team

Remember, a picture is worth a thousand data points. It is a funny fact of life that the more senior the person, the more simple the summary required. Work with a graphic designer to create a powerful infographic after every meeting that summarizes the key issues discussed, the way people responded and interacted, and the impact on company culture and goals.

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Who knows, maybe in the 21st century the smartest, most data-driven people won’t be from IT–but those tasked with motivating and measuring the humans (who haven’t been replaced with robots) with smarter meetings and metrics.

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This article originally appeared in ‘Field Notes From the Future’ – http://mikewal.sh/1sXAfn5You can follow him on Twitter at @mikewalsh.

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