I have created, organized, and attended thousands of corporate events over my career and often felt like the basic meeting model is broken. It's too standardized, frequently focused more on the keynote address and not the overall attendee journey. Creative approaches are repeated, leaving attendees uninspired. I love seeing new ideas, technologies, and approaches to build brand engagement. I was recently invited to attended the "HD" Conference in NYC and it truly was a unique experience.
What was the "HD" Conference? Different? Over the top? Controlled chaos? Unlike any conference I had been to before? Absolutely!
This “un-conference” was all of the above. A meeting (and I use that term loosely) of meeting & event professionals all looking to learn, grow, and experience something new, different, memorable, and inspirational.
"HD" stands for Haute Dokimazo. Sorry, not Home Depot. Although it did have a lot of variety and something for everyone.
My experience started on Sunday night at Heartland Brewery near the Empire State building. Upon entering, I was asked if I was there for the “private” event and escorted downstairs to the lower level.
Person after person came up to me, gave me a big hug, asked how I was and if this was my first "HD" event. Not being a hugger, this really took me out of my comfort zone. Little did I know that this was just the beginning, I would need an open mind to embrace this new experience.
As my table filled with meeting & event professionals’, we broke bread together via a family style meal, we learned how each of us was introduced to this event and got a glimpse into the vision of Haute Dokimazo business from those who had attended before.
The event had no formal agenda.
The organizers knew some things would work and some might not, and expected feedback and key learnings. We were then given large color-coded Post-it Notes and asked what we would like to learn about at this event. We were instructed to write down topics or areas of interest, note if we wanted to be a facilitator, and post them on the wall.
I jotted down a few topics, including one on how event technologies are impacting today’s events, I was also curious to learn more about what brands were looking for with today’s production partners. For fun I add one "off the wall" request, and that was if I could accompany one of the team members to meet Richard Branson. (I'm still waiting on that)
After the walls were full of colored Post-it Notes, we were asked to review and vote on the areas that were of the most interest to us. This is how they created the next day's agenda.
After the agenda exercise, we then were taken on a 75-minute bus tour on The Ride NYC. The buses have stadium like seating, so everyone looks out the same side of the bus with 2 tour guides. These guides were more than your typical tour bus guides, they were aspiring actors / actresses and very entertaining. I highly recommend this tour to anyone visiting the city.
Day 2 at Town Stages in Tribeca
After coffee and opening remarks, we broke into groups to attend a session of choice created from the sticky notes we’d filled out the day before. I attended one about Data Driven Experiences attended by 17 expert facilitators covering a long list of topics including data collection, analytics, and how to use it for events. Just a few of the many interesting key takeaways were:
- Everything we do at our events should be measured by data
- Data validates not only our spend and ROE, but also time and effort
- You need to have the right message
- Quality over quantity
- Let your audience help drive content
- Focus on the experience of the attendees
Before lunch we were all brought back into the main hall for a short session followed by a fun interactive talk called Love Stories.
Finally, it was time for the "lunch surprise" as indicated on the agenda. And it was a surprise alright. No flat meat sandwiches today. There was actually going to be a wedding and reception during our lunch. A staffer from "HD" was the bride and we were all invited into another room for a commitment ceremony. Before the ceremony, we were all put to work to set up the tables for the reception with decorations and dinnerware. While this experience in the middle of a conference was not for everyone, it certainly made for a unique and memorable experience.
The overall experience got all of us thinking about how meetings are structured today, how to make sure they are engaging and that they should also provide a level of surprise and delight for the attendees. It reminded me specifically to make sure that we are really helping our clients to develop better and more relevant content. While each show is sure to have its challenges, we need to remember that it's not all about them, but more importantly about their attendees and providing an authentic and engaging on-site experience that lives on well past the closing session.
To accomplishing this effectively we need to:
- Get attendees out of their comfort zones
- Keep them moving forward
- Teach them the value of shorter, more impactful content sessions
Since attending this eye-opening experience, I often find myself thinking about the sessions and the concepts behind the corporate meeting experience. I have tried to make all of my meetings more inclusive, not lectures. I have discussed with colleagues the balance between the corporate message and the attendees journey. I have been inspired and now think differently about how to make our client events more impactful.
I can’t wait for my next "HD" experience in November. The Destination? Top Secret! Literally its being kept a secret and the location is unknown. We just know we need our passports. Thankfully, I just renewed my passport and I'm ready to embrace another memorable experience that will surely put me out of my comfort zone.