Picture this: you’ve collected your name badge, sat in a lecture space full of hundreds of delegates, tuned in (and out…) to a key note speech, not felt encouraged or confident enough to ask a question in a seminar, and networked with companies not really relevant to you… because… that’s what conferences are about, right?
Not the Annual Exchange for #eventprofs I’ve just attended.
As event professionals, time is precious. With heavy working weeks, often including travel, demanding event days and clients to keep smiling, we don’t often have the luxury to venture out of the office to industry events. Especially if like me, you’re out of London and live in a town without lots of evening talks and lectures, networking drinks and a bustling schedule of career-building events.
The inaugural Annual Exchange, hosted by EWL Club, is the first of its kind; an ‘annual unconference for event professionals.’ With an agenda completely driven by requests from attendees, it allowed event professionals from all backgrounds to take part in an agenda completely curated by them. The timetable was filled with sessions in either the innovation, wellbeing, knowledge or networking bracket; giving attendees the ability to choose an agenda driven by their business or personal development goals. Participants already had a vested interest in the topics before even walking through the doors because they had helped create their day and their learnings in advance.
My first and only mistake of the day due to early morning commitments was missing the opening energiser session with Drum Café, which sounded incredible and something completely different to the corporate ice breakers we are so used to taking part in.
The Vox Conference Centre in Birmingham’s Resorts World proved the perfect venue – with dedicated seminar spaces, lots of space to both meet new people and catch a quick ten minutes to keep on top of emails, and the all-important coffee and fantastic food to keep attendees energised throughout the day.
I’d like to share with you some of my highlights and top tips I’ve picked up today; and why I think the unconference was a breath of fresh air in the event networking and learning circuit.
- “Know when you’re out of your depth” – Peter Harding, Group Creative Director, Hawthorn
As part of an innovation session titled ‘Innovation meets Expertise,’ Peter shared stories of how he turns clients’ dreams into realisations through events. He talked about the importance of knowing when you are out of your depth on a project, and not feeling afraid to stick within limits and outsource when you need to. This doesn’t mean to say pushing boundaries isn’t important, but it’s important to always keep in mind how far to push them.
- “People value experiences over things, they become a currency people can share to create a ‘fomo moment;’ experiences are valued over purpose.” – Max Fellows, Director of Client Services, MCI Experience.
One of my highlights of the day was this session; Matt Riley interviewed Max Fellows on the Future of Brand Experiences as part of the Future in 15 series. He discussed the experience economy we are now a part of, and the higher expectations guests and delegates have of their event experiences. Max defined an experience as anything that creates emotion- and as ‘experiential’ is so common as a buzz word we need to work even harder to deliver experiences that people are hungry to be immersed in.
- It’s important to find balance as an Event Professional – Eat, Sleep, Love; What does it take to be a productive event professional and a healthy one? Laura Capell-Abra, No More Ifs Or Buts
The Annual Exchange had a wellbeing lounge dedicated to discussions on how we can keep ourselves and our delegates more productive, happy, and healthy as event professionals. I really enjoyed this session with Laura, who encouraged discussion amongst the group on how we can find our own balance and what works for ourselves and our business. Some of my favourite tips I took away were:
-Have walking meetings
-Keep a gratitude journal or write down something you are grateful for each day
-Have an office dog! (I’m unfortunately not allowed to bring my sausage dog to work – which is probably a good thing as I’d never get any work done! But looking after your own or someone else’s dog can bring positive energy and just make you smile.)
-Know your trigger points to avoid burnout and feeling unmotivated
-Start your day just a little earlier to walk or cycle instead of taking the tube or bus.
- Use the “Law of Two Feet”
This was a fantastic concept for the event today. Attendees were encouraged to attend a session and participate, but then were completely welcome to use their own “law of two feet” to walk out and into a different session if they felt the first wasn’t adding value to their day. Whilst I think I picked well and didn’t want to leave any of my sessions, it was great to know there was no pressure to sit through something that wasn’t relevant to me or my company.
- It’s OK to break the mould
Today’s Annual Exchange was something new and different for our industry, and an absolute breath of fresh air. Instead of being stuck in seminars, or in awkward networking sessions with companies not relevant to what I do, I enjoyed a relaxed day of learning from not just the Moderators and Thought Leaders but fellow attendees with lots to say and lots to give.
I’m already looking forward to next year and after today’s pilot first event I can’t wait to see what’s next for the Annual Exchange.