The Discomfort and Rewards of Innovation

Earlier this month I was part of an experiment. It was risky and had it not worked, it would have been a train wreck.

The client was the Professional Conference Organisers Association (PCOA). 300 of the country’s best professional conference organisers. A pretty risky audience to experiment on. 

But taking the conference theme ‘Anything is Possible’, they decided to take arguably Australia’s best conference MC, Andrew Klein, and pair him with me. Having two MC’s sounds simple enough but it was far from it.

Pulling off a co-hosting dynamic peppered with a bit of spontaneous banter without talking over each other is harder than it looks. Equally, you have to ensure there is no awkward silence or a ping-ponging script that sounds like sounding like a cheesy awards ceremony.

I have to admit, I was way out of my comfort zone, and while Andrew is a seasoned pro, he’s never co-hosted an event before. Truth be told, it would have been far easier and less stressful for him to do it on his own.

It was a challenge, it was uncomfortable and was an unconventional approach, but it worked. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and although it wasn’t perfect, it added an interesting element and brought the ‘Anything is Possible’ theme to life in an authentic way.

Some other risks to consider taking when planning your next conference:

  • Re-imagine the conference room layout – The PCOA conference room at the ICC was staged diagonally which meant the audience was in more of a wishbone configuration. This felt much more inclusive and dynamic and made for a much more intimate experience for both the audience and the speakers
  • Offer a selection of seating options – when delegates entered the PCOA conference room, they were presented with 5 seating options – from normal chairs to lounges and couches, even bar stools at tables. This created a wonderful sense of unpredictability and gave the audience a sense of customising their own experience. 
  • Consider the latest conference technologies. Heard of silent sessions? Instead of your delegates moving between rooms for breakout sessions, you can have them in one room and using headphones, they can tune into whichever speaker they choose. This saves time and money and keeps your audience contained.
  • Re-think the traditional trade expo – there was a lot of robust discussion at the conference about the future of display booths for sponsors. The upshot is that it’s time to think outside the 3 x 3 and provide a much more engaging and immersive experience for delegates

A big congratulations to the PCOA for taking some risks and really playing homage to the Anything is Possible theme.