Zumba, Zombies and Infectiously Fun Events by @KristiCasey

If I had to pick a responsible party, I’d blame Zumba and the Zombie Run. Because both of those things have forever changed what I’m willing to accept as a meeting designer, speaker and attendee.

The Importance of Making Meetings Fun

Catching up on business reading last November, I stumbled upon an article about the worldwide exercise and business empire Zumba. By focusing on three words — freeing, electrifying, joy — they built an enthusiastic, hip-shaking army of brand evangelists and consumers.

Because I handle audience engagement, content creation and live event strategy at my company, I started to think about “freeing, electrifying, joy.” How could I make a trade show fun? How would I create a feeling of community at our events continue 365 days a year? How should I change my model of engagement as an educator? What would make things more fun for our social, print and online audiences?

Then I stumbled upon a Facebook post a friend had shared about a Zombie Run. There were hundreds of likes, comments and shares on what, essentially, was a save-the-date post. Curious, I clicked on the link and read a teaser paragraph about the Atlanta event. Essentially, it was a 5K that involved running away from zombies. I’m a consistent mid-distance runner, but I’ve never wanted to run a race. But being chased by zombies? That seemed like a lot of fun.

I clicked back to the post, read through the enthusiastic, often hilarious, comments and found one that was kind of sad sandwiched between them. The author said that he’d love to come, but he couldn’t because there was a 5K he had to attend that same day, 20 miles away. By the way he included links to the event registration page and went into great detail about the charity it was benefitting, I suspected he also was one of the event organizers.

I say it was a sad post, because I could tell he was afraid that his charity run would be totally eclipsed by the Zombie Run. It was obvious that, in this case, doing good just couldn’t compete with having fun.

That was food for thought, too. There are so many demands on people’s time; so many stressors in everyday life and at work. If you want people to attend your event, it has to be fun, it can’t just be filled with “value.” Otherwise, you’re offering the event equivalent of broccoli to an audience that prefers ice cream.

The Quest for “Freeing, Electrifying, Joy”

So I started tinkering, with Google Hangouts, our PYM LIVE formats, even adding augmented reality to Plan Your Meetings‘ annual print and digital editions.

For a brief moment in San Francisco last week, I felt like I finally achieved my event design goal: an experience that created a feeling of freeing, electrifying, joy for our attendees, exhibitors and sponsors.

Along with panelists Jeff Hurt, Paul Salinger and John Chen, we created a free-flowing, interactive hybrid discussion about the nature of engagement and the future of meetings. We liberated our attendees and exhibitors from the traditional trade show model with a round of speed-networking that they didn’t want to end. And the conversations during the group challenge were punctuated with the sound of joyous laughter.

What I had made were small adjustments to the design and format of our PYM LIVE Events, based on new things I was trying in each city. Not every experiment was successful, but adjustments were made until we achieved a peak of engagement at PYM LIVE San Francisco May 8. But my work’s not over yet  — which brings me to two ideas I stumbled upon this morning.

Information vs. Ideas. Best Practices vs. Next Practices.

The first is the idea that currently, we are designing our meetings to be a marketplace for the exchange of information. Intel Creative Director Joe English proposed on Event Alley’s May 7 broadcast that the meeting of the future needs to focus on helping people exchange ideas, instead. I loved hearing that because I felt it described what I’ve intuitively been doing this year.

The second idea is that “best practices” look backwards. What our industry needs more of, Adrian Segar wrote, is the development and proliferation of “next practices.”

So what I’m wondering now is: What are those next practices? Do you have any ideas? Share them with me @PYMLIVE and tag them #yaypym.


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