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Enhancing the Human Experience at Conferences: Our work with Instant Conference Engagement at ONN’s 2015 Conference

The Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) is a provincial network comprised of 7,000 non-profit organizations across Ontario. ONN works to bring together the different voices in the sector to influence policy decisions with funders, businesses and government.

In spring of 2015, ONN started working with ThinkFresh Group to look at creating more engaging processes for conference attendees. ONN was looking to deepen their 2015 conference engagement processes, create more dialogue and be able to deliver more impact and networking right on the floor of the conference.

A location change provided the opportunity for something radically different. In the new venue, there will be additional space in the middle of the conference which would be used as an Intersection Hub – a lounge where attendees could relax and grab a coffee. With a constant stream of people going in an out, we wondered if this could be a space to have deeper conversations with attendees about the conference and the issues being discussed? From this the idea of the Conversation Curator was born.

Trained in conversation and facilitation techniques, the Conversation Curators (CC) will complement a team of Roving Reporters (RR) who will already be gathering insights from randomly selected attendees through a short survey. Using these insights, coupled with trending topics on social media, we will create a series of conversation topics that will be used by the CCs to spark deeper conversations. Our inspiration is the pop-up art talks at the Art Gallery of Ontario where volunteers encourage gallery attendees to gather around them to talk about art. We will engage in a similar way, but using conference topics.

In addition to the RR insights and trending topics, we are also asking conference speakers to stay for an additional 30 mins after their session so that they can come to the Hub and host an additional conversation that will be documented by the CCs. CCs will also act as “party hosts” – connecting people with similar interests together and will post the insights the have learned from attendees throughout the day to a wall where everybody can continue to comment on them. This whole system, which we have dubbed Instant Conference Engagement (ICE) will be quite the addition to this year’s conference and we’re pretty hopeful that it will create many new memorable and awesome experiences for everyone.

We plan to evaluate the results from the Intersection Hub and see how this can further help conferences create space for deeper and more engaging conversations. If you’re already registered to attend the ONN conference on October 21, we look forward to seeing you there!

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