A few months ago, we wrote about our work with the Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) to enhance the participant experience at the ONN 2015 Conference. We had programmed and facilitated the Intersection Hub – a new space at the conference where participants could share their experiences of the conference and their thoughts on the sessions.
We’re happy to report that the Hub was an amazing success – buoyed by many great conversations hosted by the Conversation Curators (conversation hosts inside the Hub), Roving Reporters (roaming hosts engaging in one-on-one conversation around the conference) and some very thoughtful participants who wanted to explore the conference topics in more depth. Throughout the day, there was a small but steady stream of participants that entered the Hub to check it out, have a conversation, grab coffee or work quietly. This was exactly as expected given the nature of the space and its location on the main path towards the breakout rooms. Many participants also came to talk to the Experts – conference speakers who had agreed to come by and host one on one discussions about their subject matter expertise.
Among the amazing insights that we learned about this format of engagement:
- Most of the conversations that happened at standing tables worked really well because we offered a welcoming space where people felt they could drop by and have a quick chat on their own time. Posting the Conversation Curators beside them helped make it more inviting.
- Having a posted conversation topic at each table helped to focus the conversations and became the artifact and theme that people could gather around
- The Hub buttons that Conversation Curators wore and the signage to direct participants to the space helped to attract people to come
Of course, not everything worked out exactly as planned. Some key lessons from the Hub were:
- Food is vitally important. The Hub only had coffee and tea which limited the ability for participants to grab lunch or snacks and hang out. Many opted to stay close to the large plenary room as the food was located closer to there
- While the Hub was located close to the breakout rooms, to attract more participants, it should have been placed closer to the plenary as that is where people tend to begin and end their day at the conference
- Pop-up conversations – as we had envisioned them with a Conversation Curator standing in the Hub and enticing people to chat with him/her – were not as successful. Participants seem to appreciate going up to a conversation table, not having the conversation come up to them. Our feeling on this is because perhaps this is a less invasive approach.
- Ensure the right furniture. While the standing tables worked well, participants did want to have more chairs and couches so they could be more relaxed while chatting
We are grateful to ONN for allowing us to test out this format of instant conference engagement in the Intersection Hub and for giving us the flexibility to create such a fun and engaging program! Most of the participants who passed though really enjoyed the space and were definitely keen to see it happen again. As one participant put it: “this should be standard at every conference – except it is not.”
This last point was great feedback for us – how might we make conferences more engaging for all participants? We’re definitely excited to explore this and other engagement activities for the 2016 ONN conference.
For more information and to follow ONN’s work, check out theonn.ca!