Monday, April 20, 2015

Meeting Innovations...How a "Silent Party" Changed Networking

If your annual meetings are anything like ours, you have an incredible array of social functions and general sessions that engage the senses and emotions of attendees.  Our goal is to deliver an experience that far outweighs the educational content.  Yes, content is important and is a chief part of the agenda, but we want our members talking for years about the experience.

I was told once, early on in my career, that no one will ever remember what they learned at a conference, but they will remember the experience and memories you provided for them.  I took that message to heart.  In the planning stages of any meeting we ask ourselves, "What is going to be the "X" factor at this meeting that people will say years from now, 'Remember in 2014 when they did…?'"

As with any conference, networking is a key function at our meetings.  At every event you can hear the buzz of people talking over anything and everything having to do with business and personal life.  Each event fosters that networking atmosphere...except for our final night dinner.  Our final night dinner, like most, is a fun-filled evening that ends with a live band for dancing and entertainment.

The challenge we have always faced is that you can never get a band to play low enough so people don't have to try to talk over the band in order to be able to network effectively.  Our final night dinner always played out the same once the band kicked off.  With 190 people at dinner, a third of the group would leave and go back to their rooms as soon as the band started playing...due to the band being too loud.  Another third would go into the foyer to network, and the final third would stay in the room with the band and enjoy dancing.  The band fragmented the group, simply because of the volume, and by 10:00 pm the room would be almost empty…except for the remaining 10-20 die hard dancers.

Enter the "Silent Party"

When we started planning this year's spring meeting, we discussed at length how we always get a lot of feedback on the volume of the live band and that networking is impossible.  Many didn't like it because a lot of key people would leave and go back to their room, thus limiting the networking opportunities.

This year, I proposed to our Programming Committee that we try the "Silent Party" concept that I had experienced on a cruise last year.  For anyone not familiar with a Silent Party, it's pretty simple.  You have whatever type of music playing over the house sound.  When you kick off the dance party, there are two DJ's at the front of the room, and beside them are sets of high quality music headsets...playing dance music on two completely different channels.  Those who want to dance can come up, grab a headset, put it on, and dance the night away.  It is awesome because you can switch back and forth between the channels, so if you don't like what's playing on one channel, you switch to the other one.  The DJ's have mics that they use to talk to the dancers to keep them engaged in the music and the experience.

The beauty of the Silent Party is that it solves everything.  Dancers can come to the dance floor and enjoy
a fun and exciting experience.  Those who don't dance can stay in the room, listen to light music, and not need to scream just to talk, plus they can have a few laughs watching the dancers with headphones on.

RESULTS of the Silent Party?  Where a live band drove off 70% or more of the crowd by 10:00 pm, we still had 80%+ of our dinner group in the room at 10:45 pm.  People were actively engaged in networking, having fun, and enjoying the evening because we removed the obstacle that stood in the way….the live band.

This is not to say that we will never have a live band again, but it proved to us that we don't need live entertainment to have a great night.  Another lesson learned is that some of your members, who love to dance, will not buy into the concept because they like the live music atmosphere, and some will not want to wear headsets.

What I will tell you is that if the goal of your dinner is to foster networking, then you should give the Silent Party, or something like it a try.  People who always leave early thought it was one of the most innovative dinner concepts they have ever seen.

The moral of this story is:

- Know what your "real goal" of an event is.
- Pay attention to what your attendees are saying in your surveys.
- Think outside the box in solving the problem.

We thought our goal was to provide entertainment on the final night…we had it wrong. Our goal is to foster an environment that creates an opportunity for everyone to participate…the Silent Part did just that.

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