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February 18, 2009

Esben Ehrenskjold:In search of conference and event 2.0

The managing director of presentation software company Streamline Data, believes meetings and events need to take a leaf out of the social networking book if they are to be brought into the 21st Century.

Through the years I have attended many exhibitions and seminars. However, it is my experience of arranging seminar programmes at these events and looking at how to create better, more engaging presentations that has sparked my interest in the Exhibition 2.0 debate – how to bring events into the 21st Century and make them much more engaging. It is also what has set me out along the path of designing my own content management system for presentations: Streamline Presenter.

To my mind there are three areas where I feel many exhibitions, seminars and conferences are lacking: no forum where people, other than those on the speakers list, can be heard; few if any organised network opportunities at the events themselves; and not enough information for attendees about what is going on where.

All of these areas I address in my vision for Exhibition 2.0.

The Speakers Jam
To explain what I mean here I need to start with a short story from some years back. As a musician I took part in a music event – The Skanderborg Festival – in Denmark as a master of ceremonies (MC) at the Ram Jam Stage.

This was a stage outside the main festival arena where amateur musicians could play without prior booking. They simply had to turn up at the Ram Jam MC’s desk and explain what they would like to do. From here it was the MC’s role to put together an interesting programme for the day or even participate himself to support the musicians. The Ram Jam Stage proved a huge success for several years.

I believe this same principle could be easily applied to events. There should be an additional seminar theater provided that is open to speakers coming in 'from the street' and talking about a subject relevant to the exhibition, conference or seminar. These speakers should be able to register at the theatre, and it would be the job of the 'Speakers Jam' MC to bring together an interesting programme for each day.

The MC would need to be someone who knows their way around the industry and who is able to draw speakers together for panel discussions – both from the roster of pre-booked speakers from the other seminar theatres and from those taking part in the Speakers Jam on the day. Where necessary the MC could even take part in the discussions himself.

I also believe that exhibitors would gain more from events if they were encouraged to speak about how their products could benefit a certain market. Of course, it’s very important that the MC ensures that the right balance between exhibitor speakers and speakers 'from the street' is being kept.

Another important aspect of the Speakers Jam is that the staff must be able to help the speakers to upload their presentations into the Speakers Jam presentation shell. They must also be able to update information about the Speakers Jam on screens throughout the venue. On top of this, to cover the expenses for the Speakers Jam, sponsor and/or exhibitor trailers could be included in the Speakers Jam Presentation Shell and run in between the sessions. This is why I built all this functionality into my own presentation package.

Organised Networking
I would also like to see an area dedicated to networking. This should be open to everyone who registers at the networking desk and not just restricted to VIP visitors.

At the networking desk there would be a set of displays each showing a theme that is open for discussion. Visitors would be able to either register for one of the existing themes or start one of their own. Each themed networking group would be set to start at a certain time or when a pre-defined number of visitors have registered. Devices such as Bluetooth, text messaging or PA announcements could then be used to call people together when a discussion was about to start. From that point, delegates would meet at the table and start the discussion.

If there was a specific person who any delegate knew was attending the exhibition and with whom they wanted to network, they could contact the MC at the Speakers Jam. The MC would be able to help them get in contact with this person and invite them to take part in the theme discussion.

Information 2.0
At exhibitions there are often far too few displays providing information to the visitors. I would like to see these all around the exhibition hall telling visitors what is going on where. This communication of information is fundamental to my vision for Exhibition 2.0.

For both the Speakers Jam and the Organised Networking events, regularly updated information would need to be displayed around the exhibition hall, at the seminar theatres and at the Organised Networking desk for the duration of the exhibition.

Much more value can be gained from events, both for the attendees and the exhibitors by adding more substance and finding new ways for education and networking to work in tandem with the exhibitors’ need to promote themselves. I believe that by incorporating the core principles of Web 2.0, with its social networking and multimedia cpabilities, we will see a dramatic increase in return on investment from the exhibitions of the future.

Esben Ehrenskjold is managing director of Streamline Data and creator of Streamline Presenter

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