Community is at the core of contemporary conferences
In this ever developing digital age conferences and trade shows have become more relevant than ever before. Whilst information is readily available digitally, actual expertise and peer-to-peer learning is not, and this is where events fill the gap. Transfer of knowledge, networking and developing “Communities” should now be the key focus according to Patricia Clemas Sánchez, Senior Vice President at T.A. Cook Conferences.
Interview: Ute Csiser-Bernhardt
T.A. Cook Conferences have been successful for over 20 years and you have helped shape this success over the last 12 years. What is your secret?
Being flexible, listening and reacting quickly. We listen to our customers and adapt to their needs, instead of following trends in the event industry. We talk to our participants and ask them for genuine feedback. We evaluate the results and they help us to continuously optimize our events. We also conduct thorough research for each and every event, ensuring the information presented at the event is what the industry not only wants but needs. In addition, the inhouse expertise we have via our consultants is a real benefit.
A key question we always ask ourselves when we organize an event is: What are the important topics and pain points of our audience and how can we initiate a meaningful discourse around them? Many people come to our conferences with a specific challenge they want to discuss. For me, it is important that they leave with a solution.
In the digital age information is available literally at your fingertips. How has that changed the events business?
Whilst a lot of information is now readily available at the click of a button, what’s not available is the expertise – that is to say the personal experiences, real-life stories, tips and advice on offer during our events. We are finding that the face to face time that our participants have onsite at our events, has become even more valuable to them than before, especially in an age where the “virtual meeting room” is so prevalent in our daily lives. Therefore networking is becoming more important, and hand in hand with this is being part of a "Community".
Also, Social media channels like Twitter, Xing and Linkedin are powerful platforms to engage with our participants all year round. Twitter is useful to engage in real-time with our audience and to generate discussion points, for example, we often use twitter leader boards during an event which is a popular tool to interact onsite. We also have some topic led Linkedin and Xing groups set up for our participant communities, which help to facilitate discussions outside of the event.
Digitalization is also a frequent topic at your events. How do you conduct relevant topics for your audience?
For the past five years, IoT and digitalization have been a theme of many of our conferences, for example at our SAP events, our upcoming TAR conference, at our Connected Customer events, and we also have a Digital Supply Chain event launching in 2018. We try to cover all aspects relevant to our target audience, such as data security, predictive maintenance, big data, connected customers, digitalization of supply chains and more.
Many companies are still at the early stages of digitalization and hence they are keen to hear about the business cases, digitalization strategies and implementation, ROI scenarios and others. They are hungry to hear about the challenges, approaches, and lessons learned that other companies can share based on their experience.
At our TAR 2018 conference we had a workshop called ‚Digital Construction Site‘. Ideas, technologies, solutions and case studies for the digital turnaround as well as the associated new ways to increase profitability were presented with the help of many practical examples. The feedback from the delegates was very positive.
Since 14 years a jour fix for turnaround professionals - the TAR annual meeting (Video is in German language)
You mentioned a shift toward interactivity, networking and “Community”. How did this shift influence conference formats and why is the aspect of interactivity so important?
The way we consume information has changed dramatically over the years. Instead of passive consumption, people are more active consumers. Of course this has influenced our conference formats. Whilst the number one session format remains the best practice case study, we are also offering shorter expert sessions, product demonstrations, discussion sessions and interactive micro forums. Expert keynotes still have their relevance, especially when dealing with complex topics, but we now try to ensure those experts are available for smaller face to face discussions too. We listen to our participants and are constantly adapting the way we build our agendas to encourage active discussions and learning.
We also noticed that many participants feel more willing to actively participate when in a smaller group, and they gain more value out of these more intensive discussions. Therefore the smaller interactive formats, eg. workshops, roundtables, micro forums, give the participants the space to discuss their very specific situations with the experts and their peers.
Community building is essential. This is what our participants want, and it’s what we aim to deliver – a platform to learn, to share and to generate new ideas and approaches. Our goal is to create an environment where new networks are built and existing ones are developed. For example, our annual TAR event (see also Infobox) was launched 14 years ago and has since developed in to the most successful Turnaround conference in Europe. Quite a few of the participants who joined in the early days, still attend and it has become a jour fixe in their calendar every year. The atmosphere during the 2 days has a close-knit community feel, and this is what we’re all about…providing a platform where communities to grow and flourish.