Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Rethink Forum

You may be surprised to learn that there’s a new group dedicated to promoting the “interactive revolution” – the industry’s shift to participatory meetings that engage attendees through technology, interaction and collaboration. (If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, check out the October/November 2010 issue of Event Solutions for an in-depth story on this new movement.)

Well, the movement is spreading, as I predicted last year. This new group, which was just conceived in December, is called the Rethink Forum, and it consists of groups of like-minded people meeting in various locations and then everyone linking together to create one big, interactive conference. Virtual attendees can join in, too. If this sounds a little like the recent Event Camps hosted by the event profs group, you’re right. In fact, some of the leaders of the ReThink Forum are event profs themselves.

The ReThink Forum’s first meeting was held yesterday morning in New York, with hubs in Paris, Copenhagen and Minneapolis as well as virtual attendees. Sam Smith of Event Camp fame organized and led the Minneapolis group, which I was invited to attend. We had about 20 people there, a nice turnout considering not many people are aware of this group yet, and the meetings are invitation-only. In total, the conference had 297 attendees.

I won’t go into the content in this blog – there will plenty of information available at after it’s updated. But of course, a lot of it had to do with the changing face of meetings and conferences. Most of us in the Minneapolis group had laptops (provided by Sam) so were able to give our input on ideas several times throughout the conference.

The pacing was a little frenetic. It’s hard to synch different groups in different time zones, engage them as one group, but allow local interaction at the same time. Then there always seems to be technology issues, problems with audio or video, or links. To be honest, I expected that. Nothing ever goes off without a hitch.

And the quality of the video (and audio at times) was distracting. We’re used to hi-def and hi-res, so the grainy, jerky quality of the live images detracted from the message, rather than creating an environment where we truly felt connected. This too, I expected. After all, the conference was free, so budget was a concern, I’m sure.

But it was fun watching Cheryl Kranz and Ryan Hanson use Prezi to give their presentation on a huge interactive event they produced for the local Boston Scientific group – cool stuff.

My overall impression is that we’re still at the crawling stage with this stuff. We have great ideas and creativity when it comes to engaging attendees, but are still pretty much figuring out how to make them work. Events like this are a start and my kudos to the trail blazers who are taking the lead in figuring out what it all means – and how to do it.