Networking takes center stage
Personal interaction, face-to-face meetings and open discussions are the new norms for industry events
September 30, 2011
Conferences that compete for attendee dollars in a lagging economy, including those that focus on the transport and forest products industries, are placing a heavier emphasis on professional networking opportunities as a valuable part of the overall experience.
Where training and knowledge sharing was the big draw for industry events in previous years, those that are now offering dedicated sessions that encourage informal, personal interaction are separating the growing conferences from those who are struggling.
“There are a lot of different industry events competing for attention these days,” says Wendy Parsley, founder of Quint Strategies. “The ones that will be the most successful are those that create high touch experiences for the attendees."
This year’s PPI Transport Symposium 19 in Amsterdam is one example of how “high touch” is becoming the new norm. Before the Symposium starts, specific networking opportunities are being offered to registered attendees, prompting them to set up face-to-face meeting before even arriving at the conference.
“It’s all about being able to do face-to-face meetings together,” says Parsley. “Even in this digitally empowered business environment, nothing can replace the time spent in person with your customers and partners."
Embracing that digital space, social media now plays a prominent role in nearly all industry conferences and events. A live blog will be posted from Amsterdam for PPI Transport Symposium. Delegates and attendees also will be rewarded with entries for door prizes when they post to LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter about the event. These activities are not necessarily for those who couldn’t attend, but more to include conference attendees in a larger conversation, both online and off-line.
“You want the event experience to extend beyond the mere dates of the event,” says Parsley. “Attendees and exhibitors want, and expect, to participate in the event before, during and after the actual physical event takes place."
Changing nature of business
PPI Transport Symposium has a long reputation of providing speaking opportunities for forest products logistics professionals to address members of the industry. But its conference program has changed dramatically since the first Symposium where only single presentations were given to a large audience.
“Building a networking framework for industry professionals is the cornerstone of our biennial Symposium,” says Buddy Greene, president, IFPTA. RISI and the IFPTA are co-organizers of PPI Transport Symposium. “It’s important to bring individuals together so they can share their knowledge and information with each other.”
The once lecture-heavy conference programs are transforming as well. Panel discussions and open sessions are taking center stage encouraging delegates to become more active participants. Instead of one person giving a single presentation for forty-five minutes, four to five panelists take part in a forum that lasts about an hour.
“Specific time is dedicated to questions, delegates to PPI TS19 are able to speak up anytime,” says Greene. “We want attendees to feel their questions are the most important ones to be answered."
In 2007, PPI Transport Symposium experimented with offering multiple tracks during the conference program in an effort to give delegates more choice in which sessions they wanted to attend. The result was nearly too much of a good thing, with delegates reporting that many of the topics can be combined to give more time for questions and open discussion.
“No conference can rest on its laurels and PPI Transport Symposium is no exception,” says George Hudson, co-chairman for the PPI Transport Symposium Conference Program. “We have to change and adapt to the changing nature of our business and listen to the feedback we get from delegates."
Last year in Liverpool, PPI Transport Symposium organizers modified the conference program to include only seven sessions. Each posed a broad question to the audience and invited panelists from difference spectrums in the industry to provide their thoughts in a short opening presentation.
The new formula appeared to work. Individual attendance at the panel sessions was stronger than the plenary sessions. In Amsterdam, the conference program again includes just seven sessions, but with a greater industry representation by the panelists.
“This year we made several changes to the program to give everyone more networking time than every before,” says Hudson.
These changes to focus on personal networking sessions are paying off for organizers and attendees alike. Early registration for PPI Transport Symposium shows some of the greatest diversity in years, with growing number of producers and end users registered to attend.