When organisations are promoting events there are many things they choose to put forward to entice participants to register. Themes, keynote speakers, individual sessions, the venue itself. Almost all of the organisers though will highlight prominently the ‘networking opportunities’. The chance to engage with and learn from your peers, to reaffirm existing partnerships, to create new ones. This is a key part of any professional gathering and something that can be brilliantly facilitated by a conference App.
Over the past decade more and more organisers have tried to incorporate technological solutions to add to the networking presence and to try and encourage communication between participants. Electronic transfer of business card details, Facebook groups, online discussion forums. Every conference now has a Twitter hashtag. These have had mixed success.
The issue with a lot of these methods is that firstly you would be surprised to know number of sector organisations not on Twitter (anything less than 100% is a surprise in 2016) and secondly you’ll perhaps be less surprised to know that a lot of people are not fully comfortable using public platforms as representatives of their organisations. The discourse becomes formal, restricted to a few voices and whilst informative doesn’t often build a relationship between those involved.
This is where the conference App comes in and at the EFC AGA the App was put to excellent use.
It contained all the information you’d expect – session details, details of speakers, venue information, delegates list – these are all useful planning tools and allow the conference to reduce the amount of paper used. These things alone are a legitimate use of the technology but also a limited one. Too often, event organisers use conference Apps to linearly pass event information to their attendees. In Amsterdam – and the hosts deserve much credit for this – the App was used not just to talk to delegates but to create a space where delegates can talk to each other.
Thousands of interactions occured in the space of just three days. People used it to arrange meetings, share comments on the sessions they had attended and ask questions about the sessions they had missed.
Henrik Lehmann Andersen, Nordea Fonden, one prolific user of the app commented “It was a source of creating connections and arranging physical meetings one to one. It was also a good tool to remind yourself to reflect on what you have experienced during the sessions.”
Conference organisers pride themselves on the networking time in their programme and the physical networking space they provide but with the App, networking time was whenever you had a spare minute and the networking space was anywhere you had wifi.
The App also created a space where delegates could interact informally with each other. People shared photos of the view from their hotel rooms, tips for getting coffee and the ‘four biscuit breakfast’ is something we can all admire. These types of interactions are often undervalued – what do they really add to the important topics of the event? – but in reality this is exactly how we talk and share with colleagues within our own organisations and if an App can help facilitate that over a network of hundreds of organisations isn’t that also a good thing on the road to better collaboration? The whole event had a relaxed atmosphere and I honestly feel the App contributed to that.
The overall experience of using the App at EFC AGA 2016 was summed up by its most prolific user, Andrew McCracken, Community Foundation for Northern Ireland:
“I’m a pretty shy guy; an introvert who has learnt to be an extrovert when required; so arriving at conferences on my own is a daunting experience. There were a list of people I wanted to meet – but how to find them in the crowd? So I was delighted to see the EFC had an app which meant I could start my planning activity early. I really enjoyed the connections that I made through the app; I sensed that there was a fairly large group of people using it and when that group overlapped with the ones I wanted to meet, it worked out pretty smoothly!
When I realised there was an additional competitive element to it (the EFC offered a free place at the AGA 2017 to the most prolific user) that did spur me on to post a few more photos than I normally would have but mainly I was interested in the ‘real life’ relationships that the app allowed me to develop. I hope that next year the app gets refined a little more; and that more people use it as a way to find their way around the complex and interesting relationships there are within the EFC.”
Conference Apps aren’t a substitute for face to face networking, they are a conduit to it. They allow interaction with a greater number of organisations and raise the profile of the people and organisations you perhaps weren’t as familiar with on your arrival. They are occurring more and more in this sector (Council on Foundations used one this for example) and if the EFC are to make it a permanent fixture of their AGA they’ve got off to a great start.
David Drewery is executive director at Alliance magazine.
The EFC AGA conference App was created by the EFC using DoubleDutch software.