Ideas galore for the congress of the future
The research project Mice Lab 2014 probes the needs of congress attendees
How should conferences and congresses be conducted if the attendees are to learn as much as possible from them, network with each other while there, and have fun into the bargain? These and other questions were explored by the experts from Mice Lab 2014 in late May in Vorarlberg. About one hundred congress industry representatives were able to draw inspiration from the researchers' results. These are freely available for the public as video clips on the website www.bodenseemeeting.com (from 9 June).
In June, Mice Lab will also be taking part for the first time at the specialised trade fair MEXCON 2014 in Berlin.
The research project about the congress of the future was initiated in 2013 by Netzwerk BodenseeMeeting. This year the team of researchers invited six new professionals from different fields to come into the lab – a journalist, an architect, a youth researcher, an organisation developer, an outdoor trainer and an industry representative. Their goal was to come up with creative ideas for meetings, incentives, congresses and events – in short MICE.
After two days of seclusion the researchers presented their findings on the third and final day in front of about one hundred industry representatives at Bregenz Festival House. True to form, they didn't go for a conventional presentational style. Instead they each gave a Pecha Kucha talk lasting six minutes and forty seconds as a way of giving their listeners a brief introduction to the relevant subject matter. Afterwards the experts and attendees got together in open space workshops to share their know-how and experiences.
Out of the comfort zone
The credo of the host and journalist Andrea Thilo was "out of the comfort zone". Freely adapting the proverb "Taking makes you happy – giving makes you blissful", she urged her listeners to make use of the swarm intelligence of a group. Congress attendees, she said, should be given the opportunity not only to take part but also to "give part", i.e. to share their knowledge and experience with other people. However, the importance of conference speakers should not be underestimated, Thilo stressed.
Urs Treuthardt, head of the Convention Bureau at St. Gallen-Bodensee Tourismus, recommended that people break away from standards – also in public relations work. For example, his organisation has given up newsletters as a means of communication and instead uses highly original videos: company information is summarised by a poetry slam professional in broadcasts that are posted on YouTube.
Treuthardt also stressed how important it is "to reflect the needs of everyone involved in the congress" – i.e. the attendees, the speakers, the organisers, the venue, without forgetting the sponsors. "That's the big challenge."
Space is an underrated factor
Everyone agreed that a key role is played by rooms and spaces. The architecture of convention centres – think of bolted-down seats – isn't the only thing that needs to be rethought. As architect Andrea Hofmann said, "spaces themselves become players; break rooms do too, as well as spaces in between. They're not just passive, but can also inspire". They permit movement and so heighten the ability to learn and remember, outdoor trainer Charly Siegl added.
Space in the sense of freedom of action and movement was also discussed. It's important "to give congresses a structure but at the same time to allow sufficient free room and flexibility – in terms of physical space but also content," explained programme planner and event dramaturge Tina Gadow.
The future viability of MICE culture
Passive listening and active involvement, movement and rest phases, co-creative energy and openness to controversy – to meet the needs of all the stakeholders, congress organisers need to perform a balancing act. Mice Lab doesn't offer any ready formula. "What attendees and interested parties get from us is a raised awareness – plus questions that they should ask themselves when planning an event," Tina Gadow summarised. "You can tell if a congress has been well prepared or not."
BodenseeMeeting, initiator of the Mice Lab, is a network of 14 representatives of the congress industry, tourism and business from the Lake Constance region. For over twenty years now it has promoted Lake Constance as a region for holding conferences and congresses. Over a thousand multi-day congresses and events are held in the region every year. With the Mice Lab project exploring the congress of the future, the region has become an innovative centre for the industry.
The initiators come from Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. They are: Insel Mainau, Kultur- & Congress-Centrum Graf-Zeppelin-Haus in Friedrichshafen, Lindau Tourismus und Kongresse, Meersburg Tourismus, Milchwerk Radolfzell, Singen Congress, Tourist-Information Konstanz, Überlingen am Bodensee, Convention Partner Vorarlberg, Festspielhaus Bregenz, Säntis-Schwebebahn, St. Gallen-Bodensee Convention, Würth Haus Rorschach, SAL – Saal am Lindenplatz in Schaan.
Photos: BodenseeMeeting / Lucas Breuer