Meeting planner, event professional, trade-show organizer, business-event strategist — there is no shortage of titles in the face-to-face industry. At the 2017 PCMA Education Conference in New York City, a new designation entered the discussion. “All of you,” Matt Wallaert, behavioral scientist and entrepreneur, said in his opening main stage session on June 11, “are behavioral designers.”
Wallaert, who has worked at Microsoft and LendingTree and advised a number of startups, aimed to help participants recognize that the key piece of their professional lives involves inspiring attendees to adjust the way they approach the conference environment. For example, consider the number of attendees who spend their time during networking breaks staring at their screens. “You know what your phone is?” Wallaert asked. “It’s a way of not making eye contact with other people.”
The look-down-at-your-smartphone trick is a challenge that every face-to-face event must address. While learning and networking are two of the primary reasons that attendees register for conferences, those objectives cannot be accomplished while scrolling through social media, refreshing email inboxes, and avoiding the surroundings. So meeting and event professionals must design their experiences to give their own attendees reasons to look up and engage with the content. “You can change behaviors,” Wallaert reminded participants in New York. “You have to realize the power you have in making people feel special and different.”
While practitioners in the events industry do have a certain amount of influence over the attendees who come to their events, they are also working against one big challenge: inhibiting pressures. These pressures, Wallaert said, make up the force that might encourage attendees to avoid participating in the main activities that will satisfy their reasons for registering in the first place. Sure, it would be nice to ask a question of a speaker, but inhibiting pressures tell attendees that microphones aren’t easily accessible. And yes, it would be great to network with other attendees, but those same inhibiting pressures tell attendees that it’s too loud at the reception to have a meaningful conversation.
“By reducing inhibiting pressures,” Wallaert said, “you can inspire the actions that people really want.”
Interested in learning more about how behavior design applies to your meeting? Check out page 81 of the June issue of Convene for more insights from Wallaert.