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All the World’s A Stage: the Game ON! Story

March 1, 2011

Last week, about three hundred people, live and virtual, gathered in Portland, Oregon for an event that reinvented the typical meetings industry conference.  The GMIC 2011 Sustainable Meetings Conference took a risk, broke barriers and demonstrated what the future of meetings is all about.  “Innovation is our get-out-of-jail-free card” became our motto, inspired by industry blogger Sam Smith.  It was an experiment in social gaming, social intelligence and collaboration that worked not perfectly, but brilliantly.

The book “Total Engagement” by Byron Reeves and J. Leighton Read became the seed for a new meetings architecture.  The design team integrated concepts from the on-line gaming world such as role playing, narrative contexts (a case study, in this case), teams, instant feedback, ranking, competition, and time pressures, which in turn promoted a sense of achievement, gave an immersion experience, allowed teams to explore options, and allowed the “players” to compete in a social network setting.  Game ON! was born.

The objectives for the conference were to:

  1. Present attendees, both in-person and virtual, with information and tools to create sustainable events
  2. Offer opportunities for hands-on experience in creating sustainable events
  3. Create dialogue around sustainable business issues influencing events
  4. Enhance “player” networks
  5. Activate an innovative marketplace for suppliers, sponsors and partners

We also wanted to integrate a “whole person” ethos into the event, which meant that we wanted to ensure players (attendees) were offered healthful, local, sustainable food and opportunities to take time for themselves.

The design team created the concept, but needed a team of their own to pull off the intricacies of the event. First, the GMIC board of Directors decided to take a risk and go with the game format, although no-one was completely sure what it might look like in practice.  The logistics team (Three Squares) ensured that everything went smoothly on-site, and worked with a technology company (Quickmobile) to develop an on-site conference app that was the key to success; it showed not only typical conference information (like an on-line program) but also gaming elements such as a leader board that showed the team ranking and points totals.  As the design team leader, I did a lot of hoping that the research and design would pay off!

The design used psychological elements that played off of natural tendencies. For example, the theory of “in-group bias” was used; we knew that if people were assigned randomly to teams, they would automatically assume that they were on the best team.  This promoted competition.  Most sessions were also shorter than normal; this was because adult learners typically have somewhat shorter attention spans.  Hour-long sessions mean that some attendees lose interest.

How did it work?  On-site feedback was phenomenally positive.  An ROI study is currently being completed, that will give us more specific feedback on engagement and application of new ideas.  Everything will be fed into the design of the next conference…and possibly into how the GMIC continues to engage its members and chapters year-round.

All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”

So said William Shakespeare, and who am I to doubt a man of such renown?

NOTE:  This is cross-posted from the GMIC site:

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