According to research from Radisson Meetings, planners who report greater ROI are more likely to prefer venues that offer spaces for private networking. This is no surprise when more than half of event planners say that attendees’ key priorities for future events are networking related.
But planners are acutely aware of the challenges they must confront. At many events attendees are left trying to hunt down the people they’d like to meet with just a glass of wine for a compass. Ironically, the search has been made harder by the proliferation of social media. People looking at smart phones to access social content disengage with each other and potentially the event content.
Far from creating distance, technology used intelligently can break down these barriers to networking. Planners are experimenting with wearables, and ‘speed-dating’ apps, where experts can learn from each other in quick-fire sessions. They are also keen to integrate opportunities for private meetings into event agendas.
The latter is the reason why e180, the social business behind networking platform Braindate, created a new way for experts to connect and help solve their challenges, as Sophie Silkes explains in this interview.
How does Braindate complement rather than replace our ability to connect with eachother?
“Braindating is all about sharing knowledge – using the people around you as sources of knowledge and content at an event. It differs from traditional networking in that it’s topic driven. It's the equivalent of navigating a room full of people that have, instead of name tags, a sentence about what they really want to talk about tagged to their sweater. We’re adding nuance to the cocktail hour being the only networking option.
The three elements to Braindate are the technology, the onsite experience, and the engagement and communication strategy. At the outset, producers work alongside event organisers to understand their key communication and connections challenges.
A few weeks prior to the event, attendees will log onto the Braindate platform and activate their profile. They will see some content already populated by the community influencers, the organisers, and others who have exciting things to share.
They can then post a topic, either offering or making a request for knowledge, in a one-on-one or a group discussion. Attendees arrive at the event with a preset agenda of their braindates, which happen in a designated lounge. Our onsite learning concierges can facilitate spontaneous connections and act as professional hosts to broker the introductions, helping overcome any potential discomfort about meeting strangers.”
Where did the original idea come from?
“Braindate was borne out of an understanding of a need to learn in a different way. We released it in 2011 as the first social network dedicated to helping humans connect one-on-one to share knowledge and learn from each other. The big leap came in recognising the potential that events could offer. Events have the 5 Cs: they create the right context, where there’s a critical mass of people who share a common interest, who are captive, and committed to learning new things and meeting new, relevant people.”
How do you measure the effectiveness of Braindate?
“While it’s hard to measure impact, we have plenty of anecdotal evidence of the benefits of Braindate to attendees. One of our favourites is a braindate instigated by the onsite learning concierge team between two visually impaired participants. Noting that the two had similar topics, the concierges suggested that they facilitate a spontaneous braindate. The two men, from Canada and France respectively, had much in common and had a long discussion around policy related to visual impairment in their countries, and ways in which they could collaborate internationally.
Sébastien Lauzière, Quebec sales director for Brisbane-based Flight Centre Travel Group is another convert. Mandated to grow the company in Quebec, Lauzière pinpointed key events to attend, including C2. Here’s what he had to say: “In 2016, I did five Braindates each day and uncovered millions of dollars’ worth of potential business. I had effortless, beautiful meetings with top CEOs. Normally, it might take me six months or a year of knocking on doors just to get in front of the decision-makers at these large companies.”
What can clients do with the insights from Braindate?
“At the end of each event, clients receive a final report that visualises all participant activity behaviour. From this detailed report, they can see which were the top topic trends, which were the words most frequently used, down to how many conversations took place cross sector or cross border. The report also shows how many invitations are left pending. As this is a report of conversations that didn’t happen, it is essentially a guide to the unmet knowledge and content needs of that community. It means that in the following year's programming and even in the time between, which is the real sweet spot, they can release content that is directly tailored to those unmet needs. That’s a pretty cool way of providing really personalised insights.”
How would you like Braindate to evolve in the future?
“The hesitation that we most often hear is I don't have anything valuable to share We’d like to increase event attendees’ confidence in sharing their expertise by enabling them to be increasingly granular in their requests. The more specific the request, the more targeted the prompt to people that have the knowledge requested, people who otherwise might have thought they had nothing to add. People are more confident and comfortable sharing, seeing their own expertise and experiences as totally valid and valuable to somebody. We do this in person quite well with our learning concierge and producers, but we are working on leveraging the product side.
“We also want to push Braindate up from being an accompaniment to the main event. One of our clients, ROI Community, runs gatherings year-round in cities around the world where the whole event purpose is around braindates, with perhaps just talks to introduce and close the evening. So far this has only happened during smaller events, but we dream of a day when a huge event could just rely on braindates. That would be incredible.”