Almost two weeks after Social Fish Maddie Grant and Lindy Dreyer with a host of technology providers launched what they dubbed #Untech10 in defiance of the major snowstorm that forced the cancellation of ASAE’s 2010 Technology Conference and Expo, the potential long-term impact of their efforts has become clear.
There are a couple of great posts on other blogs about how things came together. Essentially, according to Grant, the unconference was launched with a Twitter hashtag, some nimble volunteers (willing to go without much sleep) and $6,000 (all donated by sponsors) and ASAE’s unofficial blessing.
The original ASAE conference was scheduled to open on Wednesday, February 10. The day before, there were rumors about a possible cancellation as “Snowpocalypse” was preparing to engulf Washington, DC. Rather than waiting, Grant, Dreyer and Aaron Biddar of The Port, hatched a Plan B and asked the Twitterati to stand by.
By mid-afternoon on the Tuesday the 9th, ASAE formally announced the cancellation and plans for the unconference were put fully into motion with help from exhibitors already on site when the cancellation hit. The list included:
The Port’s Biddar handled hotel negotiations, sponsorship and installed cameras and broadcasting equipment at the Renaissance Hotel.
Eventbrite offered registration for the live participants.
Peach New Media provided the live streaming of content alongside a Twitter feed.
NFI Studios sponsored the happy hour and reimbursed travel expenses for association executives.
Avectra offered their Webex account as a back-up system for the presentations and provided food, signage and miscellaneous support on site.
Speakers who had been on the schedule for the original conference were given the opportunity to present their sessions on Thursday before a hybrid (live and virtual) audience or Friday before a virtual only audience. Grant’s crew took special pains to be inclusive of all presenter volunteers while providing a broad range of topics. Some presenters with similar topics were grouped together in panels. The traditional town hall meeting scheduled for Wednesday evening at the original conference was replicated at #Untech10 using a fishbowl concept recently introduced by social media and event industry authority Samuel J. Smith.
While the logistics were unfolding, Tweeters who followed the #Untech10 hashtag were given an unprecedented glimpse of the behind the scenes action as @maddiegrant, @Lindydreyer and others tweeted a play by play. #Untech10 opened at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday, February 11 to 75 live attendees and 425 virtual participants.
In the end Grant was amazed with the results. “All of the vendors, some of whom were competitors, came together. It was almost like they were showing off by doing instead of just selling. The stuff that always goes wrong didn’t. Even the food never ran out,” she says.
Grant and Dreyer’s success with #Untech10 has much larger implications for the meetings industry. #Untech10 is the real-life story of what happened when the patients took over the asylum, especially patients who never entertained the notion of failure.
Associations must change. So many associations (and event organizations) take conservative approaches, focus on details that turn out to be less important and find the risk of failure too great to try anything new or spontaneous for fear of ruffling some board members’ feathers. ASAE made a bold move when they allowed (although unable to endorse or assist) the members to run with #Untech10 without seeing it as competition but as a way to meet the needs of their community.
Generation X works differently. Grant, Dreyer and others saw the cancellation of the conference as an incredible opportunity to serve their community, shape the future of hybrid meetings and showcase the technology that will one day be the norm rather than the exception. In true Generation X style, the door opened and rather than wait for group consensus, feasibility studies or permission, they ran through it with little more than their smartphones and chutzpah.
Exhibitors will sell differently in the future. The vendor companies that stepped up for #Untech10 with people, platforms and money are the other heroes of the story. In true social media style, they allowed themselves to be exposed, to risk failure, to be transparent and to sell by example.
Now that we’ve learned to live without, we may do without. In the future, it may not be necessary to have large gatherings of people in order to serve and build the community. We all love face-to-face but the success of #Untech10 revealed that meeting stakeholders are just as responsive to virtual meetings as live ones given the right conditions. The focus on “butts in seats” or “heads in beds” is quickly turning to butts and heads.
Spontaneity is the new black. Maddie Grant and I discussed the fact that #Untech10 was sort of like the conference version of a “rave” or the mobile catering trucks that drive around Los Angeles tweeting their locations and daily specials to followers who line up for the goods. Meetings in the future will have more spontaneity brought to them by the audience who will participate more and in greater numbers than before because it adds dimension and excitement to the event FOR THEM.
Meeting, conference and exhibition planners’ skill sets will change. Had Maddie Grant and Lindy Dreyer not known how to utilize Twitter and about the technology platforms for networking, broadcasting and capturing content, they could not have done what they did so quickly. This is a lesson to all planners to learn what’s going on in the new world of event technology and for hell’s sake, get on Twitter.
Being nimble pays dividends. The #Untech10 experience was a thrill ride for Maddie Grant. “I would totally do it again. I think doing things fast, collaboratively and openly takes away the stress of doing things perfectly. We just had to get it done. The reason we could do it with so many players was that we only had 24 hours to get it done. In the future organizations will need to be nimble enough to pull these types of things off,” she says.
There is no such thing as control. If anything, #Untech10 demonstrated that control over the content, the message and the brand is elusive. If the meeting organization does not provide compelling content, establish the message (by listening and acting) and reinforce the brand (by example setting not advertising), the attendees will do it for them.
Live and virtual audiences are part of an event continuum. There was incredible electricity in the room of live bodies gathered at the Renaissance Hotel according to Grant. Likewise, the virtual attendees were lively, active and a major component of the meeting. When done correctly (i.e. allowing the audience to be as much a part of the meeting as the presenters), the live experience and the virtual experience can function in complementary ways.
The Takeaway: The revolution will not be televised. It will be streamed live and on demand to a computer or smartphone near you.