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Beyond Collaboration: Social Media, F2F Meetings & Human Evolution


What if your family extended all over the world? What if your professional life was much more than "just business" and connected you to something greater than yourself?

What if these seemingly unattainable goals are now within humanity's grasp and  being facilitated in no small part by event professionals?

Thanks to the internet, everyday people are meeting and collaborating with others who would never have been in their field of influence before.  They are traveling and meeting these people face to face at events and they are forming bonds as a result that go beyond business. This month I learned a lot about how such experiences can affect us.

A Family Experience

The Conference PublishersI attended the Green Meetings Industry Council's Sustainable Meetings Conference in Montreal as Social Media Manager for The Conference Publishers. Though I was a day late and missed a portion of the conference, I was blown away by the brilliance, altruism and willingness to try new things that this group displayed.

I turned several online friendships into face to face ones and was inspired to ensure I'm doing my part to contribute to a better world.

I stayed a day later and traveled to Ottawa to meet the entire Conference Publishers team at Mitchell Beer's home. I live in Southern California and since I joined the Conference Publishers in January, we'd only met all together a couple of times via skype.

Mitchell and his lovely wife (and TCP Managing Editor) Karen Irving were kind enough to put me up for a night which allowed me to meet their gorgeous daughter Rachel and watch Karen spin yarn with her own spinning wheel!

The next day I met TCP Senior Project Manager Biljana Zelenovic in person for the first time and we were joined by Senior National Account Manager Iana Ciatti, who I'd met face to face at previous conferences.

Laughing and planning over a delicious vegan takeout lunch that Mitchell brought home, we got a good idea of each others personalities, shared common experiences and bonded in a way we could never have at a virtual meeting.

The warmth and generosity extended to me by the entire Conference Publisher's team touched me in a way that I have never experienced at a typical business meeting.

Fun and Productive Collaboration

Five days later I flew to Minneapolis to work with the Interactive Meeting Technologies crew on an MPI sponsored research project about hybrid events.

Though CEO Sam Smith and Operations Director Cindy Ahlberg both live in Minneapolis, the rest of our team, Rosa Garriga Mora, Ruud Janssen, Richard John and I, had to fly in - three of us from Europe. My experience there was, again, unlike any work experience I've ever had.

For nearly two years, our team has met via skype to collaborate on two MPI sponsored research projects: a study on integrating virtual events into event portfolios published in February; and our current research into hybrid events.

MPI Hybrid Event Research TeamIMT put us up at the Minneapolis Crown Plaza. After meeting and having our first meal together (I'd had the opportunity previously to meet everyone face to face except Richard) we retired so that we could get a 7 am start the next morning.

Upon arriving at the designated room ( a small conference room near the hotel restaurant) I found a conference table equipped for computers, around which the rest of the group had already gathered. In the corner was a continental breakfast set up with all the coffee, juice, fruit yogurt bagels and pastries you could want.

For three days, we worked; discussing, collaborating and joking around that table, ending each day by 4 pm so that we could have a little fun. Friday we toured down town  and Saturday Sam and his beautiful wife Suzanne hosted a Kentucky Derby party for us.

By the end of my time there, I was amazed at how much we accomplished and how fun every minute of it was. While I had spent time with the entire team (with the exception of Richard) on previous ocassions, never had I spent so much uninterrupted time laughing, collaborating and interacting with them in such a positive way.  

Team Bonding

My experiences with The Conference Publishers and with Interactive Meeting Technologies were unique in that they served to:

1 - help me form a strong bond with my fellow team members

2 - make me feel part of something bigger than myself

3 - make me feel an important part of the team

Consider that I met both Mitchell and Sam first on Twitter and then later face to face at two  event industry conferences after which they later suggested we work together. The F2F gatherings of these teams were important and memorable. The TCP team met at Mitchell's home, and welcomed me as "family," while the IMT team used space at a hotel and the entire experience was planned. (Which leads me to wonder, how many more virtual collaborations will be using hotel space and meeting planner services this way in the future?)

Would it have been the same if I never met these people face to face? No. Time spent together doing things that are not goal-oriented - experiences that are considered superfluous at most meetings - are where bonds are strengthened. These strong bonds serve to ease communication and understanding when collaboration in pursuit of a goal is necessary. My time spent in close proximity to co-workers with whom I usually work in a virtual environment, has been among the most productive and satisfying time I've experienced.

If you've ever experienced it, you know that true collaboration - that point when all participants are valued and all synapses are firing - is not only one of the most enjoyable experiences humans can experience, it is also highly productive and it can change the world. We need only look around to see how technology is facilitating such experiences. We are now routinely connecting with strangers from all over the world and we are laughing, sharing, playing and doing business with these folks - people we never would have heard of a few years ago.

Looking back, it's amazing to realize how much humans have actually accomplished in isolation. Now that our connections have multiplied and become stronger, we have no excuse. We truly can overcome or accomplish anything.




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Jenise, I love your description of your visit to Montreal and Ottawa. (And wish I could have been a fly on the wall for your fascinating, all-star visit to Minneapolis.) You're absolutely right, of course -- it made such a difference for everyone on the team that we all had a chance to meet and connect in person. 
And the same synergy that gave rise to the Event Camp conference series is alive and well here: we met and built our working relationships virtually, then solidified and strengthened the connection in person. I think most meetings have barely begun to realize what a difference online communities of interest can make when they become the catalyst for further conversation, not just the result of live events.
Posted @ Friday, May 11, 2012 5:41 PM by Mitchell Beer
So true! I wonder how many new business opportunities and relationships have been an outgrowth of those Event Camp meetings. It sure would be interesting to know.  
I agree that most meeting and event professionals don't yet know what a boon social media will be for them. Hopefully many will get it in time to catch the wave. Thanks for the comment!
Posted @ Saturday, May 12, 2012 1:13 PM by Jenise Fryatt
Jenise, this post is a great reminder of why meetings continue to be valuable - as much as we can interact and "meet" virtually, as human beings there is nothing to replace face to face interaction, and live laughter. Now we just need to get past our propensity to fill every second of meeting space with programmed activities! Thank you as always for sharing your experiences.
Posted @ Saturday, May 12, 2012 2:26 PM by Tahira Endean
YES! When we over-program our events, particularly with content instead of networking activities, we eliminate the opportunities for the very experiences that make face to face events so powerful! Thanks so much for the comment.
Posted @ Monday, May 14, 2012 6:12 PM by Jenise Fryatt
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