Case Study: Fresh Conference

The Annual Fresh Conference for the meeting industry is a playground for testing new ideas and concepts. Maarten Vanneste, the organizer of the conference shares some interesting experiments in this case study.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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The Annual Fresh Conference for the meeting industry is a playground for testing new ideas and concepts. Maarten Vanneste, the organizer of the conference shares some interesting experiments in this case study.


Hi Maarten! Welcome to our studio.


Thank you Kevin.


The Fresh conference, what is it exactly?


Fresh conference is a conference about conferences, with 100% focuses on the content side, so how to design a conference so it has more impact on the participants.


For you guys it's also a kind of a playground to test new concepts, ideas, launch new initiatives. Can you give some examples of that?


Yes, there’s definitely lot of stuff happening in this area of meeting design and specially the technology space, new things coming out but also books that are being published and so we try to launch as many new things as possible so people can learn from that. An example is that sessions formats for example that we did last year where we included some theatre backgrounds and some people are invited to discuss about the kind of a body that was on a table under a sheet and they were kind of analyzing its specific functions. And so the way these meeting designers and design a session and you can really live inside that session and be a participant in the session gives you lot of inspiration as a an event planner, meeting planner to try new things and learn which precise techniques can help you with supporting specific needs that you have.


I also read something about pair-sharing. What is that?


Yes, Pair-sharing for example, agent seeker has introduced that last year. It’s actually a very simple technique, so it’s a pair of people, two people that share, so pair sharing and I like the word the way it sounds and I like the technique. Because what you do instead of having one expert on the stage and 200 people listening, one is talking and 200 are listening, you now get a 100 people talking and 100 people listening. So now you have a much higher degree of expertise of the room that is being shared amongst participants.


What do guests think about that kind of meeting interaction?


They love this kind of things obviously. Because you know, everybody knows when you talk about boring conference that it is about the fact that there is a 90 minute speech from a speaker and 3 minutes Q & A at the end. So there are lots of things you can do to change that. Pair sharing is one of those things that you could insert between chunks of a presentation and people love it because they are all there because they are all in the market of textiles for example, there’s the textile conference. And obviously they know stuff, they’ve learnt things, they want to share stuff from their own life and share it with each other. People love it.


And they can talk themselves without having the fear to be on stage for…


There you go. It’s the smallest possible audience that you can have as one person. So it’s the least scary of all of them and that’s why it really works really well and people love it and it’s always difficult to make them stop.


And how about hybrid events, because that’s the next big thing?


Well it’s differently a well hot item and then there’s technical stuff involved, audiovisual but also the technology, the internet and connections. So it’s very complicated piece of a conference. And we’ve done some nice experiments with that as well. Like for example having a set of laptops in the lobby so the people that are online you can see those people because you see their videos because bring them together in a little go to meeting group for example or break gap groups. And when you go to that laptop and when you see someone that you recognize and you can pick up the headsets and you can talk to those people. So really the networking amongst the online people and on site people…


On one of the pictures I saw a girl walking around with an iPad. What did she do?


She was a hybrid angel. So that was another little experiment we did and it allows one person to be part of that break gap group. For you have several people with video web cams so you can see each other. So the webcam from iPad is used and the microphone and this person with the headset and she can walk around during a coffee break. And also somebody online can say Hi this is John, I’d like to say hello to John so then she walks to John, shows the iPad and then John recognize this person and they know each other and they can have a conversation when the headphone is handed over. So it brings again the two groups together, the online group and the onsite.


But on the production view, isn’t it difficult to manage all those different assets?


I think if there’s one thing that we’ve learnt is that these are actually two productions. The online experience is a lot of work. You need attention for chat, social media for the camera picture that is going out, you have to take into account the lay that you have, sound needs to be right, you need to pay attention to several things and during coffee break you bring other stuff to the online participants, you have a separate team actually. And also if possible a separate sound technician for the online participants, so really a separate production next to the onsite production.


Every year you also have a theme for your conference. Can you already tell us something about the theme for this year?


So we have, the theme for this year is present people. And it’s really about us presenting people to the audience. People as a tool in the Toolbox for meeting design. So for example there are facilitators, there are content copy writers, there are producers, there are voting and interaction specialists, and there are moderators and all sorts of professionals. There are different categories of people and so we present those, we talk about those. That is our focus for this year. Obviously we will also present as always lots of techniques and meeting formats and technology so people can go home with lots of new stuff in the Toolbox that they can immediately apply to their own conferences.


Where can people find out some more practical information on the conference?


The conference always takes place in January in the end of January, in the beginning of the year. So you can start a Fresh year with some fresh ideas from the Fresh conference.


Oh good! That’s why the name is Fresh conference. 


And so the is our website. So that’s pretty easy.


Ok. Perfect. Maarten, thank you for coming over to our studio.


Thank you for having us.


And you at home, thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week.