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“Strong meeting design is about people, change and interaction”


As a PCO, we are used to being implementers. Seasoned. Reliable. Solid. Organising a congress from A to Z and helping our clients unlock new scientific insights. Traditionally, the emphasis has been on aspects such as congress recruitment, project coordination, financial management, communication and logistics. Naturally, we also have an eye for objectives and different ways of working, but with the new strategic direction of Congress by design, we see opportunities to really inhabit the 'by design' in our name.

Organising and designing
Niels Fundter, managing director of Cbd, explains: “Meeting design is becoming an integral part of our way of thinking and working. Not just organising a congress down to the last detail, but also designing it. Asking the question behind the question and sitting behind the drawing board together to develop a set-up and working method that will achieve the greatest impact.”

Way of thinking
Juup de Kanter refers to it as ‘rethinking conferences from chairs to goals’. She is a lecturer and creative thinking trainer at the Utrecht University of Applied Sciences, and has co-written the Handbook on Strategic Event Marketing, which was published in April 2022. She specialises in concept development and was engaged by Cbd to deliver an in-company training to explore and deepen the power of meeting design. “The entire team of Congress by design and Groningen Congress Bureau will come together for a 5 day workshop. Concept development is a way of thinking that anyone can master.”

Eye for vision and perception
“A concept is best described as the overarching idea of a congress, which is based on what you want to achieve with your audience, appropriate to the organisation and the environment”, as De Kanter defines it. “From there, you convert to objectives, content and experience. Good meeting design is based on these three aspects. The desired conference experience and the vision from which everything emerges are often underexposed. It starts with (daring to) ask the right questions, building a bridge between the desired outcome and the process required to achieve it.”

Keeping knowledge-sharing alive
“Every concept is unique”, said De Kanter. “The trick is to look for that one discerning angle. This could be something remarkable in the ambitions, the content, the environment or trends in the field. In what direction should the knowledge move before, during and after the congress? A broader view of the overall process emerges by looking at the desired impact. It provides insight into how you can keep knowledge-sharing alive and keep the target groups involved, even if a congress is only held once every four years.”

Surprising ideas
“The purpose of the in-company training is first of all to get to grips with the possibilities of meeting design”, explains Fundter. “We are working towards developing our own tool or approach in six months’ time that we can also use and share with our clients. After only two sessions it is already noticeable how much it is doing for us, we’re surprising ourselves with ideas. For example, one of the tasks was to think of alternatives. What if there is no catering? What do you do without audio-visual support? This requires thinking differently and provides unexpected perspectives.”

Making an impact
“That is exactly what a strong concept relies on”, De Kanter concludes. “It is about people, change and interaction. Suppose one of the principles of a congress is ‘warmth and togetherness’, then this must be reflected in everything you do, say and radiate. This includes the choice of location, the programme content and catering. Putting yourself in the shoes of the target group and discovering what they need provides you with the knowledge you need to start with the design. This creates a clear thread that gives direction and support. The chances of achieving your objectives and making an impact are thus much higher.”