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Innovative Conferencing Makes Its Mark

Cruise liners, casinos, luxury trains, deserted islands, et al, corporates are turning more imaginative and experimental in their choice of conference venues. fe Business Traveller checks out the emerging trends.

In the fast-paced and highly competitive corporate world, traditional ways of going about processes are passé. In a corporate environment, which often revolves around stressful meetings with sessions of analysis and targets, conferencing is considered to be the best way to go about cracking the success code, rather than spending time pondering individually. Conferences or conventions have been around for ages but with the rapid global expansion of companies and new challenges, corporates have realised a need to be inventive in their approach to all spheres of their functioning including conferencing.

Traditional annual conferences have slowly, but steadily, been replaced by half yearly and quarterly exercise with increasing emphasis on achieving departmental and organisational objectives through team building programs rather than traditional boardroom sessions. Individual skills are sharpened and forgotten thought processes are reinforced into the minds of busy corporate executives through these team building exercises. A lot of companies also use team building to unearth the real potential of their executive, which can be easily camouflaged in the work place. While in Europe and America, team building is a full-fledged industry; corporates in India have now woken up to realise the potential of such programs.

Apart from team building, conferences have also undergone a radical change with respect to locations and agenda, the latter incorporating a lot of 'fun' element to an otherwise serious business session. And to this end, after a brief period of cost cutting frenzy, couple of years ago, companies are willing to loosen their purse strings for conferences and conventions. Imaginative and innovative are the two key words in conference parlance today and a deserted island, cruise ship, luxury train, a casino or the Savannahs for a conference venue is no longer an outlandish idea.

The recent trend of innovative conferencing has spawned a whole new lucrative segment for Event Management and travel tour companies. Organising a conference or convention, which was earlier the headache of HR or marketing head of a company is now being outsourced to these service providers, who offer the convenience of a one stop shop for all arrangements.

According to Gaurav Sundaram, chief executive officer, GET Lionel India, "Innovative conferencing is clearly a trend and the reason for the emergence of this trend is that employees are travelling more and hence expect a degree of innovation and novelty in corporate events. Further, much of the conference activity today requires a high focus on HR and Sales & Marketing. With these two primary focus areas, corporate organisers have to challenge themselves to deliver a unique experience to their participants. Corporates are also looking for Travel Management Companies like GET Lionel India, who can manage issues professionally and through a large global spread".

Several corporates agree that innovative conferencing can play a significant role as a team bonding exercise. Stress levels and hectic schedules permit little or no opportunity for employees in a company to interact and build a rapport with each other. A relaxed, stress-free ambience promotes healthy camaraderie and often resolves differences, which are otherwise difficult to resolve in a business environment. In fact, the format of these innovative conferences is precisely structured to facilitate bonding. With interaction between a particular team during a conference, which has several activities thrown in or even a relaxed outdoor setting for a meeting can do wonders in opening up closed doors. "Previously corporates would allot a day at the most of a three day conference for team building activities but of late corporates who understand the value of such an activity have started devoting two and even three days to team building. The camaraderie developed during the program is carried back into the work place and very often results in greater bonding and cohesive teamwork. Inter department roadblocks also very often melt down after a team building offsite," says Jude Cardozo, director of Satyakam, a Goa based agency, which conducts team building programs for corporate's in Goa.

Corporates are adding more jazz and panache into the framework and perception of conferencing. According to a CEO of a multi-national company, traditional mundane conferences are passé, the conferencing market, including both the event managers and the corporates, are waking to the need and significance of thematic conferences. "Make it thematic, throw in celebrities and cut through the clutter," is his suggestion for conferences today.

The brief today to conference organisers is to provide an offbeat experience and in spite of the complex co-ordination process involved the service providers have built up expertise and network to cater to all kinds of requests. "We have conducted skiing holidays in the Himalayas for a Fortune 10 company who sent their top performing managers to India, from Europe. This involved a highly complex co-ordination on several areas of their itinerary. Sports Holidays is a new area that we are focusing on. One of our clients, a leading IT company held their sales conference in Kuala Lumpur to coincide with the Formula 1 event. In addition to conferencing, they had the entire team watch the F1 event, which was part of their conference theme. Last year, we also organised a couple of conferences on cruise ships," stated Sundaram.

Conferencing on cruises is already being patronised by corporates in India. Star Cruises says that leading corporate houses such as Videocon, Ceat Tyres, Nerolac Paints, Asian Paints, Ambuja Cement, Godrej and Mahindra & Mahindra go cruising on board their ships, generally to hold conferences and sometimes to have product launches.

Though cruise liner excursions form a small part of the $102.3 billion spent on conferences and events in North America, the segment is generating a lot of excitement from conference planners, world over. According to a survey conducted in US last year, only 11 per cent of corporate events were held in restaurants, country clubs or other unique venues compared to 72 per cent in hotels. In India, though the concept is still being explored, it holds huge potential.

Says V N Dhoot, chairman, Videocon International Ltd. and a fervent promoter of innovative conferencing, "Time, experience and extensive research by our HRD department proved that the most successful brainstorming sessions were those conducted in relaxed environments, bringing out the best in every participant. Conventional business environments are often not conducive to optimising the participants productivity. Cruise conferencing was introduced in our company in 1994-95 based on feedback received from participants who had tired of traditional conferences."

Many companies are also involving their business associates, clients, stakeholders, other than employees to be part of such innovative conferences, rather than sticking to cocktail meets or dinner interactions. "The objective of events and exercises as conferencing tools, is to enhance our Relationship Quotient with our stakeholders, in an effort to sustain and strengthen our key relationships. We strongly feel that such get togethers and events help in brining down communication barriers and serve to send out a positive vibration both to our business associates and our employees. The summits and seminar form a significant part of our marketing budgets," says P K Sridharan, Hexaware Technologies, Executive Director & President - India Operations.

Even though it may seem to be just another way of getting about people to listen to what one is saying or get the employees to do what the company wants, there is a great amount of research and analysis that has brought this concept of innovative conferencing into being. It has been found that besides boosting the morale of the conferencing group and influencing their psyche positively, such conferences infuse the group with a spirit of fun and adventure. When regular business agenda is given a holiday flavour, participants are in a far more receptive mode.

Several new concepts in the innovative conferencing sphere have been cropping up around the world like beach, safari and even casino conferencing. Getting outdoors is yet another rather recent phenomena and conferences are being held on the banks of the Ganges, where the participants reside in tents, at beaches or at casinos, far away from the cityscape - the options are limited only by imagination. Casino managements are now aggressively changing their operations to accommodate conferences within their set-up. Though Casinos are not prevalent in most parts of the country, this sector is considered to be a growing area of interest among conference organisers in most parts of the world.

Safari Conferencing is another concept that is fast gaining popularity, though its true potential is yet to be fully exploited. Beach conferencing is one concept, which has immense potential in the country but its potential has not been fully tapped. The requirements that make a good beach conference are connectivity, infrastructure within hotels, with provisions for conferences, meetings, incentives, exhibitions and cost-effectiveness. Many resorts in the country, which border the coastline, have been reaping the benefits of taping this sector. Another new concept, which is also in its nascent stage, is conferencing in trains. Palace on Wheels, the luxury train promoted by Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation and the recently launched Deccan Odyssey by Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation with a state-of-the-art conference facility bogey are options whose potential still remains by and large untapped.

Creating innovative conferencing applications and products is the off shoot of a demand for a new and innovative conferencing solutions, which is growing rapidly, as enterprises continue to look for ways to increase efficiency and strengthen their competitive edge. Demand for new and innovative conferencing solutions is also growing rapidly. To make events and conferences more exciting calls for an extremely high level of understanding of the latest technological advancements in event management.

"The strength of an event manager is the ability to imbibe, understand, seamlessly integrate, control and flawlessly execute these technologies creatively within the confines of a conference or event so as to provide the audience with an unforgettable experience - an experience where the medium is the message. This ability to integrate varied and innovative technologies has now become the new trend in events and conferences. From the audience's point of view, a new experience presented in a refreshing manner always ensures that the core message of the conference or event gets communicated with clarity and hence results in tremendous recall and lasting impact," says Sabas Joseph, director, Wizcraft, a major event management company.

Some of the technological innovations used for conferences and events in the past couple of years are the use of scanners for intelligent lighting and scanner coupled with Gobos, which work as stencils to write a message with light. Multi-coloured lasers are being synchronised to music with crisp programming, which can literally 'burn' a message into the audience's mind. Lasers are being utilised widely, as they are extremely adaptable and can also be used with water fountains and water screens called water lasers to provide a 3-dimensional effect. Another advent is the usage of 3-D technology, which enhances the visual experience immensely. Large format digital video screens facilitate huge projections of images and can be used as very large backdrops. Pani Projectors, which are large format projectors used for projection on buildings, has also been around for a while now. This projector makes the venue even larger than life and one can have a 70-foot image of the person on a building rather than a mere 10-foot backdrop.

While these tech gadgets have been a shot in the arm for the conference organisers, corporates have also taken to technology in a big way. Web conferencing applications are now being widely by companies. It facilitates live, interactive meetings and presentations to a much wider, global audience. This service allows you to present critical information to large group of people and gather quality feedback during the session.

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