It’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be niche


Last week I embarked on a feverish programme of braindating at C2 in Montreal. I wasn’t trying to ascertain how old my mind was by counting the grey folds of my cerebral cortex, nor was I attempting to seduce my way to enlightenment. I was harnessing e180’s peer-to-peer learning network to spark meaningful conversations and foster collaborative skill-building.

Braindating is changing how we can learn at events and it’s centred upon the notion that conversations are the missing link in our modern learning tool-kit. It’s a refreshing alternative to speaker-lead plenaries and PowerPoint-heavy breakouts, and empowers individuals to seize the initiative, identify their preferred learning topics and pinpoint exactly what they want to learn, and from whom. It’s a paradigm shift from a passive event audience to an empowered learning community eager for more meaningful connections. Instead of focusing on a small faculty of experts, braindating harnesses the specialisms and intelligence of every event attendee to offer a diverse programme of niche content, geared towards the varied learning needs of an audience and delivered in more engaging surroundings where knowledge retention is greater and reinforced through an intimate human connection. In a metaphoric nutshell, braindating is the vehicle for your audience to propel each other along their learning journeys.

My stretch goal, developed pre-event at an intriguing, day-long collaborative retreat, was to unlock new ways of engaging, educating and communicating with global event audiences. I was hoping to walk away with a range of unique ideas that would excite my clients’ communities and accelerate learning at meetings.

I have previously flirted with the idea of creating new event formats through portmanteaus, but this time I needed a more structured, less tongue-in-cheek learning plan to maximise the vast array of opportunities at the three-day event, which bills itself as the intersection of commerce and creativity and had adopted a theme of transformative collisions for its seventh edition. Looking at the content available in the braindate market and matching this against my desired outcomes, I decided to focus on storytelling and creating emotional resonance with individuals and audiences, investigating how different environments, formats and mediums can enhance these powerful, anecodotal hooks.

My first braindate happened almost accidentally. The excellent, elephant-memoried e180 team of education experts – remembering my goals – introduced me to Paul from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Paul’s role is to generate buy-in and sign-off for space missions. He does this by creating compelling stories about the task at hand and presenting them to a board of executives. Not only does this involve visualising complex scientific data but it requires the ability to convince a panel of personalities to agree on a shared outcome. Paul said one of the most interesting skills he’s developed to support his role is that of improvisation. By learning first-hand how comedy and theatre improv troupes work, he feels better equipped for unexpected questions and unplanned tangents during pitches and can react more fluidly to unforeseen situations. This sounded like an ideal learning experience for an event professional, constantly reacting to change and flux throughout the meeting planning process.

My second braindate was with Aurelie, who showed me that what I knew about hackathons was merely the tip of the iceberg. From the way an open innovation challenge is structured through to the final sprint, via the prizes and job opportunities offered and the international platform used to collaborate, hackathons are so much more than a shared problem, beanbags and pizza. I now know how to fully optimise the format as a vehicle for innovation and change on a global scale.

Next, I enjoyed a braindate with Maria from the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth in Montreal. We discussed the integral role the event environment plays in influencing and accelerating an audience’s engagement. The Fairmont recently closed for a year to completely renovate their space. Their redesigned meeting facilities now include an innovative business hub offering multi-functional options, from trendy campus-style halls to inspiring brainstorming rooms, paired with cutting-edge technology and innovative cuisine. Plan an event there and you can also get the insight and opinions of an in-house C2 concierge.

After imbibing the intelligence of others, it was time for me to reciprocate the gesture. I met with the organiser of an electronic music festival to share some best practice around creating an online community. I hooked up with the representative of an economic development corporation to share what I know about leveraging knowledge hubs to attract large events and congresses. Finally, I met with a fellow communications executive to share Ashfield’s white paper on the learning preferences of healthcare professionals.

What is refreshing about braindating is that the technological platform is only really used to scale and enhance the reach of the peer-learning possibilities. It facilitates the human-to-human interactions but it doesn’t make the magic happen by itself. At our pre-event collaborative retreat we used little more than Post-It notes and pens, yet we came away with solo learning plans that had been refined by coaching circles and clearly defined follow-up actions. Our unknowns had been uncovered by people we hadn’t known the day previously. A refreshing change in these digitally-dazing days.

Memorable events are about learning new things and connecting with the right people. Braindating helps you meet and share knowledge with great humans around you and be intentional about what you want to learn. It has harnessed the crowdsourced and user-generated content zeitgeist to elevate educational experiences through micromastery and specialism. To paraphrase a cross-stitched mantra my gran had on her bathroom wall – it’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be niche.

Perhaps it’s time that we started to look beyond putting a handful of experts on a lofty stage to influence and engage an event audience. Your company is the sum of its people. Connect them via braindates to tap into a wealth of cumulative knowledge and collective genius and it can be even greater than that.

Can a conversation change your life? If it’s a self-directed one majoring in sharing knowledge that helps you bridge the gap between who you are and who you need to be to overcome the challenges you face, I’d like to think so.

Braindating @ C2

Braindating @ C2

Braindating @ C2

Photos courtesy of e180

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