Lesson 6: Technology Can Make Planning Easier
The primary output we need from a brokerage event is technology transfer. It doesn’t really matter how you come to it. We have already discussed the role of downtime and the opportunities presented by serendipitous networking, but it is also important to create some guaranteed meetings. B2Match was the package we chose to help us with that. It is the first choice of most Enterprise Europe Networks to manage their events and it offers more than just a meeting manager.
The system presents the event guest with a single place to assess the event they are considering. It allows organisers to create pages to convey information on the event theme, programme, and location; it then handles all the time consuming admin of participant registration. It will even handle multiple languages. Every participant has the opportunity to post a profile of themselves, their organisation and their needs or offers. It is searchable and participants can use the results of their searches to book meetings with people whose business or research interests them.
The Profile Page from a TRADEIT Brokerage Event
Once the event arrives and the bookings have all been made, the B2Match system becomes the engine room of the event. It is able to take large numbers of people, with the constraints of time and space that you give it and crunch them all together producing a schedule that ensures everyone gets their meetings and discussions done in the time available. It’s a very labour saving tool. It compiles all the organisational lists you could ever need: table plans, personal schedules, full participant directories and the all-important organiser’s schedule, complete with phone numbers to help you find anyone who does not arrive on time for your meeting.
Participants in Brokerage Meetings at the TRADEIT event in Poznan
If it all sounds too good to be true it is important to recognise that things can still go wrong with the meetings. We are, after all, dealing with human beings. Over the course of six brokerage events most of the weaknesses of the organised meeting system showed themselves. People do their best to book relevant meetings, but the information they have to do it with is only as good as that supplied. Some small business owners didn’t understand the importance of the opportunities the meetings offered and provided poor profiles or didn’t book the right meetings.
As organisers we sometimes found ourselves looking worriedly at empty tables. There were many reasons – at the first meeting in Potsdam there was a train strike and some participants were unable to attend. We also found that some people had already met and had their discussion during more relaxed networking opportunities. Language could also be a problem. Although the system asks for languages spoken it doesn’t provide information whether there is a match. On a couple of occasions we were to be found scurrying around the venue in search of a translator with the required languages. The highly organised system didn’t cope well with changes to the program. When programs ran late there rigid time dependant system created confusion as we tried to reschedule around the new circumstances. Those who, through language or attentions span difficulties, had failed to keep up with the new timetable for meetings began turning up at the wrong times or not at all, creating a certain amount of dissatisfaction.
After the event we have been able to use the built in mailing system to follow up with participants for feedback and to assist with the partnerships that have been formed. This has been very useful and much more effective than trying to establish which serendipitous meetings have been useful. But as with all networking events and tools – the real proof will evolve over the years that follow.