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Newsletters > December 2010 > Preparing for the big event!
The success of the conference owes much to the thoroughness and imagination of the Noort-Brabant organisers, who approached the event like a TV talkshow complete with European Actors. Edwin Mermans, the PEOPLE correspondent for Noord-Brabant reveals how they approached the planning of the second PEOPLE International Conference. Click here to read the full report on the Dutch Partner's innovative approach to organising and hosting the second PEOPLE International conference.

Twitter and other interactive tools were used to engage with the conference participants

The preparation of the conference and study visit was intense and time-consuming because of the ambition to organise an interactive, creative and unconventional event. The PEOPLE project is about innovation for societal change and this should be reflected in the PEOPLE events. We didn’t want it to be a regular conference - like we all attended so many times – in which participants fall asleep and are consumed by long boring speeches and ‘death by powerpoint’.


A conference should inspire and give new energy and ideas. It should be interactive: participants should really be participants. And of course it should be fun and make everyone happy. As these were quite risky ambitions we accepted the risk that some elements of the programme could fail and not work out exactly as we hoped.


What absolutely had to work though was the concept of short inspiring pitches by the experts after which all participants continued to debate the hot topics in break-out sessions. As not all speakers were used to these kinds of concepts it was quite hard to get all the experts and speakers to accept this model because they preferred to have long speeches backed up by a powerpoint presentation.


As organisers we had to talk with them during long skypesessions and skypeconferences, not only to explain the interactive concept of the conference but also to agree exactly on the content of the pitches and the talkshow.


We had to understand exactly what all speakers were going to talk about and to ask the right questions in the talkshow. Therefore the speakers would know exactly what we were going to ask on the day of the conference.


Importantly, we felt the use of Powerpoint was absolutely forbidden as far as the use of text was concerned. We were willing to compromise on some speakers if they promised to use only images and graphics that would support their story. Our worst nightmare was speakers reading their text from the screen standing with their backs to the audience, which can be quite common at international conferences.


Therefore we decided to organise the entire conference along the lines of a TV format. The whole conference was described in a minute-to-minute script exactly the way a TV programme is organised. It was hosted by two professional journalists and TV presenters. And the time management of the programme was in the hands of a totalitarian floormanager with absolute power.


Meanwhile the presenters took care for a lot of feel-good interaction to make all participants feel comfortable and welcome. A risky aspect was the use of two interactive actors in the role of two policy officers from the European Commission observing the conference and taking notes. Once in awhile the civil servants took the floor and commented on what they observed, to good comic effect.


Our idea was that their act was so ‘over the top’ and ridiculous that participants would very soon realise that the policy officers were fake. But it turned out that most participants only found them peculiar and did not realise they were actors. Interregional humour does not always translate!