Mar 31, 2015

Making Better Conferences: Interbrand/Project GreenLight Spotlight

How do we stop conferences from being boring? That was the question that the global brand consultancy Interbrand brought to Yale GreenLight on February 13th. Interbrand is partnering with CBEY on a sustainability conference in the fall of 2015 and engaged with the CBEY GreenLight workshop program to re-design conferences to be engaging and meaningful.

Yale GreenLight was formed by Rob Kimball (SOM/FES ’16) and Eitan Hochster (SOM/FES ’16) to bring the innovative thinking of Yale University students to bear on some of the toughest environmental and business problems. Participating companies have included Alcoa, NRG, and Transdev. GreenLight workshops serve as a tool for deeper, more meaningful, and more productive engagement between students and leaders of organizations at the intersection between business and the environment. Ideation workshops are highly interactive, fast-paced sessions designed to generate new and innovative solutions to complex challenges. They are used by some of the world’s most celebrated design and innovation consultancies, and are a popular component of the Yale SOM core curriculum.

We started the Interbrand session with the question: “How might we design moments before, during, and after conferences that are, memorable, valuable, and lead to meaningful actions?”

20-25 students from SOM, FES, and Yale College attended the GreenLight workshop with backgrounds ranging from sustainability to alumni engagement, and branding and communication. We worked in groups of 4-6 people to deconstruct and rewrite the question to get at the deeper interpretation of the prompt. While deconstructing the question, many of the student groups discussed the importance of forging meaningful, personal relationships, and how conferences should enable and inspire people to do something good in the world.

From there, we started a rapid-fire ideation where we brainstormed how to reinvent the conference experience in order to engage participants before, during, and after the conference. We scribbled our ideas on post-it notes, organized them, and presented them to Interbrand and the group. The ideas ranged from a beacon system that identified yourself by a certain emotion, interest, or thought to carpooling and travel coordination for participants travelling from the same city. A few common themes among the student groups were the importance of engaging participants in relationship building before the conference, designing workshops and panels to be participant-driven, and creating more structured time for networking.

After presenting, we then picked one of our ideas and developed it further. We set to work by evaluating our ideas and their relative importance in relation to how they addressed our original question. One of the interesting points that came up in our group was the importance of vulnerability in forging authentic relationships. How could we translate this idea into a tangible innovation?

During our team discussion, we agreed that we should eliminate titles on nametags and instead write why you are at the conference or what you are seeking to learn there. Our final presentation to the Interbrand staff went out with a bang where our presenter stripped down to his leggings and undershirt to embody our idea of casual wear and title-free nametags that enabled attendees to be more of their true selves. You’re able to “peel off your layers” (literally and figuratively) at our conference, revealing your vulnerabilities, thoughts, and interests. We purported that this would enable attendees to forge more rich and meaningful conversations and relationships with others.

Interbrand provided thoughtful feedback and comments to each student group. The Interbrand team is hoping to incorporate some of our ideas into action while they start planning the Sustainability Conference with Yale in November.