Today’s article is the first in a new category of interviews on Matey Events, and I am happy to share a great discussion with Rosa Garriga Mora, the Meeting Architect of Kenes Group.
Victoria: I am very pleased to welcome Rosa Garriga Mora, the first ever Meeting Architect who has kindly agreed to share her experience with Matey Events’ readers. Rosa, when I was preparing for the interview I realized it might be many more questions than planned initially because it is an amazing field and also because I’m myself very much interested in what you are doing. It was hard to select questions!
Well, you are the first ever Meeting Architect in the world. Nobody else is officially doing the job that you are doing. There is no really set rules or procedures in this particular profession. You basically are creating it yourself, right? So my first question would be: how do you do that?)
Rosa: Yes this is a good question! Well, first of all there are other people that are doing what I am doing. The difference with me is that I am appointed just to do THIS, and maybe I am one of the few that really have got very strong background in both what Maarten does, what the book describes; and measurement of ROI.
I started working with Maarten and Elling Hamso. They were my first mentors and employers, and may be I am the first one who has got such background in those two things: MA and ROI. I’ve done lots of trainings, so it’s really ingrained, that pyramid and so on.
On the one hand I do use these tools a lot – that pyramid from ROI methodology and other tools Elling has got (like sheets) and Maarten as well. On the other hand, each client has different needs so every time the process is customized. Besides, I am also changing as I develop professionally. But, the foundations will always be the same: identifying objectives tied to strategic outcomes and from there, coming up with a design to meet those objectives and to create a meeting that is compelling and a good learning environment for participants.
Victoria: Do you see more positive attitude from the clients when they first hear about your role or MA in general, or is it a little bit that they are more reluctant to do anything in this sphere, how do you feel?
Rosa: First of all I have to say that right now I am just working with medical associations which is a particular type of clients. And then it depends. In general I find that most of them get it immediately. When you speak about the main concept they immediately understand it and they see it’s important, but then it depends on if they have other priorities as well.
Some of them wanna see something more urgent to start doing right now, and for others it’s like ‘oh it’s nice but maybe you know in the future’. I think many prefer to work on specific content cause that’s what they mostly do. But others are eager to innovate. So you see both kinds of concepts and I think it’s in general, not only with medical.
Victoria: As far as we are talking about the clients, how do you work on that first stage of identifying objectives of a particular event: are there any specific techniques for that? Of course we can discuss and try to recognise more precise goals, but how do you know these are ALL the goals/objectives of the event and how do you know where to stop looking for more?
Rosa: Very good question, and I must say maybe I do not have a good answer yet because I don’t have enough experience. Also, it’s challenging in my case because most of the time I can’t meet the client in person. Most of the times the client is abroad, it’s a committee of 10 doctors spread all over the world, and we discuss it during the conference call for a 1/2 hour. This is all I can get. So I find that when I can meet someone in person it makes a big difference.
What I do is an interview but I follow the pyramid: looking first at the long-term [objectives]. In this case it’s easier than let’s say with corporate, because I think that medical associations are more thinking about mission statement and then it’s much easier to say ‘well we want to improve treatment of this disease’ (so the behaviour objective) so that doctors after the conference must use the new techniques and so on. So they have to learn about this and it’s easier.
In that case most objectives are quite similar, it’s about networking, education, motivation. They apply what they learnt, and so on. So in this case it’s easier, but often I find if I speak with someone face to face and we have more time then you can get something more specific like.. I’ll give you an example.
There was an opening ceremony of a medical congress. In previous year it was boring and long, most people left half way through the session and the president was quite upset. So this year he was like ‘I want people to stay and engage them, I want to make it a bit less informal’. He gave me this kind of messages.
Basically, what I find if you can only get a few objectives and they are more generic you gonna get a generic design, if that makes sense. I gonna say ‘Let’s have an MC, let’s have some voting etc’. But if I go into more detail then I can also offer a more tailored design. In this case I found an MC and we really went through each objective, what we could do to really achieve it – and the result was amazing. At the opening ceremony this year everyone stayed until the end, and the feedback was amazing.
So again, I think when I get a generic response I can get something with it and offer some standard solutions, and in many times it’s the only thing can get because of the situation with medical associations. But if I can meet face to face then I can do something more tailored and special and impactful.
And then another example. Now I am also involved in internal meetings. My company also has a lot of meetings and they say ‘since you are here why don’t you help us design our meetings’. In this case what I’ve done is I interviewed the participants, and this is something I learnt from MindMeeting, from Eric de Groot and Mike, to really interview the participants about what they want to learn, what are they looking for in terms of format, about barriers to learning, things like that and it makes a big difference as well.
I am talking about smaller meetings, not big congresses, but the feedback (we just did one last week) was great, they say this year the content was much more relevant for us.
You can do that even better: like in these cases I would do two things. First, interview the client (in this case it was an internal client), I’d speak about their objectives and also interview participants about their objectives. Then I put that together and go back to the internal client, and say: listen, this is your list of priorities and this is the one of your participants, so let’s find a balance. That’s even better. In a big congress we send them feedback survey, but it’s not the same – you can’t go into much detail.
Victoria: I see. I was also going to ask you about your routine, for example, how was your first day in your new role as Meeting Architect?
Rosa: Ah, ok!) I don’t remember much though, because I work remotely. I think the first day was practical stuff like setting up email address, HR stuff. On my second week I travelled to the headquarters of my company and I spent 2 weeks there doing trainings and meeting everyone. I was giving lots of presentations about what I was going to do.
Victoria: Sure, I think it’s important so that everybody understands what you do, right? When I tell somebody what I am doing as an event/meeting planner people still don’t get it straight away; sometimes they don’t understand. They may feel like it’s an organisation of birthday party or something like that. It’s just about let’s say popularity of the profession maybe. In Russia the industry is really young, and business events are a young sector. So of course that influences how ordinary public perceives the profession itself.
So even within a professional organisation people would need to understand the details of this new, coming role of a Meeting Architect. In this regard, do you think that Meeting Architect will be the profession that will replace the profession of the meeting planner in some long-term future probably?
Rosa: I don’t think there would be a replacement because you always need a meeting planner. You may know that Maarten asks that question whether you should do both – like Meeting Architecture and also taking care of operations – or not.
I think that personally I would rather not, because I used to work more on the operational side and for me that was too stressful, you know.
And I like this because it’s much more creative and not so stressful because it’s more about planning.
So in my company luckily because we have teams in place the operations are taking care by them, and I am happy about that [laughs]. In a small company one may have to do both things. So I think you’d always need a meeting planner. However, for example in my company already a meeting planner told me: ‘You know, I want to do your job’, because she sees something more interesting. But you’ll always have operational people.
I think though tasks will be more and more automated. It’s already been changed. Now they have to spend less time doing same tasks.
What’s happening in my company is that the same person does more events than they used to because now they have to spend less time on each task. But I don’t think there will be a replacement because you always need to do it. The execution needs to be there. But, I think every time there will be more people working on the content, on the format.
Victoria: You mentioned you don’t have cases but maybe you can give some brief example of the task you’ve done as the Meeting Architect, just so that it would illustrate your work.
Rosa: Yes. One example is the one I told you about, the opening ceremony. That used to be very traditional and people would leave and found it something boring.
This year I presented a proposal that was very linked to objectives. In fact, my proposal started with the list of objectives, with bullet points e.g. 1, 2, 3. And then every solution idea had a number, e.g. this is to meet goal 1, this is to meet goal 2.
What we did mostly is we worked with an MC; we replaced furniture, some videos etc. So on the stage instead of lectern and a head table we had sofas and lamps and coffee tables like in a living room. Then instead of having presentations and lectures all the speakers sat on the sofas and they were interviewed by the MC. We made sure there was sort of rhythm. We had musicians playing a little bit of music all the time, and also the MC at some point asked the audience to stand up, do this, do that; made a few jokes, and this was the first time they had the MC by the way!
First the doctor asked me ‘why do we need to hire someone to pay for this if we can have someone from the board?’ and I said: ‘Yes, sure you can have someone from the board, if you have someone with these skills. But if you don’t, then I think it will not be a lot of value. He said ‘ok, let’s do that and see what happens’. And it was huge difference and everyone stayed until the end and was really happy. This is one little example.
I’ll give you another example of internal meeting.
In January I went to one of the meetings of the business department people, and it was very boring. People were sitting in a dark room, at a U-shaped table, and it was from 9am to 6pm with presentation of 1 hour or 1/2 hour,one after another, a few questions and that’s it.
This was for 3 days. It was hard to stay awake, thanks coffee but otherwise…And because team building is seen important, everyday they would go to dinner and then to karaoke or party. Then they’d sleep a little bit, and they would go – being really tired – to that dark room and boring presentations. The content, the agenda was set up by the management, the boss himself. But this time I interviewed participants and told him: ‘Listen, this is what they want’. I asked about the format a little bit. Then they said I would be the facilitator – although I am not a professional one – but I would be an interesting speaker, and so on.
So first I worked on the agenda, but then I called each of the speakers and asked them to prepare something that would be interactive. So one speaker did some quiz, and another did an exercise where people had to stand up ,write on flip charts, we did word playings.
Basically, every session was in different format, and there was some movement, people needed to stand up or leave a room so they were not sitting down. We also chose a room which was much nicer, with lots of natural daylight and roundtables. Also I asked not to schedule so much stuff, to have more spread time and to finish earlier at least until the last day, so they had time to rest. I even did mindfulness meditation.
The 3rd case study is about the measurement part which is let’s say, the other part of the job.
I have a few congresses where what I do is I use spreadsheet with different items. Things like how are the presentation skills of the speakers, what is the session flow, how were the slides, does they communicate clear key messages, is there a storyline: things that we know help thesession to be effective. I go to as many sessions as possible and I rank them. So every speaker has a ranking.
Then I do a report. For one congress I also looked at all data [available]. In my company we do lots of technology stuff as well, we send a survey, we use an app, we have a voting system, we have what they call e-posters (in medical conferences they always have poster presentations, so people who do research they present their findings in a poster. It used to be in paper, and now many conferences have it on the screen. Then you can track everything that happens, how often people look at them etc.) Well, we have all that data but there is no anyone who pulls everything together and makes conclusions. So I did that.
I took, on the one hand, more qualitative data from what I observed. I also observe what sessions may look. I look how many people are actually watching or if they are on their phones; if there is a voting, then how many are really participating; if there is Q&A – some say ‘Time!’ and then I say ‘well, there was interactivity of 10% for a session’.
For this client I prepared a huge report. I started with objectives. I did not get the objectives from them because we did not have a chance to meet before, but I looked more into satisfaction /effectiveness of the presentations, learning and so on. Then for each of the objectives I used all the data available, whether that was what I observed, or the data from the surveys/app/voting system etc. I even compared that to some congresses of similar sizes or to previous editions of the same congress. So I could say whether that was good or not.
At the end I would offer conclusions and recommendations. So I’d say well, some speakers were really good, but some were really bad; so there should be some trainings for speakers for example. I offered lots of that. Also, I offered a proposal for objectives for the next year. So say, this year let’s say 70% of people said they would recommend this event, so why don’t we set a target 80% next year? That was the measurement bit.
Victoria: Ok. I can see from what you are talking about that there is a lot research of course required and that actually means a person in this role needs research skills of high level, right?
Rosa: Yes. On the one hand, in my MSc (I did MSc in Event Management), we did all sorts of research, we wrote thesis, we were doing proper scientific research and I found that was very useful. What I think is important is that you also have to do research for the design part. I’ll give you an example now. They’ve asked me to come up with a concept for a conference on a new technology. Now, I don’t know anything about this new technology, and I have to go and look what is going on in this field, and so on, there is also that.
Victoria: You are kind of becoming a specialist in a particular field, right?
Rosa: Yes, you need to know a little bit.
Victoria: But when it comes to planning a content, creating the programme and using different formats, you definitely need to come up with something probably new, or maybe not new but specifically designed for this particular event. How do you do that? Do you make it up yourself? Or do you read a lot, and in this case what do you read? Where do you find this inspiration?
Rosa: Very good question. It depends. Every time it’s a different process. In the cases when I can really have a good interview with a client, I get inspired quite quickly. E.g. maybe I am sitting in a cafe (I like to leave my office and go outside) and just get an idea, just talking with a client I just think ‘yes, they would love it’, it happens like that.
Other times I read books or look into other events, for example. I always try to attend events that are not related to my field but that are very innovative. I get ideas, I may take pictures or write notes and one day I go back. I keep them on a spreadsheet of ideas. Books that I can recommend, for example for this internal meeting I used a book which is very good for a training – that’s called Accelerative training. And then it gives you a lot of ideas.
Victoria: Would you recommend any resources for those wishing to study/develop this field? I’ve recently had a meeting with a bunch of students from the local University. In Russia we don’t have any formal University courses on events management in the first place, let alone conference or meeting management. At present what I am watching in the industry is that there are some short term courses appearing. But they are not from the Unis, they are provided by some corporate companies, some agencies and they lack the level in my opinion. I did my MSc in Events Management and I believe theoretical background is important anyway. Of course experience is a must and the more experience you’ve got the better. But when you don’t have theoretical background you might miss something important.
These students I met are actually interested in and learning some bits on conference management in learning sets here locally. I gave an introduction on the Meeting Architecture concept and we were talking about the trends in meeting management as well. Then I was thinking about what kind of books or resources apart from Meeting Architecture resources I can recommend. Maybe you’ve got your own recommendations for the students particularly. Not those classical formal books that we’ve got at Masters in University – this is quite well-known. But maybe something specific you may find helpful and you may recommend to those interested in MA /meeting management.
Rosa: Yes, I can recommend some [see Rosa’s list below]. It’s not many book around actually. But then I can recommend you some blogs and magazines, too. I think they are great source of inspiration. E.g. BizBash, it’s amazing what they speak about. I would say that besides books it’s mostly education in different ways, like blogs, webinars, going to conferences. For me it’s going to events that I know are very innovative; and luckily I live in Barcelona and we have lots of events here.
- Reynolds, G. (2008). Presentation zen: Simple ideas on presentation design and delivery. Berkeley, CA: New Riders Pub.
- Vanneste, M. (2009). Meeting architecture: A manifesto. Tournhout: Meeting Support Institute.
- Vijver, M. V., & Groot, E. D. (2013). Into the heart of meetings: Basic principles of meeting design. Leeuwarden: MindMeeting BV.
- Wit, S. D. (2009). Secrets of effective meetings & events. S.l.: Barranco.
Victoria: Thank you Rosa for so fruitful conversation. Well, it’s definitely not all the questions I’ve got for you! But we will keep some for future and I hope I would be able to ask you more next time. I really thank you for giving us opportunity to have some kind of sneak peek into the profession of Meeting Architect) and for sharing your thoughts – I am sure it would be inspiring for many. Thank you again Rosa and speak soon!