Speed dating. Blind dating. Online dating. These matchmaking options aren’t new to us, but have you heard of brain dating?

Created by E-180 and first introduced at C2 Montréal, brain dates were featured at this year’s Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) Convening Leaders in Austin. Matched with 12 “dates,” Claire Smith, Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Vancouver Convention Centre and Chair-Elect, PCMA Board of Directors, gives us her take on how this innovative platform could transform the meeting experience.

What is a brain date?

Brain dating is an online matching platform that connects attendees with like-minded people. All you had to do was put in an offer to talk to people about a specific topic and those interested could book time with you to share ideas around that topic. It was hugely successful. Brain dates didn’t require a meeting room, speakers, podium or audiovisual; just half hour, face-to-face interactions for people who wanted to discuss issues that were important to them.

Why were brain dates such a success?

Attendees are looking for more informal ways of connecting with one another, but do not want to leave it up to chance. Often we will go to a conference with an expectation to have a great conversation or learn something new from someone during a session or coffee break. Brain dates takes this to the next level, eliminating the element of chance.

We also know that people are becoming more and more starved for time. Hoping that someone will show up at your trade show booth or that you will bump into someone like-minded is not necessarily the best use of time. By creating casual, yet slightly formalized, opportunities to connect people around a topic of mutual interest, they can be much more productive.

What did your brain dates focus on?

With the start of a New Year, I offered to discuss meeting trends and tips to refresh your career. I felt these topics go hand-in-hand as those who want to discuss the direction of the industry may also want to examine how they need to adapt to a changing environment.

As a first-time brain dater, I was pleasantly surprised that 12 people wanted to pick my brain! It was a great learning experience for me as well, as I was able to engage with people I would not have otherwise met. We had very thoughtful conversations that made me think differently about the non-linear career paths of business event professionals. We are often isolated in our organizations and need safe places to brainstorm, problem solve and bounce ideas. Sometimes we don’t have the right people in our own organizations to have these conversations or they come with bias or self-interests that guide discussion. A brain date allows for a neutral sounding board and building ideas with very fresh perspectives.

How did brain dating fit with PCMA’s theme this year for Convening Leaders?

This year’s Convening Leaders was themed around collaboration. And brain dating is really a form of collaboration between attendees who share experiences and expertise so that they can learn from one another.

There was a great deal of discussion at PCMA around disrupters that are changing our industry, such as the adoption of the sharing economy. We are seeing a new pattern of behavior becoming more prevalent where trust has shifted from institutions and organizations to individuals in a community. What that says to me is that delegates may be more likely to trust each other and that meetings could be more successful if more emphasis is placed on creating shared learnings from one another – exactly what brain dating was able to do.

What can planners learn from brain dates?

When we go into a conference session, there’s a chance that it may not hit the mark for you. Essentially, you may or may not come away with new ideas that you were hoping to get.
With that in mind, what planners could take away from brain dating is to design really purposeful opportunities that will give attendees more control over their own learning, while facilitating meaningful connections and conversations.