Herschel O-Walker, director at Commodities People, on a new event designed to encourage networking and engagement.
“Exhibitions are great, but they’re kind of arbitrary,” begins Herschel O-Walker, director at Commodities People. “Like casting a huge net and hoping for the best, and you can pay for a bigger net and you’ll do better. This is more like having a harpoon.”
The ‘this’ O-Walker is referring to is the event concept that Commodities People is planning to implement at its upcoming October event Etex (Energy Trading Excellence). The central premise, according to O-Walker, is that traditional networking at exhibitions and conferences can be stilted and ineffective, and that a more mediated approach could produce significantly better results.
“We’ve been running the conferences and small exhibitions for about a decade,” continues O-Walker. “And I’ve always seen one commonality; people rarely stay for the full event. Groups of people tend to talk to each other rather than talk to new people and a lot of return is dependent upon – from the sponsor’s perspective – them working extremely hard onsite, working on the floor and meeting people.
“I started talking to them about what they like, what they don’t like, what makes them invest, what’s prevented them from investing and slowly things started to get pieced together and that’s what led us here.”
In practice, Etex will be split into two theatres, and each theatre will have eight sessions across two days. There will be two notable components: planned seating and mandatory group activities.
“The set-up of the room is on tables and everyone that attends has to sit on one of them ahead of time,” adds O-Walker. “Rather than have a post-event Q&A that goes out to everybody, what will happen instead is there will be a discussion or an activity that takes place, related to the talk, which is designed for people not to just get their voices heard by the speakers but also for them to speak to each other.”
Each table is sponsored, and O-Walker and his colleagues have created a backend system wherein sponsors can browse each theatre, and see specifically who is sitting at each table. If the table is available, the sponsor can then purchase that table.
“You’re used to going to events and paying thousands of pounds of logistics and teams and hotels, in this instance we just want you to bring yourself, and so make it quite an alternative experience,” he explains. “I mean if anything we don’t want them to sell anything, we want them to come here to get on a first name basis with these people so that they can go back to their office and sell to them.
“We’re trying to get sponsors who are seeking to get more involved in the content rather than just being tacked onto it. And rather than just pitch their product, actually think of something editorial about what they’re doing so that we naturally attract an audience which is going to be good for them.”
The concept was personally devised by O-Walker, collating his experiences across a decade in the industry. Etex is set to take place on 10-11 October at Central Hall Westminster in London, and EN will certainly be checking in to hear if networking on a smaller, more personal scale yields tangible results for Commodities People and their clients.