Five minutes and a 21-slide PowerPoint presentation. Those were the limits for the nine speakers who, one-by-one, took the stage to present their ideas to the 225 live audience members at the inaugural Disrupt Milwaukee event last year.
The event was part of Milwaukee Startup Week and launched Disrupt Milwaukee as a local chapter of DisruptHR, an international event-based nonprofit organization that focuses on improving human resources practices in the workplace. Disrupt Madison was launched in 2016.[caption id="attachment_342128" align="alignnone" width="770"] Disrupt Milwaukee’s inaugural event speaker lineup. Credit: Crimson Sun Studios[/caption]
The 125 Disrupt chapters across the globe follow a similar format when planning their annual events. Speakers representing a variety of professional industries each have five minutes to present ideas on workplace topics that can range from leadership to technology. The PowerPoint presentation advances every 15 seconds – whether the speaker is ready or not.
When the speaker’s five minutes is up, the 21st and final slide bluntly alerts the whole room: “Time’s up. Stop disrupting.”
This seemingly “disruptive” format certainly differs from the typical panel discussion or lecture one may expect from an ordinary corporate event. But that’s because Disrupt Milwaukee markets itself as being different and creating change within the workplace.
And as Coreyne Woodman-Holoubek and Laura Gmeinder, Disrupt Milwaukee’s president and vice president, start to plan this year’s annual event – which will be held on Nov. 8 at Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery – they again aim to reflect Disrupt’s mission by challenging the status quo of corporate events.
“We wanted to create an atmosphere where people felt that they could network and talk while still learning tidbits of information,” said Woodman-Holoubek, who is also the co-founder of Contracted Leadership, a Madison-based consulting firm.
Wisconsin’s two Disrupt chapters were born after Woodman-Holoubek and Gmeinder had attended one too many long, unmemorable HR conferences. As these events continually left them feeling disconnected and uninspired – and that they had wasted an hour of their day – they saw a need for more connection and engagement at corporate events.
“People don’t want to be sold to anymore. They want stories; they want to connect with brands; they want to work with people they like,” said Gmeinder, who is also the owner of Madison-based Laura Gmeinder Coaching & Consulting LLC. “The experience we are crafting, it’s almost the exact opposite of a usual conference.”
For Disrupt Milwaukee, that unique experience is created mainly by the speakers and their rapid-fire, five-minute presentations. They were thought leaders who ranged from Google executive Rachael O’Meara, who discussed the main ideas in her book “Pause: Harnessing the Life-Changing Power of Giving Yourself a Break,” to West Bend high school student Mike Wallace, who discussed entrepreneurship.
“The speakers were everyday people, but they were all unique in their own ways, which stood out,” said Ed Javier, a consultant at EMJ Consulting and co-founder of Milwaukee Startup Week. Javier was at the event both as a sponsor and an attendee.
“I felt the presentations were artistic,” he said. “Instead of a typical panel session, these were individuals telling a story or experience or a passion of theirs.”[caption id="attachment_342127" align="alignnone" width="770"] Disrupt Milwaukee’s post-event speaker meet and greet. Credit: Crimson Sun Studios[/caption]
The speakers are only half of the equation for creating the Disrupt experience. Networking and socializing opportunities before and during the event, as well as a post-event social and speaker meet and greet, are meant to foster a community and help attendees build relationships, Gmeinder said.
“We want the experience to empower attendees to either go back to work and learn more about a nugget of information or approach the speaker afterward to discuss it,” Woodman-Holoubek said.
NEWaukee is another local organization that, similar to Disrupt Milwaukee, is approaching corporate events in a more creative and engaging way. Founded in 2009, the organization hosts events that offer social networking, professional development and community engagement opportunities to the Milwaukee community. NEWaukee also outsources its services to other companies that host events.
“Hundreds of people attend events every year,” said Jeremy Fojut, co-founder and chief idea officer at NEWaukee. “But when you really make a difference in someone’s life is when you create an experience, and when you create an experience, people remember it and tell stories about it.”
Fojut said space and movement are two major components of the 184 “experiences” NEWaukee organizes each year.
NEWaukee has partnered with NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association of Wisconsin, since 2015 for its annual Empty Storefronts Conference, which gathers urban development professionals, small business owners and city leaders to learn about and discuss solutions for vacant storefronts, locally and nationally.
Instead of hosting the conference in an event venue, such as a hotel, it was held in multiple empty storefronts – the former National Ace Hardware on North Fourth Street and McKinley Avenue, the former Lowes at Midtown Center and Grand Avenue Mall on West Wisconsin Avenue – in various neighborhoods throughout Milwaukee. Event attendees were transported by bus to each storefront, where they heard from local and national speakers about the issue.
“It was amazing for attendees to experience firsthand the kinds of places we were talking about,” said Jim Villa, chief executive officer of NAIOP Wisconsin. “It gave them a chance to think about what to do with this issue. There was much more engagement than there would have been in a conference room.”
Fojut said an event like the Empty Storefronts Conference also creates deeper connections among attendees as they spend a day moving from place to place together.
“People are looking to connect differently,” he said. “They’re looking for more authentic experiences.”
Although both NEWaukee and Disrupt Milwaukee are leading local efforts to change the impact of corporate events, one thing that differs between the two organizations is their use of technology and virtual connection.
Disrupt Milwaukee’s inaugural event was livestreamed globally via Twitter and was viewed by about 100 people – some in Canada and the U.K. There was also a live Twitter feed for the event that Woodman-Holoubek said received 75,000 impressions collectively. At the event, there was a viewing area in the lower level speakeasy space for attendees to tune in to the live feed.
NEWaukee’s approach to social media during its events is very different.
“Our use of digital is to shut it off,” Fojut said.
He said in a world that will continually become more digitally connected, NEWaukee will always push for mainly human and in-person interaction through its events. To him, virtually watching a speaker or a presentation changes the experience.
“If you don’t show up, you miss out,” he said.