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Brain dating and the modern conference-goer

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For some conference goers, there is nothing more stressful than the idea of networking. When asked, many people cite networking as their No. 1 reason for coming to conferences, so avoiding networking is not the solution

Many would rather pull out their smart phones and check their emails than take the risk of approaching a stranger to introduce themselves or get stuck in the wrong conversation. Sometimes it just takes something or someone (or both) to facilitate the connection. This is what Christine Renaud, founder of E-180, the social business that powers C2 Montréal’s Brain Dates, refers to as engineering serendipity.

"When good connections are made, there is no better feeling," Renaud explained. "Brain Dates remove the barriers to networking and help people get to the meaningful conversations right away. We are in the business of connecting human beings for meaningful conversations."

One of the biggest reasons why Harvard Business Review and BizBash both remarked on how C2 Montréal stands out as a great networking event is largely due to Brain Dates. Yes, more and more conferences are offering social apps to their participants, but Brain Dates go far beyond supplying an app.

Hub is where participants can set up their profiles and list their offers and requests for knowledge, it is the three-floor lounge that is integral to the Brain Dating experience. The lounge experience is facilitated by matchmakers, who will make sure you connect to the person you have come to meet up with or, in the case of someone who just shows up or a Brain Date that is cancelled last minute, help introduce you to someone else that may be a good match. The guided process takes away all of the guesswork on who you are meeting with and why.

Here's how it works:
A few weeks before the conference, attendees get an email with a link to register to Hub. Hub includes all of the information you will need to plan your C2 Montréal experience: keynotes, workshops, labs, parties, and, of course, Brain Dates.

"In order to get the best experience, we recommend that people sign on, create their profile and make their matches long before the event itself," Pierre Noïnski, Director – Participant Services at C2 Montréal, explained while describing the Brain Dating process, "Last year there were so many Brain Dates booked that those who waited until the last minute had a tough time scheduling a slot."

C2 participants wanting to plan their Brain Dates will need to set up their profile and specify their offers and requests for knowledge. Offers are what you could teach or give another C2 participant. C2 encourages people to make their offers as granular as possible in order to make the best connection. Offers have included everything from advice on how to set up an experiential marketing campaign in the Bronx for a retail brand to how to do a handstand.

"It’s not just about business, either," Renaud says, "Brain Dating represents the whole being. Everyone has something to offer." Renaud recalls that one of the most popular offers from 2015 was a student offering up reviews of products from a Millennial perspective.

Requests for knowledge are the other side of the coin: what is it that you need to learn specifically? Again, the more granular your request, the more likely it is that you’ll get a good match for a Brain Date.

After you’ve entered your offers and requests for information, you can browse through the other C2 participants to see who you should be scheduling a Brain Date with. The three-day C2 Montréal schedule is designed so there are plenty of times to book these meetings, which usually run around 30 minutes, but can go as long as the participants would like.

The next steps are simple: show up at the lounge at the specified time where you will be greeted by a matchmaker who will introduce you to your Brain Date. You can remain in the lounge, which has plenty of unique meeting spaces dispersed openly over three floors, or you can take your Brain Date anywhere else you’d like. Last year’s lounge included stationary bikes for participants to sit on while meeting and many who left the lounge to meet up chose the ferris wheel in the Plaza for a unique way to sit down and talk.

If you are more of a last-minute person, you may still get the chance to make Brain Dates. You can head over to the lounge where the matchmakers will help you set up your profiles and connect you with people who may have last-minute cancellations or are last-minute drop-ins like yourself.

But does it work? Do these Brain Dates facilitate better connections?

In 2015, Marriott International Senior Director of Experience Design Christopher Baer became a huge proponent of Brain Dates. He had registered for C2 Montréal already hoping to make great connections, but was delighted to discover that there was a platform that took the guesswork out of finding the right people to meet with.

"After I discovered Brain Dating, I ended up booking my schedule solid because there were so many cool people there that I wanted to meet with," Baer recalls.

He expected to make some good connections, but he didn’t expect that he would spend the majority of his time at C2 in the Brain Dating area. He had such a positive and fulfilling experience that he invited the E-180 team to talk about testing the app internally at Marriott.

"Platforms like this will very much become the future of how people get to interact meaningfully," Baer explains. "With the speed of technology and social sharing, a platform like this brings human interaction back into our incredibly fast-paced lives. I love that the experience involves technology and physical presence. Technology alone is sometimes overemphasized as a solution."

In the past year, Baer has even managed to stay in touch with many of the people he had Brain Dates with, broadening his network in a more meaningful way than just going on LinkedIn and adding a new contact, "The thing that is unique about the Brain Dating app is that it allows people who might not naturally meet, to come together on their own terms, in a more impactful way, forming more meaningful relationships."

In 2014, one-quarter of the companies who attended the C2 Montréal conference reported they made some sort of deal because of their participation (2015 numbers coming soon). Not all of these deals were made over Brain Dates, but the engineered serendipity definitely drove much of it.

Over the years, the popularity of the Brain Dates has grown, with over 1,500 dates made in 2015. Because of the anticipated growth for 2016, the lounge capacity has expanded and participants are being encouraged more than ever to make their Brain Dates early.

"If you want to talk to the exact right people, you’ll want to plan ahead," Noïnski advises.

C2 Montréal has amazing thought leaders and programming, but it’s also well known for an audience filled with impressive and knowledgeable participants. Brain Dates give you the chance to find the people you should connect with and break the ice by setting up a time to talk. It’s just one of the many unique ways that C2 strives to create the optimal experience for the audience.

Interested in Brain Dates? Make sure you catch Christine Renaud at C2, where she will be hosting a panel on the future of learning, and make sure you get your tickets to C2 Montréal early so that you can book your Brain Dates before the rush.

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