There seems to be an important theme lately in some bloggers posts.
The topic de jour is the poor quality of conferences.
These bloggers are tired of paying for negative conference experiences. Their posts give conference organizers some insight into what attendees really value at events.
Olivier Blanchard has some harsh, strong and truthful thoughts about social media conferences. His thoughts apply to all events, not just social media conferences.
3 Conferences & A Funeral – Part 1: Good Conferences Vs. Pointless Conferences
Don’t miss the 70+ comments from conference attendees too. There’s gold in them there attendee hills.
Nathaniel Whittemore wrote The Conference Is Dead (…Does Anyone Care?). He has more than 20 comments, many from dissatisfied attendees. More than 600 people clicked the link I sent out about this post so a lot of people are reading it)
What do these posts and comments all have a common?
- Dissatisfied conference attendees
- Average presentations with boring speakers typically chosen from “a call for proposals”
- Monologue presentations with little audience engagement
- Lack of structured peer-to-peer learning and facilitated networking
- $200-$600 registration fees for status-quo conference experiences
I think these writings are a wake-up call to meeting and event professionals. So what can we do differently to provide a better experience for attendees? How can we create more value for our attendee? How can we create raving evangelists of our conferences and events?
Here are eight things meeting and event professionals can do to provide remarkable, purple cow, unique experience with stellar content
1. Focus on the strategic and education design of the conference first.
What are the goals of the event? How do we provide a memorable, unique and remarkable experience? Think strategic first. Then proceed to the logistics and details of the event.
2. Think holistically about the attendee experience.
Put the attendee first. What can we do to upgrade the attendee experience? If it fits with the goal of the event, how can we create a unique, themed experience from the first marketing piece to the post-event reflections? How can attendees help create the experience? Think of Disney, Starbucks and Vegas which all have experiential elements. Stay away from hokey themes. What “Wow factors” can we employ?
3. Find some unexpected and unusual experiences to shake up the traditional conference format.
Do all presentations have to happen at the front of the room? What about using multiple small stages throughout the room? What about in-the-round? Think about the music you’ll use for walk-ins and walkouts. Consider the décor as it affects the experience.
4. Include money in the budget to pay for quality speakers.
It is imperative that conference organizers at a minimum cover conference registration, lodging, travel and expenses when securing speakers. Stop asking professional speakers to present for free. Write incentives into speaker contracts. If the speaker scores 80%-90% favorable from attendees according to your evaluation process, give them a bonus of $xx amount of dollars. If they score 91%-100% favorable, give them a higher bonus. You get the picture. Put the burden of the speaking performance back on the speaker. They’ll either live up to the job or stop asking for fees to speak.
5. Decide what topics should be discussed before choosing speakers.
What trends are impacting attendees? Identify the niche groups in your audience and topics that will attract each. Think about advanced topics too. Choose the topics first, not the speakers. Then find speakers to meet those topics. Don’t depend on the call for proposals to provide you with the best speakers or best topics. Search for the right speakers and current thought leaders. Talk to those thought leaders and ensure that they know how to present using good adragogy (adult learning techniques). Once topics are chosen, think of ways to extend that content by providing basic and foundational content through webinars and blog posts before the event. Then provide advanced content onsite.
6. Consider how to provide the best education design possible for those living in a Web 2.0 world.
Is this conference only about those attending the face-to-face event? Or do you need to engage a larger community including virtual attendees? What social elements can you add to the conference to extend the community experience? Should you provide a genius bar, free Wi-Fi, a bloggers lounge, etc. View the face-to-face conference as one touchpoint within a larger eco-system of the community experience.
7. Choose a variety of presentation delivery methods for the conference experience.
Intentionally structure both vertical, monologue, one-way presentations and then provide facilitated dialogues and polylogues to discuss that content. When choosing panels, choose moderators with experience that can keep the discussion flowing. Create horizontal, networked learning with peer-to-peer facilitated sessions. Provide plenty of adult white space to allow attendees to digest information and connect with each other.
8. Provide opportunities for attendees to learn without walls and customize their experience to their own needs while providing cutting-edge, content in a variety of ways.
What would you add? What have you done that’s been successful for creating a unique, remarkable purple cow event?