What event professional do you know that takes full responsibility for the entire attendee experience at their face-to-face event or meeting?
What would meetings and events look like if meeting professional’s quit blaming others for the content, programming and experience of the event?
For the past 18 months I’ve consistently heard meetings and event professionals denounce the government and organizations for lack of support of face-to-face meetings and events. I’ve heard them cry and bemoan that their value is not appreciated by their executives, the Board of Directors, the public and even the President. Many have said that our industry associations need to do more to promote the vale of face-to-face meetings.
Typically, when event professionals try to educate their boss, executives or Board members on their value, they talk about the value of logistics they perform. You know, cost savings, cost avoidance, those kind of things. Or they state the past conference’s evaluation smile factor. Or they quote the economic impact of meetings as the primary reason to meet as handed down from our industry associations. Or they start talking about the number of jobs each meeting creates.
So what! The publication industry created thousands of jobs and had a positive impact on the economy. But that didn’t stop that industry from experiencing disruptive innovation.
So tell me, how can you prove your value to the CEO or executives if you can’t prove the value of the content or the programming? How do you know that lessons learned at your conference were applied to your attendees’ business? What were the results six or twelve months after your meeting?
How can meetings and event professionals continue to distance themselves from the real meat and experiences of the conference? Are we seriously kidding ourselves that meetings and events, for meetings sake are more important than the content and programming of that meeting?
If that’s the case, then no wonder the government, elected officials, and executives have doubted the value of meetings. We’ve tried to prove the dollar’s worth of a meeting without proving the value of the content of the meeting. That’s like saying schooling is important because it provides hundreds of thousands of jobs and provides a place for our kids to go during the day. Yet, we hold our public schools to a high standard and expect specific outcomes. We’ve standardized the education process and if the kids don’t meet specific knowledge and skills assessments, they fail and the schools fail. And who wants to send their kids to a failing, poor-rated schools?
With limited professional development dollars per head per company, who wants to send their employees to a conference that doesn’t stimulate the heck out of them from a learning perspective? Oh, but the content and learning opportunities are not the meeting professional’s job, you say.
Can you imagine what would happen if the public started failing meetings and events because the content and programming was below expectations? Oh wait, that did happen and we call it the AIG effect. But instead of increasing the value of the content and programming, meetings professionals have cried foul! Or we’ve screamed, “But my meetings aren’t like AIG’s.”
Guess what, the public doesn’t care. Society has moved the goal posts and imposed new expectations on meetings and events. They want new measures of performance! And attendees want content that is relevant, that pushes them to change things up when they get back to the shop. They don’t want another set of meeting rooms with chairs in a row!
When are meeting and event professionals going to wake up and measure the ROI of the content and programming elements that they put into the meeting from the beginning? That means spending more time crafting the right overarching meeting’s experience and education goals. That means allocating additional resources to securing the right speakers that understand the content and good adult learning techniques. That means focusing on the learner objectives of each workshop and session. That means we must also measure the outputs (months after the meeting) to see if the attendees walked away with the right learnings that we intended.
When are we going to take the bull by the horns and help drive the right speakers, programming elements and content for the meeting? Ultimately, that’s what makes or breaks the meeting. Suppliers (including 3rd parties and consultants) attend primarily for networking. Attendees attend primarily for the content, at least that’s how they justify attendance to their boss–by the content. They don’t justify their attendance based on the meeting’s experience, or networking. If you don’t get the attendees there, the suppliers and consultants don’t have anyone to network with.
When was the last time you said, “I’m going to return to that conference? It was so well organized. I didn’t stand in line for registration. The rooms were set perfectly. The closing party was a blast. The food was great. So I’m going to go back again.”
Ha! Not if you are a true attendee. You grade the value of conferences and events on the experience you had, whether the content met your expectations, whether the speakers delivered, whether you had emotional connections or whether you learned anything that can be applied to your business or position.
So when are event professionals going to see themselves as the partner in the attendee’s experience and not just the logistics order taker? When are our meetings industry associations going to step up to the plate and teach meetings professionals how to craft the conference experience appropriately with an emphasis on being attendee-centric and a focus on the education design of the content? [Stop saying that’s another department’s job. You’ve just reduced yourself to an administrative assistant to that department!]
I’m tired of watching the meetings and events professionals default to the old way of planning where they distance themselves from the content of the program. If meeting professionals don’t step up to the plate and see themselves as the strategic partner to the program and content, then they will continue to sound like a dripping faucet to the rest of the world.
What say ye?