February 19, 2010 by Jeff Hurt
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?
Filed Under: Conference Education
“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.”
So um… Jeff, how do you really feel? 🙂
I think the most powerful point you’ve made here is essentially how do you see yourself? To be a pro, you’ve gotta act like a pro. Wanna be a rockstar? You’ve gotta rock. When you start acting like a strategic partner, then people will start seeing you that way. It applies in all areas of business and life.
By now you know I’m not one that doesn’t let it be known how I feel! 😉 I love what you wrote about “To be a pro, you’ve gotta act like a pro. Wanna be a rockstar. You’ve gotta rock.” That’s so true.
Yeah, I’ve been shocked lately at some of the responses I’ve gottn from meeting professionals who say to me that the content and meat of a program are not their duties and that the responsibility rests with another department. I really like you analogy of a chef not being responsible for the ingredients and food on your plate. Good point.
Wow Jeff, I don’t know what to say. I am shocked that there are meeting planners out there that DON’T consider the content as their responsibility. Isn’t that a bit like saying the chef is not responsible for the ingredients and food that is on your plate? You are spot on saying that this thinking leads you to be nothing more than an administrative assistant or perhaps a logistics coordinator.
I’ve seen the same thing with convention managers for exhibiting companies turn their jobs into a completion of nothing more than logistical handling rather than a key role for marketing and sales or better yet, integrated marcom. Once the role becomes a logistics one you are so easily replaced.
Thank you for calling folks out on this one and for not pulling any punches!
I wonder if one person can master the hospitality/logistics side and the content side of meetings. In associations these things are split between the planner and the PD person. In corporations these are split between the planner and the meeting owner. 98.5% of planners do not work on the content side, because of many reasons. Some do, some would like to, some are happy with how how it is.
The big question for me remains “Can one person master both?” The certainty: You can not get a master degree in the the content side of meetings. You can in the travel/tourism/hospitality side …
Thanks for the comments and great questions. I absolutely believe event professionals can master both and have to learn how to do it in order to be effective. Of course one can get a Masters in Education, Adult Education and Training. And as a matter of fact in my former jobs I served as both diector of education and events so it happens frequently in nonprofit associations.
Jeff you continue to raise the bar of consciousness with these articles.
Your analogies hit the nail right on the head. Event professionals have to start thinking of themselves as Event Engineers, rather than logistics managers.
They must lead the charge within their organizations to deliver experiences that are rich in learning value, interactive opportunity, and collaboration. It’s no longer good enough to slap a bunch of breakout sessions on the meeting wall, not sure of where they will land in the success spectrum.
As you emphasize often, its not just about content, its about delivery of the content… its about creating that rich learning environment.
Events must be crafted by understanding customers, their needs their wants and ultimately giving them a voice in the design phase. I (along with my PCMA colleagues) am currently experimenting with that in the collaborative development of the PCMA Education Conference taking place in Montreal, in June.
It has been an enlightening and sometimes confusing/painful experience getting through the program design phase, but this learning lab is creating some very positive results. We are excited about this project and the learning that goes with it.
Thanks as always, for getting my motor running!
I’m so busy creating an awesome attendee experience for my current client that all i can say is.
What he said. 🙂
Great post Jeff!
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