Does Your Conference Content Resemble New York City Or A Ghost Town?

Consider your association’s education and conference content.

Does it resemble a vibrant, youthful, buzzing community, like the always open 24-7 New York City? Or does it resemble an old ghost town with dust and tumbleweeds, a city stuck in the past refusing to change with the times?

Now let’s take that further. So, which do you prefer for your association to provide at your next annual meeting and programs?

  • Content from the “Good Old Days” – featuring sessions and stories from the best of times from past conferences and events, where nothing ever changes, is predictable and always stays the same, the mediocre, status quo average content


  • Content that features what’s “Now, New, Next” – cutting edge, innovative, fresh content that is unpredictable and full of surprise and that you need in order to keep your business out in front of the competition

Which type of conference content will cause you to commit your time, energy and dollars for registration, travel, lodging and expenses? A conference stuck in the past or one with vibrancy and new life?

Better yet, what type of content will attract more people to your annual conference? What type of sessions will get your attendees talking? Content which is familiar, safe, common and successful from the past? Or content which leads you to the front lines where the action is, the frontier of success and showcases what’s coming down the pike?

So how would you describe your association’s conference content? Is it New York City or a Western Ghost Town?

Consider New York City for a moment.  Amazingly, improbably, New York City works.

Vast throngs get from here to there, earn a living, find food, push baby strollers, play softball, bake wonderful breads, walk along at different paces, and, except for occasional outbursts, do so peaceably.

No one factor makes it happen. But one seems critical: this city allows the mighty to fall. Everything can be changed: buildings torn down or renovated, enterprises relocated, vistas altered, land filled, land emptied, streets and neighborhoods given new character, cultural icons like Madison Square Garden moved, Times Square reborn, The Plaza converted to condos.

By allowing even the mightiest to fall, New York City remains alive. Yesterday doesn’t rule today. The dead don’t control the living.

History buffs lament the losses, and former residents seeking nostalgia will find few wafts of yesteryear. But that’s life. That is what it takes for life to happen. Yes, some new buildings and venues are grotesque. But they must die of their own weight, not because the nostalgic prevented them from happening.

Civilizations, institutions and people worry about losing their history, not giving their history its due. As a history buff, I know Santayana’s famous saying about needing to learn from history. The greater danger, however, is losing the future. If New York City couldn’t allow itself to change, if yesterday’s mighty were given control of tomorrow’s needs, the city would die.

Meetings and event organizers are at this very crossroads. Protectionists of the way things were always done, look backward, seeking unalterable truths to make today more certain, less dangerous. Others keep waging the same association and conference wars, as if nothing had changed since they first embraced this or that cause. Today’s association boards often resist change that would welcome tomorrow’s growth. They cling to old ways, old science, old properties, and think themselves righteous for protecting the past.

People want and deserve living bread, living water, living hope, not museum tours and old-school posturing. The mighty do fall, and then life moves on. Conference organizers must embrace the new, try different room formats, pick innovative fresh presentation concepts, and embrace new ideas and ways to deliver content. Associations can’t continue to lament the way things used to be done, better times of the past and let the old dead processes control today’s living.

So is your association conference content a sign of the way things have always been done, protecting the past as the ghosts of yesteryear haunt the conference headquarter halls? Or is your association conference content providing nourishment, new ways, new ideas, new perspectives and what’s coming next? Is your content attractive to the next generation or only those from the past?

Why say all this? Because tough times require a tough reliance and devotion to moving forward and not backwards.

How would you describe your association and its education endeavors? What can you do to help your favorite association move forward? How can you help them become more cutting edge?

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  1. Wayne says:

    I think it’s both. Sometimes it’s in ghost, sometimes it’s not. It’s just a mix of both I guess.

  2. dlf says:

    Conferences can be a powerful way to connect people together, teach them new skills and knowledge and infuse new life into the organization.Based on the vision, mission and goals of the organization, the content must identify the needs of the organization that the conference will fill in.

  3. danna says:

    If you’re looking to connect at the event, some of your content should be outreach related, via services like Twitter or Facebook. Message the world using the event’s hash tag, and/or the city/state (or province, etc) where the event is held. Thus, people using Twitter Search or poking around via Facebook might catch you in a search and engage you.

  4. Your job as a conference organizer is to provide nourishing content, served with some imagination in creative displays and tasty morsels that provides a balance of what the attendee wants with what the attendee needs! That’s the sure fire way to get people to return to next year’s conference.

  5. Howard says:

    I have worked both in the private and public sector and I must report that the public sector really did approach their conferences and meetings as though it were a ghost town. There is little or know innovative engagement, rather it is a stagnate report that involve participants to sit and listen to hours of written garble.

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