The Extreme Makeover: Conference Edition

Keep the tissues box handy because the tears may flow.

And prepare to cover your ears when Ty Pennington belts out that infamous phrase, “Move That Bus!”

What often keeps many viewers riveted to the weekly show The Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is the heart wrenching family story. One filled with anguish and great sorrow about local heroes, community leaders and inspiring icons.

What makes the show the next morning’s water-cooler chat is its climax with a pimped-out extreme house and the flood of emotions from everyone involved. It’s the ultimate transformation for a well-deserving family. And it’s community driven.

The cast of characters include visionary organizers and a top-notch professional renovation crew that recruit like minded well-known spokespersons and local sponsorships of contractors, builders and big brands.

If only conference organizers could replicate this experience and create The Extreme Makeover: Conference Edition.

Yet, rarely do we find that type of life-changing conference experience.

Many conferences and event organizers have not been able to capture that same type of Extreme Makeover experience in their annual conferences. Sometimes, they need to hand out free coffee for an adrenalin rush as attendees are bored to exhaustion.

Or they should distribute boxes of tissues as the attendees are disappointed to tears. Well, maybe they don’t really cry.

But often the attendees are angry, or not wowed, enough that they question whether they will return. Usually the participants are second-guessing whether their dollars for registration fees, time away from the office, airfare, lodging and expenses were well-spent.

When was the last time that you read a blog post from an attendee that returned from a conference with a mind-altering, emotional changing, transformational experience? Seriously, name one!

Most of what we’ve read lately from social media’s thought leaders about social media conferences has been just the opposite. Consider Jay Baer’s recent post 13 Observations From South By Southwest or the hundreds of negative comments on Oliver’s Blanchard’s post Thoughts On The Sorry State Of Conferences which was a follow up post to 3 Conferences And A Funeral or Scott Gould‘s The Issue With Social Media Events: They Aren’t Social.

And just to be clear, these complaints are not specific to just social media conferences. They apply to most conferences and events.

Many industry’s veterans and leaders question whether people will continue to pay for an annual mediocre conference experience. It tastes, and smells, and sounds, and looks, and feels like blah. Blah, blah, blah. Blah refried. Blah regurgitated. Blah spoken at that general session. Blah in the breakouts. Blah redesigned as new innovative more blah. Here a blah. There a blah. Everywhere a blah, blah, blah. It’s The Extreme Blah-over: Mediocre Conference Edition.

Many conferences and events are missing the emotional connection, the sense of belonging to a beloved neighborhood, the ability for attendees to get involved, a cast of great experienced professionals that showcase their expertise and communicate well, and sponsorships that want to get involved at the local level. Most educational sessions are missing the “Aha” and “Ooh” moments of light bulb learning that is transformational and bus-moving.

Most conference organizers are following an-outdated pattern of offering general sessions with large-ballroom presentations. They follow the well-worn path trying to broadcast their message to hundreds and thousands of people with unmatchable efficiency. The economics of a broadcast message to a large audience requires a hit experience to catch the huge throngs of attendee’s attention and move their hearts. Serving the same message to thousands of people at the same time can be expensive and wasteful for a distribution network optimized for person-to-person communications.

Did you catch that last phrase–a conference experience that is optimized for person-to-person life changing experiences? That’s what the conference experience should be: person-to-person life changing experiences. A conference that inspires you to make changes back at the shop or do something differently.

What if the next conference you planned was truly The Extreme Makeover: Attendee Conference Person-to-Person Edition?

So how do you provide that person-to-person life changing experience at your conference? What’s missing from most traditional conferences that creates a barrier to person-to-person connections? What keeps attendees from deeper learning? What has worked for you so that attendees experience relevant content and neighborhood-like community experience that move from the large community to individual experiences?

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  1. Great piece, Jeff – definitely giving us great food for thought.

    Ironic, but one of my most memorable conference experiences happened with a paint brush in my hand. It was a conference experience where Learning/Networking intersected with Altruism (charitable team-building activity – fixing up a kids’ shelter). Organizers did a nice job of connecting the charitable activity back to learning/theme. And on the final night, when they ran the slide show recap, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
    Ty Pennington would have been proud 😉

    1. Jeff Hurt says:


      That’s a great example of an extreme conference makeover tying charity work into the theme of the conference. Thanks for adding that point!

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