Dear Conference Organizers:
This relationship isn’t working out. You know, the one between us, the attendees, and you the conference organizers. It’s time for us to explore other educational, community-building and networking opportunities. We’ve tried to make it work. But it’s not us — it’s you (really).
We thought we would do things together. We were hoping we could talk more. With you. With your leaders. With your community. With our friends. But that hasn’t happened. We only get to listen.
We are tired of sitting, passively listening to talking head egos drone on about topics that you thought would attract us. We are tired of racing in the hallways to find our community, our like-minded colleagues so we can connect with them. We are tired of attending breakfasts and lunches where you flaunt your relationships with big money and don’t allow us time to talk to the people at our own table.
You monopolize our time when we meet. It’s all about your messages. Your ideas. Your people. Your needs. Your problems. Your partners. Your issues.
It’s all about you. You, you, you.
You just don’t seem to understand our needs. You think you can continue to plan our rendezvous the way you’ve always done them in the past. But those meetings have become too familiar, too predictable. They have lost their spark. Their excitement. Their emotion. Their romance.
You think that paying attention to the details, the logistics, and the specifics will maintain our relationship. You spend more time on the setup than you do on the content of our connections. You think feeding us the latest organic food and greening our meeting will make us want to continue to connect with you. You think that a logistically sound meeting will maintain our relationship.
But that has become old. You’re a one-trick pony without much creative thought into our educational and connecting desires. You think that our relationship is built on minutiae, organization and a glut of information. You’ve spent so much time controlling the particulars of our connections that you’ve forgotten that we are real humans. And you’re expensive for what we are getting in return.
We have feelings. Thoughts. Ideas. Reflections. Our own stories and experiences. We need time to connect with others. Share. Learn. Explore new possibilities. We need to experience things together. We need dedicated time to talk. We need and thrive on conversations. We can’t continue to meet like we have in the past. Frankly, you bore us.
At first, you romanced us. You courted us with your flashy marketing pieces and smooth talk. You went out of your way to meet and connect. We fell for your handsome, beautiful, well-dressed look. But underneath, you were void of substance. It was a good-looking shell absent of any depth. You were offering us very shallow, over-clichéd subject matter. It’s so last century. It feels stagnant, stuck, out of touch with reality.
We are not sure if you’ve noticed, but we actually stopped attending most of your education offerings some time ago. If you had been paying attention, you would see that we are gathering together elsewhere to chat about our issues, our problems, our needs not your industry panel. We went as far as to form our own communities online. When we attend your conferences, we schedule our own meet-ups there. Heck, if you were even present, you would see that sometimes we do a mass exodus from your education offerings because they are mostly information dumps instead of participatory experiences.. But, you don’t even come to see if we are connecting with your friends, family and leaders. You’re stuck in a committee or board meeting. You’re not even supporting us and your most critical offering, our annual meeting.
You would be much better off with finding people that are as enamored with your organization and your messages as you are. You probably will continue to be on the relationship revolving door using people until their eyes are opened.
If you want to keep us, you must change. You must adapt to the 21st century where things are done differently than in the past. You must craft meetings that focus on community building. Meetings that spark conversations about our problems and issues. Meetings that allow us to meet and connect with others. Meeting with less content and more onsite content co-creation.
There, I’ve said it. It needed to be said. I hope you were listening. I hope this is the last Dear John/Jane letter you ever receive. Let us know if you decide to change.
In the meantime, we wish you all the best.
Last year’s conference attendees.
Michael McCurry says
Jeff, all I can say is “Amen!”
Jeff Hurt says
@Michael @Michelle @Scott
Thanks for reading and commenting. We greatly appreciate it.
I hope this does resonate with conference organizers. It’s time for change. Thanks for adding to the discussion.
Wow, that’s a compliment. Although, I have to admit I’ve not read the ClueTrain Manifesto yet. (My bad!). And yes, I think this applies to all generations, not just Gen Y. Thanks for bring that point to the forefront.
Michelle Baldwin says
Great letter. I feel the same way, too… and I help plan a local conference or two. I am planning to share this post with them. Thanks for posting!
Ruud Janssen says
This perspective may just land with organisers. I’m going to make an effort to get this translated into a couple of languages and get it dessiminated across my network, great initiative!
Scott Gould says
Rosa Garriga says
This looks like taken from the Cluetrain manifesto 🙂
It’s not only conference planners that need to change, that may take some pressure from us…
Btw, do you think this is only applicable to Generation Yers or other generations feel the same way too?
Rosemary Connors says
This post is a great dunk in the pool on a scorching day – bracing! Fabulous! I am forwarding this to my guys and dolls who I have met along the way in my 20+ years of meeting planning / membership development / alumni relations. We *all* need this reminder, no matter the age of our audiences. Thank you!
Chris Roffe says
This a great call to action and it resonates.
Fantastic capture of how mobile devices are leveraging individual influence and creating completely new expectations for engagement for conferences.
Jeff Hurt says
Glad I could bring you a virtual dip in the pool on a hot day! Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.
Glad the post resonated with you. Thanks for posting your comments!
Bill Guertin says
As one of those “talking head ego” (sic) speakers, I would absolutely agree with your letter, Jeff. I’ve seen more and more conference attendees want to discuss concerns and trade ideas with each other than listen to the “experts” onstage, and frankly, I don’t blame them.
In response, I’ve chosen to evolve into a much more open-ended, share-the-stage kind of speaker, much more of a facilitator than a presenter. I’ve been criticized by my peers as taking the easy way out (“What? Less content? How lazy is that?”), but I’ve seen the value of the sessions for attendees leap up tremendously. Perhaps those who are planning such events in the future might bring this to the attention of those you’re hiring as presenters.
(I’d be happy to share my format with anyone who wants it; it’s not rocket science. Just ask for the “participative format” outline I use at bill@The800PoundGorilla.com)
Jeff Hurt says
Thanks for reading and adding your thoughts. I’m with you that more meeting professionals should start considering facilitators for their education sessions. Facilitators that share some brief content and engage audiences with discussion lead to happier and more connected participants for sure.