Enough Of Slow Death Conferences!

to earth thou shalt return

“It’s like attending a slow death. Once you’ve been to one conference, you’ve been to them all. They are boring!”

Those words echoed in my ears like a YouTube video continuing to loop.

They stung. Resonated. Pricked my brain. They sat on my heart like concrete blocks tied to my feet and sunk in the water. They sucked the life out of our conversation.

Yet, my friend’s words rang with truth.

Recipes Lead To Imitators

Recently Chris Brogan wrote about how people want recipes. We want tried and true formulas that will solve our problems. We want a five-step prescription to make our lives more successful, our business prosperous and our relationships more thriving. We want it quick, fast and easy.

Recipes work when

  • You want to recreate a dish exactly as it was first created.
  • Your guests have never had the dish.
  • You are trying to recreate Mom’s famous pie.
  • You want something safe, planned, tried and true.
  • You want to create a knock-off, a copycat, a carbon-copy, cookie-cutter look-alike.
  • You don’t mind imitating.

Recipes don’t work when

  • You need something original.
  • You want to create something different, never experienced and rare.
  • You want to create a dish that becomes “Your famous pie.”
  • You need to be extraordinary.

Stop Doing Boring

Overused recipes lead to boring. They can create predictable, uninteresting, widespread practices. They lack originality. They are nothing special.

In the conference arena, recipes lead to stale, universal, familiar experiences. They are unexceptional and ordinary. That’s why all traditional, conventional conferences start with a general session keynote, followed by breakouts, a meal, more breakouts and a networking reception. It’s the standard Conference 101 experience.

We need to stop doing boring conferences and instead respond to the yearnings of our customers.

Easier said than done. What’s boring to one is lively to another.

Fresh Looks And Tough Questions

We need to take a fresh look at how people experience our conference.

It isn’t enough to say that we follow best practices for food and beverage, room layouts and registration. It isn’t enough that we know how to plan them. Or that they work for us. Or that they used to work. Or that we feel obligated to continue tradition.

If people come once and don’t return, we should ask why. If WOM (word of mouth) spread and people don’t come at all, we should ask why. If non-attendees believe that we create boring things and instead we argue about their worth and how many jobs our industry creates, we should ask why.

Why is this happening? What can we do about it?

Moving Forward

The way forward is clearly marked:

  • Follow basic, foundational principles
  • Listen to the marketplace
  • Change what we do in order to serve better
  • Turn our attention from logistics and efficiency to experience and effectiveness
  • Focus on flow not counting coffee cups and belly buttons
  • Move from self-serving to customer-serving
  • Connect with others and stop waiting for them to walk into our conference and do things our way.

The first step is to want a future.

Enough of slow death conferences! Onward to new things.

How can we take the standard conference ingredients and create new conference experiences? What new ingredients can we add to our conference mix?

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  1. Traci Browne says:

    Thanks for your posts Jeff. Two things have struck me lately. First is almost no one has goals and objectives for their meetings. I knew a lot of people responsible for planning events were not involved in this piece…but I was a bit shocked to find that it was not something they view as their responsibility and also that no one else was really doing it. I think that is what makes these “recipes” so prevalent.

    Which brings us to the second thing. If you have no objectives how do you measure success? You then measure it by accomplishing logistical tasks. I find having a goal and objectives liberating. You are now open to doing whatever it takes to accomplish the goals/objectives. But management has to be open to the idea that creative ideas often fail. But as long as you can track your failures through measurement you can improve in the future.

    Traci Browne

  2. It does seem routine and boring after awhile I agree. Yet every once i awhile a conference is created that has the same format..keynote, breakout, lunch etc but the vibe is different. People in the association come every year, their is an energy to the group, good natured ribbing in the hallways. Speakers have a unique perspective that sparks discussion.

  3. Megan Dunlevy says:

    I really enjoy your blog and used it as a resource in my Research in Advertising and PR class at Western Kentucky University. If you get a chance, please help me by filling out this survey about the event planning industry.


    Here’s a link to my class blog:

    Thank you for your help!

  4. ken says:

    Right on it’s exactly what DSA conferences is all about.

  5. Debra Roth says:

    Thank you Jeff as always for your clarity of vision. What I like especially about this post is that as it does hold true for conferences it is also true in many other circumstances. Many people are afraid to step out of the “box” and it IS much easier to follow a recipe or be imitative.

    I am going to share this with some folks outside the conference area. Thank you!

    -Debra Roth

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