Put An End To Average, Status Quo, Ho-Hum, Boring Conference Education!


It’s time for conference organizers to mix it up and do things differently.

I am so bored with the traditional conference format: opening general session in theater setting, followed by breakouts in theater or rounds, followed by lunch, followed by breakouts in theater or rounds, followed by reception or party.

Really? Is that the best we can do? Do meeting professionals and conference organizers lack creativity?

The Year Of The Attendee

Who in the conference host organization is fighting for the rights of the paying attendee?

Who is reminding the leadership, “Is this in the best interest of our attendees? Will this serve our attendees better? Is this the best we have to give our paying customers? Why are we putting efficiency above paid registrant’s learning and experience? Are we saying we would rather be more efficient than effective?”

Shift your thinking and make decisions that are in the best interest of the paying customer!

The Most Overused, Overheard, Stupid Excuses

Whenever I challenge a meeting professional to mix things up and change room formats, I normally get one or more of these excuses:

1. We can’t change the room format because of sessions before and after it.

Hogwash! You can change anything you want. Don’t let traditional room sets dictate innovation and learning. You are creating the standard, boring, cookie-cutter conference. Get a grip.

If it’s in the best interest in the attendee, demand it!

Yes, professional associations, it’s time for you to get out of the business of telling speakers why it can’t be done and do it! I am sick and tired of hearing your excuses.

As a meeting professional, I mixed things up for years. We even changed a large ballroom six times in 36 hours! If I can do it, you can too!

2. Changing room sets will cost us money.

Tip: When negotiating the venue contract, remove any room change fees. Get a statement in the contract that there will not be charges for room change fees. Typically, room changes that occur at night do not cost anything.

3. We’ve always done it this way.

Exactly the reason you need to do it differently! You have become stale, outdated, status quo, average.

Who wants to pay to attend an average conference, with average speakers, with average education offerings, with been-there-done-that-overused, traditional room sets?

4. Our attendees expect it.

Yep, your traditional theater room set tells your attendees that they can expect to check out mentally and blend in with the crowd. It kills excitement, energy and innovation.

Here’s the real excuse:

We are too lazy to create something different. It’s easier to replicate last year’s model and do it the same way every year.

Take the Four-Box Learning Mode Test

To break out of your either/or thinking, take a look at this conference learning format diagram.

Write each of your conference education sessions into the appropriate quadrant.

Are there too many formal, group sessions?

If so, think about how you can break it up so there is both informal and formal group settings. And how can you provide individual formal and informal learning opportunities too.

What are some tips you’ve learned the hard way when mixing up conference learning formats? What are some of the excuses you’ve heard about why the room can’t be arranged differently?

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  1. Traci Browne says:

    Jeff, thank you for never giving up on this subject and never taking no for an answer.

    As a speaker I can’t tell you how many times I either heard no when requesting a room layout or didn’t get a no but showed up to classroom style seating. But guess what…throw their excuse of changes can’t be done out the window because I always managed to make the changes in about 10-15 minutes hauling chairs and tables around myself.

    As an event/conference/trade show producer myself now I can back you up on all of this. It can all be done and it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. If your budget does not allow to do a meeting right then you shouldn’t be doing the meeting at all.

    Myself, I’ve stopped going to traditional conferences. I’m not spending my hard earned money on something that leaves me empty.

  2. Adrian Segar says:

    Jeff – come to one of mine. You won’t be bored! (Traci & I are doing a couple together this year.)

    I’ll do room set changes on the fly, as needed.

    Number of formal group sessions: 0 (30 hr conference) to 3 maximum (3½ day conference).

    Attendees love ’em.

  3. Janna Sundby says:

    Hi guys (Adrian, Traci & Jeff) – I’m planning a 3 1/2 day conference where there’s an outside speaker each morning for 45 min, then Q&A for 15 mins, then panelists of attendees who answer questions from the speaker for 30 mins. We’re having a working lunch over which 3 member/attendees are presenting for 20 mins with 10 mins of Q&A. Followed by another 1 hour attendee presentation. I’m trying to decide on the best room set-up. Historically we’ve used rounds with 6 at a table. There are approx 50 attendees. I wanted to try classroom this year, but don’t think it’s conducive to a working lunch. Any advice? Suggestions? Thanks, Janna

  4. Spot-on, Jeff, and the same goes for event marketing. “It’s easier to replicate last year’s {marketing] model and do it the same way every year.” A postcard, coupla emails, event website, a downloadable pdf. Why do it if it’s promoting ho-hum? Great content, great event design makes the marketing easy and effective.

  5. Last week I spoke at a conference where the room set up was long and narrow on either side. Right down the middle was a large hole …an extra wide aisle. Standing on the stage I looked straight ahead at no chairs or people but the aisle. It meant I had to speak to the left or the right of me. I told the meeting planner and she said she would see what she could do. Ten minutes before my speech nothing changed so I recruited several delegates and we moved theatre style chairs over into the middle. Wasn’t ideal but better

  6. Adrian Segar says:

    Jody, if every meeting organizer read (and took to heart) Paul Radde’s book Seating Matters this kind of thing wouldn’t happen. His Principle 3: No Middle Aisle.

  7. […] wants to attend a common, ordinary, ho-hum, everyday, I’m-just-like-all-the-others traditional […]

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