People’s behaviors, needs and preferences online reflect their offline actions.
Understanding some of their online human activity can help conference organizers understand and connect with their onsite conference attendees.
Ultimately, securing the right kind of conference content is exactly what your attendees seek.
In Spring 2011, About. com partnered with Latitude to examine Americans’ online search behavior. Their research overwhelming revealed “three mindsets of search.”
About.com says that “Understanding how human behavior affects patterns in search behaviors can help marketers understand and connect with the people that use their products.”
Three Conference Mindsets
I think that About.com’s research has tremendous application when planning today’s conference content.
1. Answer Me – 46%
Attendees in the “answer me” mode want their immediate problems solved quickly. They come to your conference looking for relevant solutions to the dilemmas they face. They want those takeaway solutions delivered in a way that they can get to directly and without having to wade through a lot of tedious, boring information. They have a “give me what I want, nothing more, nothing less” attitude.
The “answer me” mode aligns with adult learning practices that adults are problem-driven, not content-driven. This is why learning objectives for conference session descriptions are important. They help attendees decide if the presentation will answer their immediate questions.
2. Inspire Me – 28%
Attendees in the “inspire me” mode want to be surprised, motivated and encouraged. They are there to be led and browse conference topics at leisure. They have an “excite and inspire me about the things I love and I have an open mind and am ready to be led” attitude.
Conference organizers can align with “inspire me” mode by securing content that inspires creativity and offers endless choices. These are the folks that say “Too many ideas are never enough.” As long as the conference content excites their imagination, they will be there.
3. Educate Me – 26%
Attendees in the “educate me” mode want a 360-degree understanding of a critical pressing issue. They also want multiple perspectives on those urgent topics. They will continue looking for this information until they feel their goal is achieved. Often, their research continues over extended periods of time. They have a “help me understand the things that matter most and don’t spare any details” attitude.
The “educate me” mode is only about one-fourth of your conference audience. Consider longer extended education sessions allowing attendees to gain depth into a specific topic. Remember that adults are still problem-centric and the attendee’s research into this topic is driven by problems back in the office.
The research showed that gender and age did not affect these mindsets. However, the higher the income, the more likely the person was to engage in the “Answer Me” mindset. For conference organizers, the higher the income of your attendee, the more likely they are coming to your event with specific problems that need solved.
Which mindset describes you and why? What implications do these mindsets have on your conference planning?
Noel Ramos says
I think every conference attendee falls into all three categories at various points, and/or simultaneously during their attendance at the event.
The study itself confirms my opinion, on page 17 it states: “Everyone Engages in All Three Types of Search.”
I feel it’s disingenuous to correlate a very limited activity such as searching the web for a specific bit of info, to something as complex and involved as spending hours and days actually visiting an industry conference. Trying to skew About’s findings to fit the needs of this article is an overreaching stretch.
Therefore, these mindsets have absolutely zero implications on my conference planning, because if I wasn’t already attempting to satisfy the many needs of the registrants, my event would never have lasted beyond its first year.
– Noel Ramos, Executive Director – IMC2011
This is a very narrow and myopic view of conferences and conference attendees, as Noel said. What about people who attend conferences to find people, not information, that can help them? Most of the value of attending conferences is to explore the networking possibilities, which is exactly where online search and offline attendance behaviours are critically different …
Noel Ramos says
The other disingenuous thing about the whole article is the supposed “research” it is based on. If you visit the link provided, the “research” is presented in About.com’s SALES literature. It’s an advertisement, not research data, and I just realized the most egregious claim the author makes:
“People’s behaviors, needs and preferences online reflect their offline actions.”
This is the EXACT OPPOSITE of what the “research” stated: “People’s behaviors, needs and preferences in the offline world drive their behaviors and preferences online”
Drawing the opposite conclusion and presenting it as fact that is supposedly backed up by research is extremely misleading.
Jeff Hurt says
Thanks for sharing your perspective. We always invite divergent thought and differing views here.
You obviously have a lot of emotional energy about this post. I believe we can disagree without being disagreeable.
Here are some things I consider are true:
1. People attend conferences for two primary reasons: education and networking.
This research has been widely documented by MPI, PCMA and ASAE to name just a few. Plus, the research that each of the nonprofit associations I worked for in the past 20 years always showed the same thing.
People attend a conference seeking something, whether to search for solutions to their problems or searching for others that can help them succeed. In my opinion, this is aligns with the same motivations that people use for searching online.
2. Adults are problem-centric, not content-centric.
This is adult education 101 research from Andrew Kapp and Dr. Malcolm Knowles. People are not coming to your conference for just the heck of it. They usually don’t spend a total of $1,500 (reg fee, airfare, lodging and expenses for the typical three-day conference which is very different than your conference) for a serendipitous chance that something might happen. They have specific intentions to solve their pressing problems.
3. About.com research
The document I linked to was a typical business white paper based on research by a third-party outside company. The researchers outline the methodology they used. In my opinion it was not a sales product at all. We disagree here.
Thanks for sharing your views. As I stated in my reply to Noel, in my opinion searching for people for networking purposes seems very similar to searching for people online. Just sayin…