How Conferences Can Find Their Future

day 23

For most of us, the future is our past.

So many people try to create a new future by modifying their past.

We insist on doing more of the same that we’ve always done. We cross our fingers and hope it results in a new future.

It won’t.

Nostalgia Is Good For A Rose Tinted View

Often we revel in nostalgic times. We cling to the good ole days when everything went better than planned and times were good. Frequently, our memories wear rose tinted glasses as we recall what worked. We quickly forget what didn’t work.

Nostalgia is fluid and our memories are not fixed! Our memories are not computer hard drives capturing and recording data accurately. Sometimes our memories may become altered as we layer new experiences on top of old ones.

While pinning for the past may stir good feelings, it doesn’t plan the future. Conferences that grow during a boon are not prepared for a bust. Too many leaders are fixated on the happy associations from a more hopeful past.

Conference leaders can’t afford to revisit the past as a way to avoid planning the future. If you spend too much time reminiscing about the past, you will not be prepared emotionally and socially for the future.

Here’s a tip: nostalgia is involuntarily and usually triggered by negative feelings. It acts as a natural anti-depressant. So use it wisely and avoid it becoming a stopping place for your next failure.

Five Steps Meeting Professionals Should Use To Find Their Conference Future

The future is made by those who face forward, not backward. It’s ok to stand on those past glory days. Just don’t try to repeat them.

1. Question everything that you did at last year’s conference.

Stop defining your next conference by last year’s schedule, plan, logistics and budget. Stop banking on your past accomplishments, behaviors and methods.

Don’t send around last year’s schedule for the team to review. Ask tough questions and mix it up. Start from scratch. Yes, that means more work. And that additional work creates a new experience that is not a cookie-cutter replicate of last year’s event.

2. Your future is actually about people, not plans, projects, schedules and budgets.

People can get lost in all of the logistics and planning. Keep people front and center.

Current relationships tend to maintain stability. New relationships tend to disrupt. How can you foster and treasure both? If you just repeat what you did last year, you will maintain the status quo and may attract last year’s crowd. You will not reach new audiences. Eventually, the loyalty of your audience will wane. Keep the focus on people and creating new experiences for them.

3. Get out of your office and meet new people.

It’s imperative that you flood your mind with new ideas, new voices, new thoughts and new research. Don’t get stuck listening to the same people all the time.

4. Face fear with small steps.

Experiment with at least 25 percent of your next conference. 75 percent certainty is enough.

5. Focus on your values and objectives.

Creating a new future can feel disruptive and disorienting. Focus on the objectives of the conference. Keep your guiding values at the core of what you’re planning.

Values and objectives guide you as you go without determining final destinations. Without objectives and values, you’re adrift.

What are some barriers keeping you from creating a new conference future? How can we effectively use nostalgia to give our moods a lift and create new conference experiences?

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  1. Pam Marvin says:

    Great post, as always. Thanks Jeff.
    I think the key to the new conference is balance. People are hard-wired look for the familiar, and tend feel uncomfortable with too many changes, therefore wax nostalgic for the “old ways”.
    As meeting planners we need to find that tricky balance between innovative and comfortable. I like your notion of 25%/75% (although I would push for 40% and settle for 25%). Each group will have a different tolerance for change, and we need to be sensitive to that. But that doesn’t mean we cannot try to push the envelope of innovation.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      What’s interesting is the research from George Mason Professor and author Todd Kashdan on uncertainty. His study of the brain shows that our minds actually like and embrace uncertainty more than certainty. We were born to be naturally curious and we’ve learned to avoid it instead. He says we tend to lean towards familiarity because it feels safe but we don’t remember it. We remember the unexpected, uncertain things that happen. Gives great reason to mix up meetings for sure.

      And I like to teach my customers to expect the unexpected so that they don’t ever get into a rut of familiarity and status quo. Then they are ok with all the change. 🙂

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