Creating An Emotional Arc Within Your Conference Experience

One Hun Dred!!!

Attendees experience a variety of emotions during a typical conference experience.

Their short two- or three-day experience rivals that of any fictional drama.

Hopes and dreams fill their minds. Anxiety, anticipation, excitement and fear jerk their emotions like a tilt-a-whirl. Egos and status posture for the lead emotional position. Emotions go from frustrations to fulfillment to frustrations in a matter of minutes.

Ten Common Attendee Emotions

Most conference organizers rarely recognize the emotional experience their plans create for attendees. They prepare their event as if it’s void of all emotional connections. Instead they should map their attendees’ emotional arcs before the event occurs and adjust their plans accordingly.

Here are 10 emotions that attendees will experience during a conference. If conference organizers place attention on fostering or limiting these emotions, they can reconcile their planning with creating the right emotional connections. Then the conference creates an emotional experience that is memorable for the right reasons!

1. Excitement

Discovery of new ideas creates a sense of excitement. The attendee senses limitless possibilities. This sense of potential is empowering and creates a short positive high.

2. Clarity

These are the Aha-moments that attendees crave. Their thoughts and ideas become focused and in alignment with past knowledge and experiences. They “get it” and now know how to apply these insights back in the office.

3. Community

Attendees feel that they actually belong. They find like-minded individuals that have similar experiences to theirs. There is a sense of relief that overcomes the loneliness as camaraderie reigns. “I’ve found my community!”

4. Confidence

New insights, ideas and tips lead to confidence. An “I can do this,” attitude arises and the attendee can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

5. Reflection

These attendees take time to reflect on the content that they are hearing and how it applies to their experiences. They are introspective and look for opportunities to discuss content with others. A reflective, deep-thought attitude prevails as they seek to make the most of the conference.

6. Boredom

The experience lacks novelty and feels all too familiar. Attendees find the speakers and sessions average. Lackluster experiences make the time seem to drag on forever. Attendees start looking for other things to do outside of the conference.

7. Anger

If the experience feels irrelevant and lacks value, attendees may experience anger. They are upset that their money and time may have little ROI for them personally or professionally.

8. Overwhelmed

The attendee feels overwhelmed by the amount of content being pushed at them. They may feel that the concepts being discussed are complex and complicated. This can be like emotional quicksand where the attendee gives up and retreats to their room or tries to leave early.

9. Doubt

Conference participants doubt the speakers’ presentation. They lack credibility and authority. The content is outdated or may even be incorrect according to current research. The attendees begin to doubt that the conference host and organizers understand their situations.

10. Loneliness

Some attendees may feel completely alone, even in a crowd. They don’t know others and may be first time attendees. Their loneliness can eclipse any attempt to learn or connect with others.

What are some other emotions that you’ve experienced at a conference? What steps should meeting professionals take to craft shared emotional experiences?

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  1. A few weeks ago I sat on a plane and listened as two conference attendees talked through these, and wrote about it. Yesterday I sat in a meeting with “average conference grid” staring back at us – and 11 weeks out from hosting 250 internal attendees, the client scrambling for content. Not alarming enough to me that the content is outstanding, but alarming that the general session / breakout / poster session /reception model has also no impetus for the first important 5 and I see the next 5 looming. I see my role with this new client not making sure their logistics are right, but inspiring them to consider the attendee experience and create ways to truly have people leave with accountability, action plans and retention of what they have had the opportunity to learn and share… should be interesting. Love the clarity of this post. Thanks Jeff.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for adding to the discussion and sharing your personal experiences with us. So true that the traditional conference grid does nothing to promote an emotional experience for attendees by itself. It’s merely the structure to create an emotional experience. Perhaps more meeting planners should treat it as a storyboard as Kare Anderson so aptly suggests!

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