Exceeding Conference Attendee Expectations

Silvia Pavone-  Atma

What would it take for your conference attendees to call your annual meeting the greatest event on the Earth?

Animal acts? High wire tightrope acrobatics? Clowns? Three rings of ongoing entertainment? A live band?

It’s challenging to keep annual meetings fresh and exciting while maintaining integrity.

Yet it’s very easy to duplicate last year’s event and only make a few tweaks to the speakers and content. Often, that’s just not enough!

Your Conference: The Greatest Event On Earth?

Adapting a legacy event for constantly evolving audience expectations is challenging for sure.

Adults today are very sophisticated, even more so than just five years ago. They see amazing new products in their daily lives. They see high-energy, media-rich, tech enable entertainment online, in videos and movies and even in nightly TV. They carry constantly evolving technology in their pockets.

Conference organizers have to prove that their conference experience is worth it. They have to convince refined veterans and tech-savvy adults to come one, come all. They have to establish that it’s worth packing your luggage for two or three days, flying to another city, staying in a hotel, paying for registration, airfare and lodging to learn something relevant to their job. And let’s not forget that it needs to be entertaining and captivating as well.

Then they have to ensure that their experience lives up to a seriously weighty brand promise. And when it’s over, attendees have to feel it was worth their time and resources.

Your attendees need to see that the conference experience is being differentiated from year to year. They don’t need to feel as if they are just repeating a past experience. The last thing you want is to be categorized as a “traditional experience.” While we have a long respect for tradition and the past, positioning your events as something traditional is not the best place to be in the 21st century.

Your attendees are looking for an experience that they can’t have in their other activities or conferences.

Creating Legacy Conference Principles

The heart of any conference is about three things:

  1. Community
  2. Learning
  3. Entertainment

Attendees want those three things and they want it wrapped up in a unique, spectacular experience. They want an authentic experience that is appropriate for their personal and professional needs.

As a conference organizer, you have to find your event’s legacy principles tied to those three things. It’s what keeps attendees coming back year after year.

More than likely your legacy principles are not necessarily the activities that you plan. They are the emotions that attendees get from those activities from a feeling of excitement, fulfillment and success.

Your legacy principles might even be the character or personality of your event. For example, PCMA’s annual Convening Leaders is known for being an experimental playground where PCMA leaders try new things so attendees can learn from PCMA’s successes and mistakes. PCMA has a legacy principle of experimentation. People attend for that very reason!

Innovation Plus Legacy Principles Equal Spectacular Events

Having a legacy principle does not mean that innovation is ignored. It’s just the opposite. You can never take your eye off the innovation ball. You have to stay on top of what interests your attendees today. Adding innovation to your legacy principles is the secret sauce to unforgettable.

In the end, you want attendees to feel that they got something from attending your conference. You don’t want them to just show up, pick up the materials, download the presentations and then go home thinking, “Yes, that’s about what I expected.”

If that’s your goal, then your attendees could just as easily get the information from the Internet.

What are some legacy principles of the events you attend on a regular basis? What are some ways you exceed conference attendees’ expectations?

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  1. Great article, Jeff. I love your circus analogy – it really captures the feelings of anticipation, excitement and awe that meeting and conference planners aspire to create. Here’s a suggestion for a “non-traditional” venue that has plenty of opportunities for community-building and entertainment: a cruise ship!

    1. Jeff Hurt says:


      Thanks for reading and commenting! Appreciate it.

  2. Tahira says:

    We definitely do not see “entertainment” enough in conference expectations – but why would ou return if it wasn’t fun? I am looking forward to the next PCMA And seeing how it “plays out”

  3. […] make sure the event will meet the attendees expectations, or even better, exceed them, it is essential to stay updated with the latest trends of the […]

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