July 31, 2012 by Jeff Hurt
The challenge of many conferences today is that they are like local, indigenous populations using their native tongue trying to talk to foreign immigrants.
The traditional conference experience is out of touch, disconnected and using an outdated model. It fails to connect with today’s generations.
Well, it’s time your conference went EPIC!
Sociologist, professor and former college president Dr. Len Sweet says that today’s generations want EPIC communication and experiences.
For today’s conferences to succeed, they must step outside of traditional thinking. It is only when conference organizers and hosts move from being static providers of academic information to becoming learners along with their audiences that true transformation happens. They have to create new models and experiences that use a four-step EPIC transformational process.
Today’s generations are not looking for something to believe in or embrace in the traditional conference format. They are not looking for authority figures to mentor them. Instead, they hunger for experiences and connections with others. We have to create a new conference experience that leads to relationship building. It also must be a fresh, new experience that is unparalleled to others, memorable and unique. It has to ignite the emotions and connect with the soul. We must rethink everything we are doing.
Traditional conferences must transition from a performance-based production of pomp and circumstance focused on an expert on stage to an interactive, participatory model. With the explosion of the Internet, we have generations that do not need access to authority figures to receive information. However, they do need authority figures, often their peers, to process and assess that information together. Successful conferences find ways for the attendees to become active participants instead of passive spectators. Today’s generations want to transform and customize the traditional conference format.
For too long, traditional conference experiences have depended upon words. They have to transition to images and visuals. We live in an image-rich, image-based culture. Today’s generations live and die by images. Conferences have to paint the right images for their participants and their industry in order to succeed. The best tools conferences can give attendees are metaphors on images that lead to conversations of change.
Traditional conferences relied on providing a one-size-fits-all experience for individuals. It was up to each registrant to make the most of their experience. The pursuit of individualism has made us hungry for connectedness to community. Today, the conference focus needs to be on connectivity and how we belong to a larger like-minded community. The essence of connectivity is, “I can’t be me without we!”
What works today, won’t work tomorrow. What worked yesterday won’t to work in the future.
Change is part of the natural process. It is life’s, natural, normative state.
Today’s culture is a change or be-changed world. The word is out. Conferences, reinvent yourselves for the 21st Century or die.
If conferences don’t change and adapt to new times, they will die and decay. That’s why many conference experiences have become nothing but stale, decaying and rotten experiences. Nobody wants to touch them except for the diehards that are accustomed to their rancid odor.
What barriers keep conference organizers from moving from something familiar and traditional to creating new experiences? How can conferences paint more metaphors rich in imagery for attendees?
Filed Under: Experience Design
Good points about how things are changing, while many are struggling to remain the same (remaining the same is not a good strategy).
I would like to add under connected…. “inclusive”. The old-guard cliques that have had a hold on many organization conferences are hurting events. If people do not feel included they will not come back. Events are no longer like high school with the “cook kids table”. If you have barriers people will hate your event.
Jeff…hear hear!! You nailed it yet again! The traditional conference and meeting model has been broken for some time now. It is old school and 19th century, never mind 20th century. It is based on the outmoded premise that rote learning is effective and learners can have information poured into their brains.
Believe you me it’s a battle I have been fighting as both a team building facilitator and, prior to that, a training and development specialist.
We will not see media rich, engaging and interactive conferences, corporate events or training and development programmes as standard until the old guard with their dinosaur thinking have retired.
Thank you for this. Your readers may also find this useful from a couple of my blogs:
It’s time to Re-Engineer Conferences & Business Meetings
Repairing A Broken Business Meeting Model
Adapt or die…that’s what’s going to happen sooner or later. Yep, change is the drumbeat today.
Thanks for reading and commenting too.
Thanks for reading and adding to the discussion. Thanks for sharing more posts on the need for change as well. 😉
‘@Ann and Jeff – You couldn’t have said it better! We have a “newer” generation thinking department and trying to get the dinosaurs in charge to change the way we run our conference is terrible. It is a frustrating struggle we face constantly. However, that struggle doesn’t stop us from educating ourselves & trying to educate them to change. Thank you both.
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Your comments are very timely are relevant but for soem groups, they have to fit into a larger context. For example, higher ed faculty “have” to present as part of promotino and tenure so that is what they value (and get financial support for) in attending your conference. Any thought about how to get workshp presenters to provide an experience as well as the main speakers? How to move everyone along this train of thuoght can be a challenge. Thanks for helping us to think and execute in new, more effective ways!
You raise some good points. Thanks for reading and raising them!
One of the biggest challenges with organizations is speaker selection. Some organizations have backed their conference into a corner as they end up being a conference of speakers speaking to speakers. Conferences and presentations are not for speakers. They are for paying attendees. When an organization focuses on letting higher ed faculty speak because that’s how their university decides if they will pay for their attendance and they need it for tenure, the paying attendee’s needs are completely lost. A shift needs to occur to focus on “What is in the best interest of an attendee.” This is a tough change and a much needed one though.
Second, you’ll need an intentional change management and quality improvement plan. I suggest by requiring speakers to illustrate how they will create an experience with their presentation during the call for proposal. Webinars, blog posts and presentation training for speakers are some things to do next to help your presenters make the change. Remember, the entire process is not an overnight change. It takes time.
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I like the EPIC mnemonic for making presentations, but I have a recommendation. Replace image-rich with inspire. We often want to be inspired by the presentation and image-rich content or imagery (can be a story) can do that. We want to feel something other than the weight of our eyelids.
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