August 1, 2012 by Jeff Hurt
Which would you rather attend: A ninety-minute speech or a ninety-minute movie?
You’ve got to be kidding, right? The majority of us would rather go to a movie than a speech.
Now, let’s put this into a conference context. Given a choice, would you rather go to a two-day film festival or a two-day conference?
Again, many of us would choose the film festival over the conference. Unless you just hate films.
Why would many of us choose attending a movie over a speech?
Movies typically contain something most speeches don’t. Story. Conflict. Action. Resolution. Emotions. Drama. Action. Rich visuals. Moving images. A plot. A beginning, middle and end. Interesting characters. An adventure. A hero and a villain.
In short, good movies create an evocative and emotional experience. We feel like we are part of the story.
Most speakers are guilty of omitting the ingredients that make movies attractive. They forget about adding story elements, conflict, action, resolution and rich visuals.
There is an unwritten belief that telling a story or adding emotions to a presentation isn’t appropriate, business-like or scholarly. Adding a dilemma that needs to be solved to a speech is considered heresy. Presenters avoid conflict and don’t want an uncomfortable audience. That means there is no need for action and resolution, the very items that attract people to movies.
Most conferences are nothing more than a series of speeches. So let’s compare conferences and movies.
So which of these two lists describes your annual meeting? Which of these two columns do you prefer to participate? If you chose the movie list, you’re like most people.
Cognitive scientist Mark Turner says, “Narrative imagining–story–is the fundamental instrument of thought. [Our] rational capacities depend on it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, of predicting, of planning, and of explaining…Most of our experience, our knowledge and our thinking is organized in stories.”
Today, people relish imagination and story more than facts and figures. They want their lives to be a story worth telling. They want a great soundtrack to go along with it.
They also want a conference experience that is imaginative, full of adventure that creates an evocative and emotional experience. They want a conference experience that resolves a conflict, especially our own personal challenges.
Conferences need to move from boring transmission of data through yawn-stirring, eye-drooping, sleep-educing presentations to sessions that have compelling stories that resolve attendees’ conflicts.
More conferences need to embrace the power of story to connect with its customers. They need to invite participants on the journey of conflict and resolution.
What steps can you take to make your conferences more like film festivals and movies? What story elements can conferences add that make attendees feel like the main characters?
Filed Under: Event Planning
Outlier moment: I’d rather go to a conference. You can’t (or it’s impolite to) talk in the movies. At a conference, you can share experiences. In some cases, I’d rather go to a speech than a movie! (3D movies make me nauseated!)
If a movie is bad, sure, you can walk out but you can from a speech too. Yes, if you are in your own town, the cost of a movie may be far cheaper than going to a conference. Maybe that’s a consideration.
Movies do allow popcorn but then so do some conferences.
Conferences are not all monologues and panels. I’m not unhappy paying to be in the same place as interesting people so we can talk, outside session rooms if need be. I wish more movie venues had places to sit and talk – even during a movie – you know, STOP ACTION and let’s discuss, then back to the movie.
Maybe we just want to combine the best of both worlds.
Current movie recommendations – and movies about which I’d like to talk: “Brave”, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”, “Moonrise Kingdom”, and “Marigold Hotel.”
Joan, Joan, Joan:
Thanks for reading and commenting. And yes, you are an outlier. You are not the norm…but you already know that. And we are grateful that you are not the norm! 😉
Since you took the blog post in a different direction and mixed the metaphors, I’m going to redirect back so we are comparing apples to apples. Would you rather sit through a ninety-minute speech, without any audience engagement or a ninety-minute movie?
If you are going to compare speeches to conferences, you need to compare a film festival to a conference where talking IS appropriate. As a matter of fact, film festivals set up lots of areas for discussions of movies and even discussions with the actors and producers. It’s part of the process.
You said “Conferences are not all monologues and panels.” Well, all the ones we’ve been reviewing for clients for the past year are! Of course the ones where you speak are not all monologues and panels but the ones we’ve been evaluating are! I’ve yet to see a large trade-association conference that has more audience engagement than monologues.
I was trying to drive home the communication strategy of a movie versus the traditional speech. They are very different indeed and more conferences need to leverage the elements of story.
And as you said, you don’t mind paying to be in the same place as others so you can sit in the halls and talk with interesting people. You really are not following the conference agenda, you are creating your own experience. By that very act, you are signifying that the conference agenda and planned schedule does not meet your needs. H-m-m-m. You’d rather be involved with the stories of interesting people’s lives. Sound more like a movie to me.
BTW, I love Beasts of the Southern Wild! It was heart-wrenching for sure. What an amazing story too!
[…] social connections, reflection and the true experience often happens outside the schedule. Just ask Joan Eisenstodt who often travels to conferences to connect with interesting people in the hallways. She’s […]
I know it “should” be that I want to be in a 90 min. movie. Alas, not always.
And thinking about this has been a good exercise for me: generally I hate lectures – “talking heads” – “sages on stages” — and rebel at very opportunity. That said, there have been times when I’ve been riveted by the information and the visuals, the style and substance of a speaker more so than some movies in which I can’t keep my eyes open.
The conferences I’ve attended and reviewed over many years have been good and awful — from my perspective. Have they been awful to me when they’ve been good for a client’s audience? Yeah and it always puzzles me.
Why can’t we have a good mix of content delivery at conferences? Why can’t “peer-to-peer interaction” (“networking” to some) be done in different ways to meet different needs?
Do we go with “it depends”?
And should I thank you for acknowledging my not being the norm?
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