The experience matters!
It is one of the most (over?) used business phrases today.
Most business professionals agree that the experience matters to consumers. As consumers, we even agree that our experiences with brands and organizations drive our future buying decisions.
So why is it that most conference organizers do not focus on designing the best conference experience possible for all of its stakeholders? Instead, we focus on logistics and details claiming that “designing the experience” belongs to someone else.
It is time for meeting professionals across the globe to step up to the plate and say, “I am responsible for the outcomes of my decisions! I am responsible for the attendees’ experience.” And that means we must focus on designing the right experience for our stakeholders!
The Experience Matters!
Your conference attendees’ experience matters!
Seriously, it really, really matters!
Your attendees do not return to the next conference because your registration, schedule and F/B ran smoothly. They do not return to your next conference because the room sets were organized and there was enough food during breaks.
They decide to return to your next conference because they had a great experience at the last one.
And when they have a great experience, they tell others about it in addition to returning to your next conference.
Jack Morton Worldwide recently released the results from the second Best Experience Brands study. This study focuses on the impact experience has on consumers in the US, UK, Australia and China. The research demonstrates that the organizations that will rise to success in the 21st Century will be those that focus on customer experience.
The study also highlights how the experience gap is real with more than 80% of companies. Another way to say it is that 80% of organizations surveyed thought that they provided a great experience while in reality, they did not! I suspect that the experience gap is even higher for conferences as most conference hosts/organizers think they provide a great conference experience yet their attendees label them average at best.
Five Experience Principles You Should Adopt And Apply
The Jack Morton Best Experience Brands 2013 study identified five core principles for great experience. These principles apply to all audiences, touchpoints and media.
1. Invite participation.
It’s official. The customer’s active participation in your experience is critical for success. We’ve got to become more design-driven providing simple, accessible, active not passive, easy to use and relevant experiences. Providing a one-way, passive, speaker/expert centric conference experience that is consumed by attendees is not enough. It will fail! It has to provide opportunity for attendees to become participants with active engagement and involvement. No more sitting in theater room sets, listening to panelists drone on and on about nothing and catching up on our sleep!
2. Build the conference experience around the participants.
It’s time to stop seeing our conference attendees as consumers of information and see them as active participants. People want their experiences to feel customized to their needs and challenges as well as relevant to their context. For example, deciding on speakers and content based on the completed call for speaker proposals will not cut it! We have to become more intentional.
3. Make the conference experience easily shareable.
Experiences, both good and bad, spark conversations. We need to land on the side of providing great conference experience that ignites positive recommendations and excitement. Conference experience should tap into today’s technology as well as our primitive need to share. Just remember, bad experiences stick with our customers too and status quo experiences just get forgotten.
4. Create connexity (VCC’s choice of words, not Jack Morton’s).
We must become more intentional about designing conference experiences that connect us to others as well as connect us to the larger community. Thus the tech term connexity. The more information we try to push at attendees, especially when we feel we have a ripe opportunity because we are holding them hostage at a general session or meal function, the less connected they feel with each other and the organization’s community. We must stop the hostage-style information push and pull in our attendees through connexity.
5. Make the conference experience useful!
It seems so simple yet we fail here the most! We must start asking, “Is this decision in the best interest of the conference attendee? Does it provide useful, appropriate, solutions to the participants’ pain points?” If the experience does not align with the conference participants’ context, it will fail!
What are some ways conference organizers and hosts can begin to track and improve their customers’ experience? What are some of the qualities of a great conference experience that make you want to share it with everyone?