The traditional conference is in dire need of creativity, innovation and reinvention!
It has been stuck in an ancient, out-dated rut for too long.
Those planning and organizing conferences need to see themselves as creators and artists. As Seth Godin says in Linchpin, “An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity and boldness to challenge the status quo.”
We need more conference organizers that plan and program from a position of creativity and courage and not from a position of sameness and repetition. We need conference organizers to become artists that challenge the status quo.
We need to build a new story about the why and how of conferences.
This new story requires us to ask the difficult yet crucial question: Why conference?
Hold on a minute. I’m not suggesting that we eliminate conferences. I’m suggesting that we need to think deeply about why we need conferences. Sure, you’re going to respond with “People attend conferences for education (learning) and networking.” So, more specifically, what’s the value of conferences now that opportunities for learning and networking are exploding all around us?
The World Has Changed
The world has changed since conferences first started. And it continues to change, rapidly and radically when it comes to the ways we learn, network, sell and buy.
Simply stated, the Web and technologies we use daily drive those changes. In this hyper-connected world, we learn from blogs, Google, YouTube and Wikipedia. We learn from our desks, our mobile devices and on-the-go. This causes us to have a very different expectation than the traditional university-style lecture for our conference experience.
Ten Key Changes To The Traditional Conference Practice
Click here to see the PPT slide deck regarding these ten changes: http://www.slideshare.net/Jeffhurt/we-need-a-conference-revolution
What happens inside of conferences is going to change. Especially now that the Web connects us to information and people the way that it does. It has to change.
Conferences have to change in the following ten areas to remain relevant to our customers. These areas are the heart of conference revolution.
1. The Role Of The Customer (Paying Registrant)
Our conferences must become more customer-centered. We have to focus more on designing a specific experience for our target customer and stop trying to be all things to all people.
2. The Function Of Content
Too many conferences have put content at the center of the event experience instead of people. When conferences shift to a focus on being customer-focused, contents is used, not covered. We help attendees uncover the content necessary to succeed in their jobs.
3. The Process Of Education
In many conferences, education sessions are nothing more than didactic, dreary, mind-numbing, monotonous, monologues. The audience is to learn through absorbing the information from an expert, which is a myth! To be effective, conference education must shift from information transfer to designing attendee learning experiences. Education sessions are designed based on scientific evidence on what works in learning, not based on tradition or the past.
4. The Task Of Networking
Often conferences let networking default to happenstance. Or they think speed networking sessions without any structure or intention suffice. Conferences must move to more intentional serendipitous connections with peer to peer interactions.
5. The Job Of The Speaker
In customer-centered and learning-centric conferences, speakers act more as guides, facilitators and designers of learning experiences. They are no longer the main performer, the one who does the most talking and the one who works harder than everyone else to make it happen.
6. The Position Of The Sponsor
In customer-centric conferences, the sponsor transitions from looking for advertising opportunities to searching for opportunities to upgrade the customers’ experience. They want to position their name with thought leadership and unique attendee experiences.
7. The Part Of The Attendees’ Experience
In traditional conferences, the attendees’ experience is limited to being a passive consumer of prescribed encounters. There are few opportunities to customize the experience outside of picking which breakout to attend. In reinvented conferences, the attendee is a creator and participant of their experience. The conference organizer shifts from focusing on logistics to one of designing a conference experience with a variety of options for participants to customize.
8. The Balance Of Power And Planning
Conferences have to shift from aggregating call for speaker proposals and allowing a group or committee decide which content the audience should know to being curators that recommend and seek out content based on attendees’ needs.
9. The Perspective Of The Conference Organizer
In reinvented conferences, the conference organizer aligns the experience with the conference hosts’ goal. They are more of a business strategist and less logistician. They are also more of a curator and artist than a programmer of details.
10. The Responsibility Of Evaluation And Data
In the revolution of conferences, conference organizers dig deeper with evaluations and data. They are no longer just concerned with inputs and outputs. They are looking for deeper patterns, interpreting big pictures issues and comparing data to global trends.
Coming: additional blog posts that will dig deeper into the changes for each of these ten areas.
Hat Tips (HT) to authors Kerry Brown, Ruth Clark, Marcia Conner, Peter Feder, Seth Godin, Dan Pontefract, Will Richardson and Maryellen Weimer who have helped me congeal this thinking.
What other areas of the traditional conference experience need to change? Which of these resonates with your personal conference experience the most and why?