Stop Trying To Offer Conference Content To Everyone

2014.01.08_Lookers and seekersAs a conference organizer, you want everyone to become a registrant, right?

Male, female, young, old and everyone in between.

So you try to attract as many people as possible with your programming. And you try to reach as many people as possible with your marketing. You are willing to take money from anyone willing to give it to you.

Casting A Wide Net

It seems like a logical and wise choice to try to reach everyone. It gives you the widest reach.

It’s like fishing with a net. It’s much easier to catch some fish with a wide net than narrow one, Right?

While that may be true for fishing, it’s not true for attracting audiences for your conference.

Outdated Hypodermic Needle Theory

Trying to be all things to everyone in your conference programming and marketing is based on the now outdated hypodermic needle theory of communication.

The theory was an attempt to explain how mass audiences might react to mass media. The belief is that an intended message is directly received and wholly accepted by a person. It is rooted in 1930 behaviorism and was used widely in World War I propaganda.

The Hypodermic Needle Theory is also known as the Magic Silver Bullet. This communication method assumed that people could be controlled by biologically based instincts and everyone would react uniformly to that stimulus. Marketing’s bullet is fired right into the readers’ head. Or the needle injects its message straight into passive audiences who then respond as directed by the sender.

This theory was not based on empirical evidence and is considered outdated today.

The Something For Everyone Mushy Melba Toast Mindset

It seems so logical to offer conference programming to as many different people as possible. You’ll get more registrants that way.


When you create education sessions for everyone about everything, you can’t go deep into the issues and challenges that your audience craves. You miss the opportunity to create programming that participants feel like was prepared just for them!

Ultimately, your conference programming becomes generic. It is vague and feels like wet, soft, mushy Melba Toast.

Your conference attendees don’t want that!

Focus On Your Conference Target Market

To paraphrase researcher and professor Dr. Julian McDougall, during the digital age, it is harder to conceive a media audience as a stable, identifiable group.

Institutions are obliged not only to speak about an audience — but crucially, for them – to talk to one as well; they need to not only represent audiences, but enter into relation with them. ~ Professor Dr. John Hatley

  • An audience is a body of adherents or a following.
  • A target audience is a specific group of people within the target market at which a product or the marketing message of a product is aimed.
  • A proprietary audience is a target market that is exclusively built and nurtured as an asset to the company.

The toughest thing to remember is that not every audience member turns into a customer. And not all customers are (equally) profitable. Some customers do not have the potential to become your most profitable customers.

As a conference organizer, you are challenged to program the experience and spend your budget efficiently to attain the most profitable customers. Often that profitability is best realized over multiple years of investment and value delivered.

Your challenge is to program education sessions to attract the target market that your exhibitors and sponsors most want to see. And your challenge is to program content to those customers that spend the most money with your conference by sending the most attendees.

Ultimately, you need to focus on programming content and education to unique audiences that have the potential to be your most profitable customers and meet your exhibitor and sponsor needs.

What is your organization doing to identify and build a target audience? What is your organization doing to build and develop a proprietary audience to grow its customers?

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