Five Colossal Rotten Ways To Torpedo Your Conference Growth

2014.03.19_Missile near White Sands

Very few of us want to see our conferences grow and expand. Right?

Similarly, very few of us are willing to make changes to the conference agenda, planning process and attendee experience all in the name of growth. Right again!

We do everything we can to avoid change. So if change is associated with conference growth, which in turn means more work, we say phooey on conference growth. Let’s just be like we’ve always been. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

Crash And Boom

Here are five glowing examples of how to ensure that conference growth crashes and burns. How many of them do you use on a regular basis?

1. Never ask anyone new to speak or lead.

Make sure the buck always stops with the same speakers you’ve used for decades. The last thing you want to do is empower anyone to be a leader or expert.

2. Ignore a unified conference context.

By all means encourage your special interest groups, small self-chosen communities and like-minded clusters to stay scattered. Ask them to do their own thing and keep it close to the vest. The last thing you want is for your conference to have a culture that embraces and invites everyone to get involved. You want to ignore that everyone has a point of view, some experience and some knowledge to share. Why? Because that will lead to a ton of conversations and a ton of connections. The more unified in a shared conference vision, the more people it will attract and that only leads to growth. Imagine if your conference attendees gave up their time, money and comfort for the sake of profession or industry. Proposterous!

3. Keep it organic and forget a plan!

No planning, at all! You don’t want your conference to look like it has intentionality in purpose, direction and vision. And never, ever write that intentionality for all to see, share and trust. If you have a plan, people might just feel like they can get involved.

4. Do not at any cost interact with non-members or untraditional customers!

If you interact with nonmembers they might just get in the way. Untraditional customers and nonmembers don’t always believe what members believe. You only want people around you who believe like you do so that everyone gets along smoothly! What happens if a nonmember actually talks to you, gets involved, and continues to attend the conference…as a nonmember? It definitely messes with your group dynamic.

5. Avoid the rhythms of our life and keep your conference as a one-time annual event.

If you keep your conference as a one-time annual occurring event each year, people will just see it as another meeting. No need to advance a mission or strategic direction. Plus if you just keep it as an event, less people desire to have another meeting in their lives; much less one they have to pay to attend. Then they will feel overwhelmed to plan everything around your conference-event. It will just add more stress to their lives. On the other hand, rhythms bring forth the idea of naturally occurring things in our lives like rest, fun, work, learning and families. Rhythms are part of life rather than a conference.

Adapted from author Seth McBee’s sardonic wit about growth.

What are some other ways you’ve seen conferences can impede growth? What are some things that keep conference organizers from creating a vision and plans for growth?

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  1. thom singer says:

    #2 is very important. Organizations will have a variety of groups that appear over time. Some are formal and others are informal. But too often those that are not the “core” are ignored. Members find their “home” inside associations but too often the organization fears these sub-groups…. and rarely are they invited to the table. It creates and “us vs. them” mentality when people feel they are ignored or not heard. A big tent welcoming mentality will serve a conference, and spur conversation. Do not look at these groups as “Cliques”, but instead as “home base” for the members who are part of them.

  2. George says:

    Thom is right, but I think we should not forget something: if we allow people to get together among who they already know, the event will run the risk of turning into a chit-chat conference too. You also need to create the chance to interact with new people during the event.

    Jeff, I liked the style here. Sarcasm can be soooo effective. =)

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for adding to the discussion. I like this statement: “…do not look at these groups as cliques, but instead as a home base for members who are part of them.

      Yes, sarcasm can really drive home a point for sure. Thank you for reading and responding. We greatly appreciate it.

  3. Joan Eisenstodt says:

    These all apply if you want a more dynamic conference, right, not just one that “grows” and “expands”. Or was all this sarcastic, Jeff?!

    I see too many groups that want to “grow and expand” – which to them/many means greater attendance, reaching out to disparate groups, increasing trade show square footage and income – w/o thinking through the consequences of ‘larger’ anything.

    Why do we think bigger is always better? (Is that global or just US-centric?) Why is quality not more impt. than quantity?

    Yes, influx of new ideas with new people is important and so is the re-energizing of the ‘same’ people who might, in the current year, have new jobs w/in their companies, or new experiences to share. @George – I understand your comments about “chit-chat’ clubs and think that we who design conferences and the sponsors of those same conferences are not energizing the ‘base’ and, in the association communities in which I work often, some of the base is finding another place to go.

    OY!.. I wasn’t sarcastic at all in this response. Will it garner any comment?

  4. […] Very few of us want to see our conferences grow and expand. Right?Similarly, very few of us are willing to make changes to the conference agenda, planning process and attendee experience all in the name of growth.  […]

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