The only reason that conference education sessions exist is to drive a business’ outcomes. (paraphrase author Rita Smith.)
Ok, sure some conference education sessions exist for personal development, hobbies or pleasure. But most of us attend conferences to learn and grow professionally.
Yet, in many cases, the business, meaning an attendees’ employer and business, is the primary customer of a conference’s education. That business paid for the employee to attend the event. And they expect something in return.
Business Growth Driving Learning
Conference education that aligns with attendees’ business priorities is not a new thought. However, it is rarely discussed by conference organizers or meeting professionals.
Often, we don’t design conference education focused on our target attendees’ business objectives. Instead we let committee volunteers, politics, hidden agendas and the call for speaker proposals or abstracts drive our conference education.
Here’s what conferences organizations should really think about when designing conference education:
If an organization pays for an employee to attend a conference, their leadership ultimately believes that the conference will improve the employee’s performance. And that improvement will be in areas critical to the organization’s business strategy, objectives and growth.
Executives Expect ROI From Employees’ Conference Attendance
Consider the following stats from a 2014 Benchmarking Report from the Corporate Learning Network on measuring knowledge investment:
- 60% of business leaders say they focus their budgets on education programming that aligns with their company’s growth objectives.
- 9 in 10 cited an expectation for improved productivity and performance of their employees from participation in education offerings.
- Nearly 70% emphasized that converting knowledge into business outcomes is a goal of their attendees’ learning experiences.
C-suite executives expect that an employee’s conference registration and attendance should increase their workplace productivity, business growth, efficiency, innovation and safety.
Still, how often do conference organizers align their education session with business growth and outcomes?
Why Conferences Fail To Align With Business Objectives
Smith has identified four reasons why education offerings fail at aligning with business growth and objectives. I’ve applied her concepts to conference education here:
1. Incorrect View Of Role Of Meeting Professional
Many conference organizers and meeting professionals fail to see themselves as business people, learning facilitators and meetings experts. They often communicate in meetings speak, not in adult learning terms or the language of business. They say education and business alignment is someone else’s job. Meetings professionals are often focused on expense savings, when their ultimate customer (the attendee’s employer) is focused on revenue growth.
2. Lack Of Business Acumen
Many conference organizers and meeting professionals have not stepped up to operate at the same level of business rigor as their business partners. They do not align conference education session with attendee’s business case or financial accountability. They focus on logistics of instead of the big picture of business growth.
3. Diminished Strategic Thinking
Strategic thinking for conferences requires education functions to form partnerships at the highest levels of a business. This means that learning offerings must be directly related to attendees’ business growth and outcomes.
4. No Systematic Approach
Some conference organizers focus education offerings on their attendees’ pain points and challenges. Yet, few use a systematic approach that includes proper evaluation, not smile sheet assessments, to make quality improvements and help attendees grow their businesses.
These four factors interact together to create the alignment abyss that fails to create more business growth!
How can conference organizers ensure that their education sessions align with target market attendees’ business growth? What are some ways conference organizers can adequately assess that education session evaluations align with business growth?