Conference Education Should Drive Business Growth

2014.04.10_week 13 - Growth

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?

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  1. Joan Eisenstodt says:

    Thanks, Jeff. This is much of what was discovered in the research MPI’s Foundation did in the early ’90s — that was used by companies like Deloitte and then dropped by everyone.

    I know it’s about human and corporate behavior .. and yet, I find it curious and frustrating that things that research told us, years ago – and then done again and again – are dropped from best practices. (Is much of this in the CMP or CMM or other designation course of study?)

    Even when the Industry, or those of us who are old enough to have been practitioners for a long time in this industry remember and have continued to practice, new research makes everyone excited until they aren’t again.

    You read more research and have a greater retention for information than I. What’s your take about why we keep doing the same things we’ve always done, doing them badly and not remembering we did?!

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Great question. Thanks for bringing it up.

      As you know I worked at MPI in the late 1990s and did not even know about that MPI Foundation report until just now. Sad indeed.

      I think that spending on education, training and learning has been cyclical in the past. When the economy tanks, executives slash or remove budgets for education opportunities. That’s usually when we see an increased focus on ROI from learning.

      That being said, I think the increased scrutiny for learning opportunities may be here to stay. Organizations are leaner, expecting innovation from employees and focused more on ROI than in the past. Only time will tell. 10 years from now we should look back on this discussion and see what happened.

  2. […] 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.  […]

  3. […] In B2B conferences, education session exist to drive business growth. Rarely do conference organizers align their ed with attendees' business outcomes.  […]

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