What Do You Want Your Conference Customers To Become?


“It’s not the attendees’ job to know what they want,” paraphrase of Apple cofounder Steve Jobs.

“Larry [Page] is into making people what he wants them to be—which is a little smarter,” former Google Executive (from author’s private correspondence).”

So who do you want your conference customers to become?

Adopting The Ask In Conference Design

This simple question, “Who do you want your conference customers to become?” can transform your traditional conference planning.

HBR author Michael Schrage calls this question, “The Ask.” Applied to the conference industry, it will provoke your planning team into reimagining, redefining, and redesigning your conference attendees’ future.

Understanding “the ask,” what you want your conference customers to become, changes how you invest in their conference experience and create new value.

Your Attendees Are Always Changing

Your conference stakeholders change. They are constantly becoming something else.

They learn. They adopt new principles. They change old ways. They direct the paths to their own futures.

You have the ability to understand, define and influence where your conference stakeholders are going. You can persuade who they want to become and how they will get there.

You Have The Power To Influence

Forcing your conference planning team to focus on “the ask: what do you want your conference customers to become?” forces your team to determine:

  • How to define conference success?
  • What is the core business that the conference is really in?
  • How to thrill your conference customers?
  • Your brand.

Conferences that provide experiences that just meet the needs of their attendees and delight them, don’t go far enough. They are representative of conferences of the past. They are rooted in the now.

Conferences that employ real innovation for their attendees help transform their customers into something new.

The real purpose of most conferences is to transform their attendees while making a profit.

Too often we think our conferences depend upon existing customers. However, we should be focused on who tomorrow’s conference customers will—and should be.

Your Conference Innovation Strategy

To paraphrase Michael Schrage

Successful innovative conference organizers ask attendees to embrace new values, new skills, new behaviors, new vocabularies, new ideas, new expectations and new aspirations.

They transform their customers.

Successful innovative conference organizers reinvent their customers as well as their businesses. Their innovations make their conference customers better.

You’ll know when your conference is really successful by what your attendees do after the event. Your stakeholders won’t just adopt your innovations. They will alter them, adapt to them, modify them and customize them to meet their needs. They will be changed by them.

What is the single most successful innovation your conference has introduced in the past there years? Describe how your conference innovations fundamentally changed the behaviors and expectations of your conference market segment?

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  1. I can’t wait to see some awesome answers, so I will reply and then wait for more!

    Although EventCamp Vancouver was in 2011 – the principles we used are the same I would use today – namely, make it personal. We began with people knowing who else was there, and why… easy way to start a conversation later in the more informal settings.

    We asked people what problems they had to solve, and then had groups work together in different ways and in different conversational groups to find ideas and solutions. We opened this up to both the live and the virtual world. We showed every moment for three days how easy it was to plan a more sustainable meeting, one person and one action at a time.

    We made it fun and we invited people to take “safe” risks – in improv, in speaking, in listening, in what they ate (small brain friendly bites always available, healthy and delicious options for breakfast, lunch and in the evenings – no quick hit sugar fixes or heavy pastries or pasta).

    We had amazing facilitators and a great host (thank you Glenn Thayer) who paid attention and extrapolated the essence of the discussions. We invited everyone to be an active part of the process – regardless of gender or generation, experienced or newbie – everyone was given a voice.

    It was a game changer for many, and each time I can incorporate even one small lesson into a client’s event, I am thrilled to see the interactions increase. As always, thank you for making us think.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for sharing your examples of conference innovation. What struck me most was your intentionality in planning and implementation. It didn’t happen by chance.

      Thanks for reading and commenting too!

  2. […] The driving force behind your evolving your conference customer is your vision of that customer. Who- and what- will your paying conference attendees become? […]

  3. […] Conferences and meetings have the power to change lives. They should and can be transformational. Our conferences need a customer vision statement of how our event can transform our customers and help them progress and evolve. We need to imagine, express and communicate who and what our conference customers should become. […]

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