Attendee Experience The Next Frontier For Differentiation

Be Different in This Forked Up World

Most conference experiences are very similar.

They have similar schedules, receptions, general sessions, breakouts, exhibit halls, lecture-style education offerings, quality and price. They all look and feel alike.

Too many conferences are on the verge of commoditization. One of the conference’s main offering—delivery of information disguised as education—is so widely available and mutually interchangeable with other types of information delivery—that potential customers cannot distinguish them from other education opportunities. So potential customers often make their decision based on price and time needed to consume the information.

Shift From Traditional Conference Model

This shift from the traditional conference to the attendee’s experience will continue to cause problems to those that try to hang on to the time-honored, well-established model. The old model of reproducing last year’s conference for this year has become a disadvantage.

Three Components Of An Experience

Psychologist John Dewey defined an experience as the transaction that takes place between an individual and his or her environment. There are three different components of an experience.

1. The Environment: What is experienced

To be called an experience, it has to affect one in some way. It can cause someone to learn something. Or it is something that one has personally lived through. Only those things that meet these criteria can cause an experience.

Impact for conferences:
In the past, conference organizers secured venues based on efficiency, functionality and procurement compliance. It was all about the usability of the space during the conference and the perceived deal. Designing the physical environment to elicit positive emotions, foster networking and connections, encourage the learning process and leverage conference community is critical to the conference success. Experience should always trump procurement compliance.

2. The Effects: what an individual experiences

This refers to the impressions one has from the experience. It also can refer to practical skills, personal knowledge, wise insights, and emotions that are obtained from participating in the experience. One may observe, encounter or participate within the experience. Some theories show that passive observations are wanted less than those that are actively involved in some way.

Impact for conferences:
You need to consider and map the emotional journey of your attendees. The attendee’s emotional experience is a critical factor in whether the attendee will return or not.

3. The Encounter: the process of an individual within that experience

Interestingly enough, a critical component of the experience is the process one has interacting with and encountering the environment around him or her. The focus is on the individual’s process of getting (seeing, feeling, doing). The emphasis again is placed on active participation, not passive observation.

Impact for conferences:
Attendees are looking for unique education experiences that focus on participation with the learning process. It’s more about considering the learning design of your conference sessions than just delivery of information.

Sources: J.M.C. Snel, For The Love Of Experience; Stefan Moritz, Service Design.

What does creating a conference experience mean to the traditional meeting planner? What conditions can you as a conference organizer create that leads to leveraging networking, community and learning? How can you balance that higher level need with procurement guidelines or policies?

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1 comment
  1. ruggero says:

    Interesting article on attendee perception during events.

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