Six Early Behavioral Warning Signs To Monitor Your Conference Sustainability



Understanding conference shatterpoints is critical to comprehending your conference’s financial sustainability.

Essentially, conference shatterpoints are fault lines pointing to areas of vulnerability. They’re leading indicators that illustrate areas of weakness that usually don’t fully appear in your results until years later.

You want to know about these imperfections before it’s too late. Detecting them early and reversing those trends can lead to years of conference success.

Measureable Conference Shatterpoints

Measurable conference shatterpoints include:

  1. Paid attendee loyalty dips below 50%
  2. Exhibitor company renewal slides below 65%
  3. Sponsorship revenue renewal dips below 75%
  4. Lack of revenue diversification (70+% of revenue from one category)
  5. Graying demographics (65%+ of your conference audience is age 50+)
  6. Less than 55% of direct expenses are ear-marked for the attendee experience
  7. The top 30 companies aren’t maintaining or growing their investment

So how do you detect early warning signs before they show up as shatterpoints?

Detect Precursors To Prevent Shatterpoints

Just as geographic fault lines are the product of years of disruptions below the surface, there are observable precursors to measure shatterpoints. Detection of these early warning signs requires observation and understanding of conference attendee participation and behavior patterns .

Here are six key behavioral cues to monitor closely. You want to nip them in the bud fast.

1. Consumption Aka Butts In Seats

If 65% or more of eligible attendees aren’t participating fully in education and general sessions, that’s a sign of trouble. It’s usually attributed to faulty education differentiation and poor learning experiences. Count butts in seats 10-15 minutes after the start and 10-15 minutes before the close of each session to identify weak links (speakers, topics) and attrition. If people aren’t showing up for your primary offerings, you need to up your game.

2. General Session Late Arrivals & Early Departures

Some conferences devote the first 30+ minutes of their opening general session to the year’s accomplishments, next year’s priorities, sponsor pitches and President/board monologues. Attendees know to show up late for the main attraction because they don’t care about these items. If you observe massive late arrivals or early departures for your ballroom experiences, you need to take a hard look at delivering a better education and networking value from start to finish.

3. Multiplying Ambushers

Your premium conference or expo attracts quite a few movers and shakers. If you have a growing number of companies and individuals working the fringes (conference crashers, suit-casers, outboarders), your value proposition is waning. Conference ambushers are a sure sign that they’re growing disenchanted with your conference offerings (networking and education). Ultimately, this will impact the life-time value of your attendees and exhibitors/sponsors.

4. Fewer Feet on the Expo Floor

If less than 75% of your eligible attendees aren’t investing at least a couple of hours on the show floor, that’s a sign of trouble. Ditto if the majority of eligible attendees make a beeline for ancillary show floor perks (food, freebies, etc.) without stopping to chat with exhibitors. Keep an eye on your aisle density, especially around the fringes of the show floor. Coach your exhibitors to develop a helping-over-selling-mindset. The more attendees don’t feel like they’re walking around with a bull’s-eye on their back, the better.

5. Early Birds Stop Soaring

If your first early bird registration is pacing downward, you have an early symptom of trouble. Even in our day of shrinking decision time-frames, alumni and loyal attendees usually commit early. Pay special attention to the actions and behavior of this group. Your attendee list is one of the most effective marketing tools you’ve earned and can quickly lose.

6. Surge in Secondary Email Addresses

If a growing number of registrants are providing Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail or other generic email addresses, you may have a problem brewing. Exhibitors flooding in-boxes with irrelevant “Visit us at booth #123” messages may be the culprit. It doesn’t take much dissatisfaction to lose a valuable attendee.

What other early observable warning signs would you add to this list? Beyond observation, how are you tracking participant behavior with your primary offerings?

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  1. Barbara Armentrout says:

    very nicely done! I especially like the depth you offer to interpret beyond the numbers to ponder fixable behaviors.

  2. Donna Kastner says:

    Thanks so much, Barbara – glad to hear that this was helpful!

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