Your conference should be something to be experienced!
It should be an action verb, not a passive experience. It should be something that participants do, not consume.
The following four deeds are how to create an active unforgettable transformative conference experience for your participants. You need these deeds to grow your conference. They are the fundamental nature of an amazing conference attendee experience.
Hat tips to authors and researchers Thom & Joani Schultz for their insights about people’s expectations for experiences today.
Four Deeds To Catapult Your Attendees’ Experience
When your leadership adopts these four deeds as the foundation for your participant experience, your conference becomes irresistible.
These four behaviors work, year after year. They provide powerful, authentic, life-changing ways for attendees to become active participants.
1. Relevant Anticipation
Conferences need to create experiences around relevancy. While it seems obvious, too many conferences plan content and experiences 12-18 months before the event. That means their conference is outdated, except for evergreen topics of course..
We’ve got to learn that content is not king of the conference. Context is. And audience engagement is queen!
Most attendees have dealt with insurmountable facts, figures, findings, information and technology. Information is everywhere and bombards our minds. Attendees are overwhelmed with incomprehensible and complex situations in their personal and professional life.
Relevant anticipation means we emphasize reality, passion, presence and purpose. It invites people to reconnect with their love for their work, their profession and their passions. It invites them to bring their most pressing challenges and problems and find real-world solutions through transformative conference encounters.
2. Authentic Community
Our conferences need to provide connections and authentic community experiences with every kind of person imaginable. Regularly rubbing shoulders with people who are like us, our tribe, and those different from us, other tribes, offers amazing opportunities to practice authentic community.
We need to encourage and leverage our conference staff and leadership to demonstrate acceptance, understanding, genuine curiosity, respect and unadulterated humility. We need to create conference experiences that allow groups and individuals who are often misunderstood, outcast or feel alone a chance to be welcomed into a real community.
Our conference should create experiences where participants find their tribe, those like-minded individuals that have similar problems. Then we need to be aware of the echo chamber and encourage reaching out to those that have different beliefs from us. Those that don’t view the world through the same lenses we do. It’s only then that we can grapple industry and profession issues together. Then we can admit that we are all in this together. And then we can find new ways of work and living.
3. Radical Hospitality
Most conference organizers and leaders have underestimated the power of the conference experience. Much of the work to ensure radical hospitality happens before anyone says a word. Conference attendees soak in their surroundings. And those surroundings create deep feelings and perceptions.
Our conferences need to be a third place, as Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz would call it. The third place is a place between work and home where people go for human connection.
We need to create spaces for mingling. A place for hanging out. We should never underestimate the significance of territory—our venue spaces. Pre-convene spaces, theater-style ballrooms, directional signs do not nurture intimacy that our personal relationships require.
We need to get rid of conference jargon—breakouts, plenaries, receptions, summits, forums, etc. It makes many feel like outsiders. For instance some attendees maybe first timers before they arrive. However, once onsite, they are now friends. Exclusive language needs to go. Just the word friends steers the mind in a specific direction.
And we need to think about more than just directional signs. We need to create signage that tells our participants how important they are and how they are valued. When was the last time you went to a conference that signage welcomed and valued you, not just pointed you to the restroom?
4. Fearless Conversation
Too many conferences lecture their participants. They send the message that they don’t care what the audience thinks.
It’s time for conferences to say, “Your thoughts are welcome. And your doubts are welcome too!” That opens the door for fearless conversation.
Our conferences need to invite and encourage difficult, tough, provocative topics. We need to promote participation in healthy, open dialogue, even when people disagree. If we can’t go to a conference and discuss sticky issues with others in adult dialogue, then why have the conference.
Conferences can offer fearless conversations with any size group. There’s absolutely no excuse for not offering times to allow people to talk with one another in any setting. It’s simply wrong to believe that conversations can only occur with a small audience.
Which of these four behaviors does your conference need to exploit more? Why do so many conferences avoid radical hospitality and fearless conversations?