Rebalancing Conference Vertigo By Starting With Design-Less Strategies


Leaping to action without a solid comprehension of your conference target market and their needs causes all sorts of mayhem.

Some conference organizers and their planning team members don’t even realize they are in the eye of a storm. That mayhem is their blind spot.

Planning a conference without a deep understanding of what makes your target market tick is like building a house without a blueprint or foundation. It’s a shaky conference foundation. It’s like the parable of building your house on sand versus building it on a solid foundation.

The Conference Vertigo Zone: We Have Something For Everyone

Too often conference organizers and their planning teams are trying to be all things to all people.

They spout with shameless audacity, “We offer something for everyone!”

Watch out as that mantra is the sign of conference distraction, dilution and weakness. Offering one or two sessions for each of your customer segments can become a death spiral. You’ve entered the conference vertigo zone.

When you try to be all things to all of your customer segments including potential customers, you’re showing your hand. It’s a clear sign that your conference lacks focus and clarity of purpose.

The Design-Less Pre-Planning Session

To regain focus, clarity and balance for your conference planning and implementation, start with a pre-planning session.

Author Indi Young suggests that any design work should start with a pre-session where the group simply discusses the people related to the project they’re exploring.

In the conference setting, the group would discuss the conference target market—the paying registrant, the corporate customer, the employee or the attendees from the user group. They would also discuss exhibitors and sponsors.

During this pre-session, each individual agrees to refrain from identifying solutions, details, ideas or specific conference components. The focus is on the identifying, describing and discussing the target market.

During this session, collaboration is agnostic to solutions and strategies.

The goal of the pre-session is to deeply understand their target customer and what makes them tick. It’s about developing customer personas so the team deeply comprehends the customers’ context and world.

It’s about discussing and identifying the problems and challenges of those target customers. What needs do they have? What keeps them up at night? What issues are coming around the bend that they haven’t even identified yet? What challenges will they have in the near future? What will they want in the next six months that they don’t even know they want yet? What would help them get ahead of their competition? What would help them keep from failing?

Adopting A Neutral Curious Mind

During this pre-session, the group drops previous preconceived assumptions about their target market.

Each member consciously adopts a neutral frame of mind.

They embrace, “What is really underneath what this customer is saying that s/he needs?”

It’s only then that they will be able to empathize more reliably. It’s only then that they will have a solid understanding of their target market’s initiatives and how to support them. It’s only then that they can plan and implement effective conference strategies.

It doesn’t mean that each team member has to agree with or feel warmth for their target market. They may even feel uncomfortable with it personally. But they don’t let it affect their neutral mindset of deeply understanding and comprehending their conference target market.

When they can set aside their own preconceived notions., they can embrace curiousity and listen in a new way.

Successful, healthy, financially sustainable conferences are built upon firm foundations of taking the time to discover the deep-down thoughts and reactions of what makes their target market tick.

Hat Tips Practical Empathy by Indi Young.

How can conference planning teams identify their true target markets? What can conference planning teams do to understand what makes their target markets tick?

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1 comment
  1. Brian says:

    Agreed– it can be an effective strategy to lay out the skeleton of your strategy before incorporating or considering design elements.

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