Misguided And Misinformed Conference Barometers

Weather Forecast (Improving!)

Many of us who plan conferences have become so busy at the logistics of the event that we lose sight of the goal.

When planning an event, we immediately go into automatic overdrive. We do the same things we’ve always done because it’s efficient and familiar to us.

The over arching goals of the conference—providing networking, education, business leads and making a profit for the host organization—become eclipsed by the expectations of the organizing team. Rarely do we take the time to step back and evaluate our effectiveness. The last thing we consider is if we are designing the right experiences that attract our target audience and meet those goals.

Misleading Barometers

Our own expectations of repeating what we’ve always done for organizing our conferences have become misguided barometers. We take comfort in misinformed measurements.

Here are some examples of our misguided barometers.

1. The attendees keep coming.

Is a body in a conference chair the net result of our conference planning efforts? Are conferences nothing more than a way for employees to get away from work for a couple of days? Are marquee name speakers and authors nothing but lures to get people to show up for a conference session, regardless of the costs of the presenter or her effectiveness?

Attendance is fine. It is a prerequisite for face to face business transactions, networking and learning. However attendance is not usually the primary goal of a conference.

2. No one complains about our speakers and their presentations.

Are zero complaints about your conference’s education the goal? Are great smile sheet evaluations your aim?

Imagine if your venue’s restrooms appeared dirty, grimy and messy, even immediately after they were cleaned. Upon asking the venue’s contact about it, he says, “Well, the cleaning equipment and products we use seem fine to us.”

We would not be happy with that answer. Speaker acquiescence is not the goal!

3. Our networking provides lots of incentives and awards.

Many conferences promote and distribute rewards for recruiting the most first time attendees, for the person who has been in the industry the longest, for the person who has attended the most conferences, for the person who has met the most people, for the person who has traveled the farthest.

We are enforcing that the focus should be on these tangibles rather than the process of true connection and community building. Networking is a process, not a byproduct of exchanging business cards. Winning certificates, door prizes, bribes and titles is not the goal of networking.

4. We sell out the exhibit hall every year.

Regardless of how many people walk our show floor, and regardless how may qualified business leads our exhibitors actually receive, we sell out our exhibit hall every year.

Do we really care more about selling out our exhibit space than helping our vendors and attendees make valuable business connections and have important business discussions? When we fret about selling more exhibit space versus providing fertile ground for authentic business, we eventually betray our target audience.

Lost Conference Goals

Too many conference organizations have been stuck in a forgotten-goal quagmire. Goal confusion is common and rampant.

The goal of a conference is not to collect—in full—the attendee’s registration, the exhibitor’s payment and the sponsor’s fee. The end goal is to build a loyal, consistent, repeat business customer.

We’ve got to move beyond misguided goals and create customers that will repeatedly return because their goals were also met.

Hat tips to authors and researchers Thom & Joani Schultz for their insights about people’s expectations for experiences today.

What are some other common misguided barometer conference quotes you often hear? What types of questions should we ask to see if we are using misinformed barometers?

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  1. “The ED [in associations] or CEO [ditto and corporations] are happy with the results.” — and that means they heard from a few people who would never say the “emperor-conference” has no clothes.

    Yeah, right on all this .. and what I’ve said and you’ve said for years and years. And yet .. like with greater attendance which everyone assumes means success (and that falling attendance doesn’t) it doesn’t change.

    For how many more years will we say, teach, consult on it and not see the message get across and actions taken? Why doesn’t our industry do more to model it?

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and resopnding.

      So readers, I’ll ask you: what is it going to take to get our hospitality associations and meetings industry to adopt and promote better conference and meetings barometers?

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