If Your Conference Metrics Feel Good, Use Discernment

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Yahoo, our conference attendance is up 30% from last year.

Whoa, don’t be fooled by that conference data! Too many organizations pat their leaders on the back for increased attendance, selling out the show floor or selling all of their sponsorship packages.

We need to use discernment to look deeper into what that conference data is really telling us. Be careful of letting emotions guide your decisions based on vanity metrics—attendance, sell-outs, number of sessions, etc. We need to delve deeper into that data to uncover actionable metrics.

When Emotions Rule Our Data

Are you following emotions or strategic, critical thinking?

Are you looking at conference data that makes you feel good? Or are you using wise data interpretation of trends, patterns, year-to-year repeat attendees, repeat sponsors and exhibitors, etc.?

Some data shows lagging indicators. You need to focus on leading indicators so you can make the appropriate changes. We sometimes call them shatterpoints.

Don’t get me wrong, there is an appropriate place to let your emotions guide you. But they shouldn’t drive your conference decision making process for quality improvements.

For example, having a 4.5 overall average speaker score really doesn’t tell anyone if your conference education lead to learning and job performance improvements. It just tells you if the audience was satisfied with the speaker and experience.

The challenge is to use discernment with your conference analytics. There are times when your vanity metrics tell you things are good, when in reality things are not as positive as you think they are! You’ve got to have a discerning mindset to help your leaders delve deeper.

Two Foolish Conference Metric Mistakes

Here are two foolish errors that many conference leaders make about their data.

1. Monitoring The Wrong Numbers

Too many conference professionals measure activity instead of outcomes. They measure how many people attended food and beverage events, how many people paid to attend and how many booths were sold.

Too often we mistake busyness and sell-outs as conference success. Just because you sold out the exhibit hall does not mean things are good. Measuring the number of exhibitors isn’t as important as evaluating how many exhibitors returned from last year and the year before that. Measuring the amount of show floor traffic is not as important as measuring the number of qualified leads that exhibitors received!

How many of the education sessions lead to job improvements back at the office? How many people uncovered new ideas that they put into practice through authentic networking?

It’s too easy to measure surface numbers and activity. We need to be more interested in the impact these activities are having on attendees’ lives and professions.

2. Measuring Conference Data In A Vacuum

Ok, so your attendance increased 30% from last year. How many of those people are first timers? How many came last year? How many came the past two years? What’s your percentage of loyal repeat attendees? Are your repeat attendees just board members, committee chairs and chapter leaders?

How does your attendee loyalty compare to other conferences of similar size? What cycles are you seeing in your conference data that you can compare to global trends?

It’s time to balance your quantitative conference data with qualitative data. You’ve got to know how effective you are to make better conference decisions.

Measure outcomes. Balance quantitative and qualitative data. And don’t be fooled by positive surface metrics.

Hat tips authors and strategic thinkers Carey Nieuwhof and Tony Morgan.

What are some other emotional vanity metrics that conferences publish and collect? What tips do you have at changing the data collection and interpretation process?

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