Many of us do it.
We seek the next great idea. We read lists of tips and tricks in search of one unique takeaway we can try at our event.
We observe what other conferences are doing. We turn to the experts and others who have had success and ask them how they did it. We complain if an expert doesn’t tell us how to do something so we can copy them.
Sure imitation is one of the greatest forms of flattery as the old adage states.
Yet too often, conference professionals copy someone else’s idea before they are really prepared to implement it.
They search for a model that is working in someone else’s conference. Then they attempt to imitate it.
Think about how many conferences implement TED-style, Ignite and Pecha Kucha presentations.
Of course there is nothing wrong with trying a specific initiative or strategy.
However, isn’t that just another way of saying, “We don’t have any fresh ideas of our own so we are copying someone else’s model in hopes that it will work here too?”
Too many conference professionals lack confidence to try something new. They fear trying anything different because the past seems to be working just fine.
They live in the world of “What if I fail?”
So instead they just copy another event. They use the same room set. They replicate the marketing material. They use the same AV company.
Then things don’t develop as they had planned. The results are not as good as they had hoped.
Instead of developing their own conference culture and voice, they just look for another conference great idea to implement. They trade one impersonation for another.
Then the cycle repeats itself.
Meeting after meeting, cloning conference organizers find themselves disappointed with the masquerading imitation.
Without realizing it, the focus is on keeping things afloat. Not making them better.
Principles Versus Practices
I’m not saying that we should just ignore what other successful conferences are doing. That’s foolish.
Every successful conference practice has a valuable principle underneath it. We can learn from those principles. And the better we understand them, the more we can design something specific for our conference context built on that principle.
Principles and practices are not the same. It’s the difference between influenced by and mimicking.
Influenced by comes from studying, learning and adapting the underlying principles that make the practice successful. Then you can adapt it into your conference.
Impersonating another conference strategy is a cheap imitation.
Principles are guidelines that are evergreen even when removed from the practice. Practices are how those evergreen truths are applied.
Think of it like this: Doing a great Cher impersonation does not make someone a good singer. Nor does it make them talented or creative. A singer may watch another seasoned singer to get inspiration and ideas for their own development.
Savvy conference organizers constantly look for new principles that lead to growth. Then they develop their own practice of those principles.
Copying another conference’s practices only results in cheap imitation. It fails to reach the goal. And the audience knows when a practice is not authentic and the principle is lost!
Hat tips author Tyler Edwards.
What does it take to identify and learn a principle that upholds a successful practice? What can conference organizers do to help their presenters share principles and not just practices?
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