Your Mental Model Influences Your Conference Success

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Imagine walking down the hall of a conference venue.

You stop and enter one of the rooms. A speaker is telling the audience the three steps that they must follow to be successful. The audience sits quietly. Some write or type notes.

Now imagine walking into another room at the same venue. The audience is talking to each other in pairs and triads about how to customize and apply one of the three steps needed for success. The speaker walks around the room listening and engaging in various conversations.

Evaluating Your Conference Model

Read the two examples listed above again.

Which example resembles the majority of your conference general sessions, plenaries, breakouts and workshops?

You’ve just identified your conference session mental model. And you’ve also just identified your cognitive bias.

Consider each example again. What are the underlying beliefs exhibited in each example regarding conference education?

Your Mental Model

Every person that comes to your conference has a set of beliefs about how the world works. What life is really about. And how they succeed in their job.

Similarly, everyone that helps plan and implement your conference has a specific set of underlying views about how your event should work. What defines success. And what your target market expects.

These views and beliefs are strong mental models that drive your actions.

Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures of images that influence how we understand the world and how we take actions. Very often, we are not consciously aware of our mental models or the effects they have on our behavior.
Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline

Start With Your Mental Model

All of our professional development and conference improvement efforts, without any exceptions, goes toward creating, confirming or testing those mental models.

Our mental models drive all the decisions that we make, the way we act and react, what we do and what we think. Our own mental schemas serve as the foundation of how we believe we learn, how we embark on problem solving, and how we tackle our own professional and personal development.

The place to begin with conference improvement is not the actual problems of declining attendance, struggling sponsorship, decreasing exhibitors or deteriorating programs.

The place to begin with conference improvement is with ourselves.

We have to test our own perceptions of conference success. We have to think differently about our measures and expected outcomes. And often we have to develop an accurate, insightful, powerful and new way to deliberate about our conference beliefs.

Time To Unpack Your Fundamental Conference Mental Models

If you are looking to improve your annual meeting or events, you may want to start by examining the central concepts that guide your planning and implementation. Here are some fundamental concepts to consider:

  • Who picks speakers and content?
  • If we build it, they will always come.
  • Who decides the conference location and venue?
  • Who sets the pricing model?
  • How is education and networking delivered?
  • How do we evaluate conference success?

As you unpack them, dig deeper to uncover your organizational beliefs. Discuss with each other the deeper meaning they have on your planning process.

Now, what new frameworks or models can you build that serve as foundations for new conference mental models for planning and implementation? If you’re stuck, think about creating a fresh mental model for your conference metrics and success measures.

Ultimately, you want to question the why and what of how you’ve always done planning and implementing your conferences.

Hat tips authors Geoffrey Caine, Renate Nummela Caine, Sam Crowell.

What are some of your underlying conference mental models that need to be unpacked? What 20th century conference concepts don’t work in the 21st Century?


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