Getting Attendees Wrong: The Age Of Discontinuity

Irregular and Unknown (or, The Illusion of Constancy)

Some conference planning teams get their attendees wrong!

So why do we get it so wrong? It has everything to do with the rapid pace of change—the age of discontinuity as Drucker called it—and our default thinking.

The heart of our current organizational challenges is that we rarely diverge from our default thinking. We assume that all of our conference attendee challenges can be solved by analyzing our past. We embrace quantifiable metrics which is particularly ill suited for analyzing shifts in attendee behavior based on a changing world.

Default Problem Solving Challenges

Most people believe that our challenges can be solved through rational, objective, scientific analysis.

We believe that something in the past caused the problem. So we look to the past and collect data. We create hypotheses, test them and chose the winning one.

Finally, we assign the tasks to a committee, department or person. We propose performance metrics and a time frame.

Tada! Then the problem is solved.

We Still Get Attendees Wrong

So why do we still get our conference attendees wrong, even when we use our rational, objective, scientific problem solving methods?

Here are four reasons that authors Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel B. Rasmussen have identified on why we get customer behavior wrong as applied to conference attendees.

1. We assume tomorrow will look like today.

First, we assume that tomorrow will look like today! We look at past surveys and attendance records to predict the future. Yet, time and time again our assumptions of tomorrow looking like today are proven wrong as the world continues to change.

We need to get better at predicting our attendees’ future and their future challenges.

2. We assume our attendees are rational decisions makers.

We assume that all attendees know what they want and need. We assume they completely understand their challenges and how to solve them. According to the authors, this belief is the least relevant for truly understanding your attendee behavior.

We need to assume that most of our attendees have no real intentions with making programming decisions—they decide what sessions to attend on the plane—and they have lots of choices. We also need to understand the emotional and even visceral context in which attendees make these decisions.

So we either help educate them on their problems and the choices they should make or we allow them to make choices based on emotions, time of day and other variables.

3. We assume that numbers are the only truth.

Numbers matter to most organizations. We are obsessed with quantitative analysis. Crunching numbers from the past and extrapolating those numbers for the future tend to underestimate conditions that can’t be measured while overestimating those that can. We forget that our conference attendees’ world consists not only of quantities but also qualities.

To embrace the future, quantifiable and qualitative measures are important for your decision making.

4. We assume we already know what is right.

Often conference planning teams are firmly persuaded that they know what the majority of the attendees want and need. Without a shadow of doubt, they assume all attendees are just like them. If the conference team is not open to questioning even the most basic assumption about their decisions and attendees, then they risk missing the new ideas that will be the future of their conference.

We have to be open to questioning our basic attendee assumptions.

What other default thinking methods cloud our judgments about attendees? What steps can we take to avoid our default thinking about solving attendee conference challenges like attendance, programming and marketing?

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