To Believe Or Not To Believe: 5 Devastating Reasons You Should Not Copy Another Conference


Who do you follow today in the conference landscape?

I can think of several conference leaders and a handful of organizations that you should carefully watch. I know I follow them—even if from a distance.

Your list might consist of any of the stalwart traditional conference organizers. They’ve taken their organization to success. Or you might follow some cutting-edge event innovators to get fresh ideas.

Hat tips to Carey Nieuwhof’s Leading Change Without Losing It: Five Strategies That Can Revolutionize How You Lead Change When Facing Opposition. I’ve adapted his thoughts on change, reinvention and and mimicking others’ success to conference planning and implementation.

We All Follow Someone

We all follow someone. Especially in this hyper-socially networked world.

During the past couple of decades, I am grateful for conference leaders, legends and icons that took risks with their conferences. They consistently tried new things.

Sometimes their plans worked. Sometimes they failed. Regardless, those conference planning teams kept introducing fresh concepts for their conference customers.

I’m also a huge fan of looking outside of the conference and event arena for unique ideas. That’s where we can discover emerging practices. And when we collaborate with others about those dreams, we give birth to shared visions.

Five Supercharged Reasons Not To Copy

So why in the world would I write this post about not copying others?

Here’s the overlooked and often misunderstood big idea:

There’s a distressingly cavernous difference between adopting an emerging practice and blindly copying! to paraphrase Nieuhof.

Too many of us just outright mimic others’ success. We ferociously write down all their steps, details and plans. We ask for their notes. We even take pictures of their room sets.

Hey, if it worked for them, it’ll work for me. Right?

Where we slip and fall is that we just trace their steps. We don’t really grasp the underlying issue that this practice addressed. We don’t invest enough time and get champions involved to really think these ideas through from incubation to execution and participation. So we fail at customization and implementation.

Five Big Ole Bear Traps To Avoid

Here are five big, bad ole bear traps that you’ll walk right into if you boldly go where others have already been and copy them! Without doing more reflection first.

We’ll explore each of these traps in the next two posts.

Bear Trap 1. You don’t really have a handle on conference business models.

Heck, you don’t even talk about your own conference’s business model. So why would you even think about another conference’s business models?

Bear Trap 2. You’ll create an incompatible hybrid that belongs in a Goosebumps novel.

Mixing different models creates a hybrid Frankenstein event experience. It doesn’t look, feel, smell or work right.

Bear Trap 3. You won’t own the new parts.

This one is really important!

It’s so easy to attend a few conferences, skim blogs, read meetings-related articles, participate in an event webinar, and follow conference leaders all in the name of finding fresh ideas. But rarely do you own that fresh idea at the same level as the conference organizer you’re copying.

Bear Trap 4. You don’t change your conference system and structure.

When you copy ideas from other conference leaders and organizations, the change you must make is at a deeper structure and system level.

Most of the time, the conference change you really need to make is a deep, systemic, permanent structure and governance change.

Bear Trap 5. You’ll ignore context.

So many people think they have a grasp of context.

Many conference leaders use context as an excuse for the failure of a new idea. That don’t use context as a frame for deeper explanation.

What’s the lure of copying another conference’s success? Why do few conference organizers observe, study, reflect and learn through practitioner inquiry?

Read parts two and three to this three-part series.

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1 comment
  1. Aysun Lynch says:

    I do see clients doing this. Totally and utterly wrong.

    In an age where delegates are wanting authenticity in all aspects of engagement why would one want to copy another conference?. Are you goals and objectives similar? Even if so, creating an authentic conference that aligns to your core competencies is of the essence. Believe me, your participants wont come again if they think you are just the same as the other conferences. Be out of the box, be daring…most of all, plan explicitly and deliver authentically!

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