These Ideas Worked A Decade Ago For Your Conference But Not Today


Times change!

10-20 years ago, we saw conferences grow both in numbers and maturity. We could throw just about any idea at our event and it seemed to work.

Yet the world continues to evolve. These days, our society, our culture and our conferences change. Those ideas, assumptions, methods and features that worked in the past, don’t work today.

Hat tips to Carey Nieuwhof for his leadership insights.

Outdated Ineffective Conference Ideas That We Think Worked A Decade Ago

Our challenge is to let go of the past. What used to work. It’s not a matter of just throwing more time, energy and resources into those old ways. We have to be able to identify what has stopped working.

What got you to your current conference status won’t get you there in the future!

Here are some things that seemed to work a decade in our conference that are not as effective as they used to be…if they ever really were effective.

1. Expecting people to automatically return.

Two decades ago we could safely assume that people would automatically come back to our conference. We were the sole provider of information for their profession. We were the primary hub for like-minded individuals to gather and network together. Our customers had no other options.

Those days are pretty much gone. The average professional doesn’t think first about attending a conference to get ahead. Nor do they see the conference as the sole source for networking for their tribe. They have lots of options. The annual conference just doesn’t cross their mind.

2. Berating professionals with guilt and obligation.

I am so tired of conference hosts using the following requests, “You need to speak at our conference in order to give back to the profession or industry.” Seriously, you think you can guilt me into presenting for free or attending your event? It’s a sign of your desperation.

Or how about this one, “Why are you not a member of our association when you talk about this topic which our organizations serves?”

I’ve got news for association and conference leaderss, we don’t care as much about your organization and conference as you do. Stop berating us.

3. Just being better than other conferences.

A decade ago, people looked for the best conference possible. Becoming a better conference than others got you ahead.

Saying you have a better conference is like saying we have better, locally grown kidney beans at the community chili cook-off. Most people aren’t going to buy what you’re offering.

Being better is not going to get you the mileage it used to. Being different will get you that mileage.

4. Gimmicks like giving away trips, cars, and prizes.

True confession. Nearly 15 years ago, I worked on conferences where we gave away cars, extravagant trips and matching his and her motorcycles to try to keep people on the last day of our event. We used elaborate stages and décor to create a buzz. We created corny themes and sent interesting mailers to capture people’s attention.

They were nothing but gimmicks! And they got old very fast.

And your audience says, “So what? It didn’t meet my business needs so why return for a circus of gimmicks?”

Get back to your basics, your conference’s purpose, your customers’ needs. That’s when a conference is authentic and meets the goal.

5. Random programming

This one is deceptively sly at wooing you into bad decisions.

The bigger your conference or your target industry, the more tempted you are to add niche programming for specialty groups.

Why? Because people start demanding them.

And your leadership is afraid to disappoint people. They also lack an alternative strategy so they cave and allow dozens, even hundreds of random program topics to emerge in their conference.

It can’t hurt, right? Wrong! It can hurt!

Why can offering multiple random programming topics damage your conference?

  • They compete for money, time, limited space, resources and attention.
  • They don’t help your conference’s primary business purpose.
  • They don’t lead any where with intention.
  • They create more division than unity because other niche groups don’t get their time at the podium or on stage. (Ever try to shut down one of special interest group’s conference topics because it doesn’t attract a large audience?)
  • They compete with the mission of the organization or the conference.

So, what’s not working for you that used to work? Why is relying on what worked in the past not sufficient for your future?

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    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks Tricia for reading, sharing and commenting. We appreciate it.

  1. Thank you Jeff for saying what industry speakers across the world are saying: stop berating and insulting us by asking us to speak for free.

  2. Celia Lloyd says:

    I agree with Tricia, excellent Jeff.

  3. Catherine Mills says:

    Amen and amen! I’ve been trying to get my volunteer committee to hear this but sometimes hearing it from an outside source is more convincing. I will be sharing this article with them!

  4. Lynn Kletscher says:

    I agree with most, if not all, of what Jeff is saying. I hope there’s a follow-up article with new ideas on what you could/should do.

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