Copycat Cookie-Cutter Conference Or Unique Event

Cookie Cutters 2

You are unique.

And the conference and events you plan can be unique too. As a one-of-a-kind meeting professional, you are called to create one-of-a-kind conferences.

You have an infinite amount of possibilities to create something new. Something different. Something unique.

Thanks to Will Mancini for continually challenging me to think and be different.

Too Many Copycats

But too many meeting professionals are copycats! Some are unintentional copycats. Still they just copy what everyone else is doing with their conference.

If no one else is doing it, we won’t touch it. It must not be correct, or doable, or even marketable. We only walk on paths that someone else has created.

Caged Conference Visions

This results in caged conference visions. We bury our imagination in forms and logistics. We follow other’s stories of success. Our talk about leading our stakeholders into new conference experiences is cheap.

The result? Our stakeholders are stuck in the small, caged, outdated, stale, locked-down conference world that we create. We only provide surface learning and nothing of depth or transformation. We get caught up in the story and miss the real learning.

It’s so much easier to duplicate than create anew. So our stakeholders and leadership miss the mark.

We are copycat models.

Design Your Own Conference Model

However we need to become designers of our own models.

We need to stop cutting and pasting from other successful events.

We’ve got to stop creating impotent cloned events copying others’ successful stories.

Be careful of getting caught in the conference maze—let’s borrow their thinking. Let’s learn from their story. Let’s mimic their ideas.

Their AHA may not be your AHA. And unless you really understand the issue underneath their thinking, you won’t understand it. And in the world of learning, understanding is the foundation needed for successful, wise application.

Don’t get caught in the conference culture whirlpool with no time to think, no need to think, no reason to think.

“It’s so much easier and better to copy someone else’s story of success than think of a new conference story,” we tell ourselves.

You can’t create a unique participant event by using someone else’s template, online tool, story or app. Too many conferences already suffer from template tyranny. They are all the same. And they result in lukewarm soggy Melba toast mediocrity. Bland, similar, safe events are being commoditized.

You have the ability to apply your vitality to create something new, unique and different for your stakeholders. Do it!

What is your uniqueness as a conference? What and why are you doing something different or resisting being unique?

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  1. Joan Eisenstodt says:

    The big question is how to get hotels and convention centers and, sadly to me, even conference centers, on board to allow space to be used differently, to collaborate on use of space and furnishings, and to not charge an arm and leg and torso for it.

    For too many reasons, the facility side of our industry is way too traditional.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      I hear what you’re saying and agree. At the same time, I think we have to stop passing the buck at venues and implement ways to use what we have to create unique experiences. I refuse to blame the facility side of our industry for our lack.

      And, I know you agree with me.

      Now, let’s discuss what we can do to create unique experiences within the boundaries of what we have!

      1. Joan Eisenstodt says:

        Smiling, @Jeff, ’cause I am and have been and clients are now pushing. It takes a strong planner and group to write a good RFP and EXPLAIN why they want space used differently, and budgeting for different uses…hell, even budgeting for better than mics w/ cords!

        The tough part is that most who plan meetings are not ‘us’ – are not involved or reading or seeing other things. If they go to a meeting of say an industry professional assn. and see straight schoolroom sets in big ugly boxy rooms, they think that’s the way to do it.

        Today, Seth Godin wrote about bigger not necessarily being better. I feel that way too about conferences — and don’t know why (except they see it as a measure of success contributing to the bottom line) people brag still about how many participants/no really, attendees because at big conferences, there often isn’t adequate participation/ there were v. the quality of the content and delivery and the experience.

        Yes of course I’ll keep noodging! As will you.

  2. Joan is right, facilities can cling to the old ways of doing things… what we’re trying to do now is encourage people to compensate by exploring new types of tech and equipment. One of the big things right now is cell phone charging stations – we offer several so that event organizers can tailor things to their needs:

    1. Jeff Hurt says:


      Thanks for reading and adding to the discussion.

      Do you really think that charging stations will make conferences unique enough to compete? While I appreciate that we want charging stations at conferences, we also want water and electricity. It’s a given.

      Unfortunately, once we all have them, we are right back to being copycat conferences now with charging stations.

      1. Joan Eisenstodt says:

        So let’s do this: let’s explore for each of us reading and posting what makes a conference unique within, as you noted, @Jeff, the boundaries we have .. for us .. or for an audience we’ve observed or planned for.

        Unique for me includes:
        – smaller, interactive sessions where problems can be solved w/ a strong facilitator who is sometimes also an SME who is more like Joy Reid or Chris Hayes v. Chris Matthews!
        – TIME to be out of sessions and time to not rush;
        – room design and furniture .. and not just ‘cool’ low couches that don’t work for those of us w/ disabilities! I know this is not as big a thing for some but walking into a ‘stiff’ room (schoolroom or theatre or even crescent rounds – not even real crescents! – in straight rows) just turns me off.
        – opportunities to take conversations further than they might have gone in a session .. in places to gather that are convenient and where everyone can hear the conversation;
        – creative stuff to engage my hands if I choose…tho’ I bring my own often;
        – no more “Q&A at the end”!
        – gathering places to just hang out .. a client did this and put games and food and people problem-solved. It was so cool!

        Who’s next?

        1. Rick says:

          I’d love to see less focus on content and more focus on the experience or event solutions. For me, that goes along with what you mentioned of having smaller and more interactive sessions. I find I get a lot more value out of tiny niche events where I end up learning and building relationships.

          Now, organizing an event like this and making it profitable is where it gets challenging, but I’ll leave that up to you! 🙂

          1. Jeff Hurt says:

            Thanks for reading and commenting. Some savvy conference professionals are making the shift from a focus on content to one on learning design and creating transformational learning experiences. And there are many effective learning experiences that will scale for any size audience. One of the goals is to make people feel like they are in a safe, intimate experience even if they are in a sea of thousands.

        2. Jeff Hurt says:


          Now you’re speaking my language!! Thanks for taking the time to write and offer some ways we can make our conferences more unique, even within the venue constraints we often face!

          And we are making progress! I’ve been encouraged that many education conferences that I’ve attended in the past year have a heightened focus, increased discussions, and new products/services (furniture, equipment, architectural designs, etc.) for creating transformation learning spaces for learners of all ages.

  3. Joan Eisenstodt says:

    ‘@Rick – I didn’t check to see what you do and why you said you’d leave it up to us! Are you a vendor tho attends in some way? A conference participant? A staff person in another area? EVERYone can suggest .. whether it’s on smile sheets or independently; or move furniture to create spaces.

    What, for your Rick, would make it perfect?

    And about the charging stations, @Brynn – I get it: it takes away a stressor. It’s like food! Years ago, speaking at Meeting World (who else remembers?!) they had only coffee/tea at breaks. I was teaching a morning long class on basic planning. People were hungry and cranky from hunger, and cold from an over air conditioned space.
    1. I offered (yes, I know against union rules and yes, I atoned) to give money to someone who’d go to a street vendor and get good bagels, some muffins, etc. They were stunned that anyone would offer. They did .. they ate and continued in better thinking mode.
    2. I said take the table cloths off the rounds and wrap up in them and I can call housekeeping to get blankets. They were happy.

    @Jeff – charging stations may not make a meeting experiential .. or it adds to it bec if there is electronic involvement and our devices are ‘dead’ …. I’m all for adding comfort and security in all senses of the word.

    Speaking of give-aways for speakers .. we weren’t?! .. why not Mophie’s or other like devices to help recharge a device, and small oxygen stations to recharge us?!

  4. Robbie Shae says:

    Very interesting discussion. The thought of charging stations never occurred to me before. I’ve seen their effective use in airports and malls, and after reading this, I believe they can pretty much be applied anywhere.

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