When Conference Participants Vote With Their Feet


They’re voting with their feet.

It’s a common phrase. And one that we as conference organizers should pay attention to. And let’s not forget: after participants vote with their feet, they vote with their wallet.

We often wonder if a topic or session is valid or valuable to our stakeholders. The answer is frequently painfully obvious—participants voted with their feet. Meaning that people are or are not supporting, registering, attending, etc. The audience has already given you their feedback.

Hat tips to author Will Mancini.

Digger Deeper Regarding Voting With Their Feet

The simple assessment is that people voted with their feet.

It means they don’t want it. Don’t need it. Don’t care about it. Or don’t understand it.

It doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a good idea. Or that some outlier was not passionate about that topic. Or that a group of positive endeavors might have emerged from that topic.

So let’s dig deeper into the issue of people voting with their feet at your conference.

1. Does not mean give people only what they want!

Is your conference only a consumer-driven event? Or is your conference a leading transformational experience?

Consumer driven events give people exactly what they ask for and what they expect. (And do we give our kids sweets all the time because they want and expect it?) Consumer-driven events don’t necessarily challenge participants to act and think differently. We have to balance their needs with their wants.

I’m also talking about pet projects, topics and speakers that some of your leaders are passionately vocal about offering regardless the costs, customer-needs or strategy.

We have to pay very close attention to when people vote with their feet regarding those pet projects, topics and speakers. We have to guard against conference chairs or board leaders who want to leave their thumb print on the conference instead of serving the needs of the participants.


You have a limited amount of resources, money, time, conference retail space (room, agenda time, etc.) and energy. Your organization is supposed to be a leader in its profession and trade. You are to use the organization’s resources wisely and with intentionality. Thus, it would be foolish to allocate resources to anything outside of the strategic mission. It’s foolish even to allow it for political reasons (to placate a current board president or leader) or to prove a point of what works or doesn’t work.

2. Does not mean that we allocate our resources for a handful of positive stories.

We as conference organizers are called to be wise stewards of the event’s resources. It’s stupid and self-serving to allow our energy, time, resources and space devoted to only a small handful of positive returns.

Doesn’t it make sense that we should use those resources and space that resulted in the most positive change possible? Instead of just a few positive returns, what if we got hundreds? Or even thousands of positive results?

That’s what we should be wrestling with when it comes to using our resources wisely and people voting with their feet and transformational change on a large scale.

3. Does not mean that the audience understands the issue.

Perhaps you did a bad job at explaining how this topic or session would benefit participants. Perhaps you didn’t explain how this issue was going to impact them.

So don’t just run from the topic in the future. Consider all the attributes that may have caused them to vote with their feet.

So here’s my question for you conference professional:

Where are you not paying attention to people voting with their feet?

Why do so few conference organizers even know if people are voting with their feet? What tips do you have for tracking when conference participants are voting with their feet?

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  1. Bob James says:

    Great audience tracking tools abound (ask your registration company or general services contractor for help). Audience tracking is smart. It should be mandatory. But it’s not the real issue. Ideas are.

    Some “pet” ideas are stupid, but some truly are ahead of their time (your could once count the advocates and fans of the Internet on one hand).

    Planners need to recognize and acknowledge before an event the difference between mainstream and marginal; and marketing and breakout-session logistics should take the difference into account.

    Thankfully, there’s room for both mainstream and marginal ideas at most large conferences. We just need “the wisdom to know the difference.”

    1. Jeff Hurt says:


      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I’m not sure that there are actually some good audience tracking tools available. I’ve not seen any and the best is actually having people do head counts at the beginning of the session, 15 minutes after it started and 15 minutes before it ends.

      I also like what you said too about conference professionals become more acutely aware of types of ideas and which they want to offer to their stakeholders. Thanks for raising that.

      1. Bob James says:

        To learn what’s available for tracking, call Mike Sorgani (ITN) and David Haas (FreemanXP). They are fonts of knowledge about the subject.

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