When Your Conference Planning Process Eclipses Your Purpose

Chutes and Ladders (Lindsay is playing as the tiny zombie)

Did you ever play the board game of Chutes and Ladders?

The object of the game is to get to the end of the path first. You avoid landing on a chute, which makes you slide backwards. And take advantage of the ladders which help you climb ahead.

I played this game a lot with kids in my early teaching career. Some of my students were fascinated with sliding on the chutes because it reminded them of playground slides. They would squeal with glees as they slid down chutes. Ultimately, landing behind others on the path. They really didn’t care about climbing ladders or winning.

When Conference Plans Land On Chutes

So many conference leaders, organizers and planning teams are obsessed with details, logistics and planning. They try to bring their conference into a new level of effectiveness by adding shiny tech tools, new audio visual production upgrades, trendy marquee speakers, and meeting efficiencies resulting in more plans.

In reality, they are landing on chutes and slipping backwards.

Why? Their plans actually obscure their conference’s vision. Their attention to detail and efficiency eclipses the conference purpose. Their focus on logistics misses the human element.

Digging A Conference Planning Hole That Eclipses Vision

The conference’s plans, deadlines and tasks are no longer the best tools to improve the conference participant’s experience. There are times when the tools we use are mismatched to our purpose and challenges. Thus we just exacerbate the problems we are trying to solve.

If you want to get out of a hole, stop digging. It’s time for conference professionals to put down their shovels. Measure everything they are doing against the conference’s real purpose and its people. And look at creating unique conference experiences aligned with the vision.

Frequently, today’s conference planning process is one of reproducing last year’s schedule, tasks, deadlines and process. Take last year’s conference plans, make some minor adjustments and then copy it.

If we are creating a new conference, we look at the overall conference agenda and break it down into smaller pieces. Then we take those pieces and divide them into even smaller, more measurable action steps or tasks. We set deadlines and look for shortcuts and templates. This conference planner’s practice has continued for decades.

Despite the attention to details and thoroughness, it does not inspire its participants to connect with each other, build community and co-create new futures. These plans rarely design a unique conference experience.

Putting The Planning Process Before The People

Are we talking about the conference planning process to the people? Putting the plans first and foremost in everyone’s minds.

The sheer volume of our plans, forms and documents emphasize planning and the organization’s activity. Our own self-imposed complexity and structure overwhelm others.

And these plans once again miss the human element!

Putting The Conference Participant Before The Planning Process

Are we talking to conference stakeholders about the conference experience? Putting their needs, their success and their experience first and foremost in everyone’s minds.

This priority is not the plan or the host organization. The priority is on the conference stakeholder for whom the conference is actually intended.

We focus our plans on clarity of purpose. We put people and their conference experience at the center of our process.

We’ve got to put our attention to the human element first!

Hat tips authors Dr. Henry Cloud, Thom And Joani Schultz, and Will Mancini.

Should conference organizers focus more on preparation or planning and what’s the difference? How is your conference ensuring a focus on vision, purpose and the human element instead of its plans?

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  1. Wendy Hand says:

    Below is a perfect example of what you’re discussing above. This is a brief requesting a quote and a hold sent to a short-listed speaker for a major annual corporate event. Truly scary particularly as this is/was a relatively ‘sophisticated’ client who used to be known for their cutting edge approach to content design and delivery of their events. The brief below was prepared by their professional event design and production company which makes it even more scary.

    1. Theme – is still to be confirmed. It is a 3 day summit that includes a series of plenary’s, workshops and networking opportunity’s.
    2. The attendees are financial planners and small business owners
    3. Objectives again still in planning but opportunity to bring delegates together and provide them with takeaways that they can apply now and in the future both in their business and personal lives.
    More details would be provided in brief.

  2. Thom Singer says:

    This was a timely read. Last week I talked to a conference organizer yesterday about being the MC for their event. The committee came back to her and said a board member (as always) was a better choice than a professional EmCee because there was no cost. The planner said her board told her to always remember: “Free beats everything”. I am sure their selected board member will be a wonderful host for their conference, but I get worried when “Free beats everything” as that does not seem to lead with the overall participant experience you speak about.

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