January 30, 2017 by Jeff Hurt
Everything we take for granted about conferences, and planning them, faces disruption.
Participants from all generations and cultures increasingly expect conferences to mirror their work and personal lives. They expect conferences that are authentic, connected, contextual, mobile, participatory, work-related and transparent.
Savvy conference organizers meet these disruptions head-on. They know how to segment their target market with personalized messages that help them solve their problems. They know that for their conferences to compete today, they must help their customers meet their futures now.
Here are several key drivers to rethink, reimagine and revisit your participants’ conference experience. All generations of conference participants approach your event with a consumer’s mindset. They want it to mirror their personal and work lives.
Conference participants are looking for purpose-driven event experiences. They want their experience to tap into their core values that connect them, their jobs, the conference and their world. They are tired of attending academically-sterile events that don’t connect with their emotions. They want to return to the passion that brought them into their profession. They want to be recharged, refreshed and re-energized to return to the daily work routine.
21st Century conferences ignite participant curiosity. They cognitively challenge customers to try on new lenses, reframe challenges and revisit traditional outdated solutions. These event experiences provide opportunities for cognitive dissonance—the mental discomfort experienced when a person is confronted with new information that contradicts current beliefs, ideas or values. Then participants look for ways to reduce the discomfort by considering how to change their behaviors. How mentally stimulating is your conference experience currently? Or is your conference nothing but content distribution to passive attendees?
Too many of our current conference experiences revolve around the traditional classroom. People sit passively in rows facing an expert and screen. A speaker distributes content through the spoken word. This formal method represents a common-place philosophy of pouring information in adults’ heads. But that’s not what happens. Today, savvy conference professionals flip the traditional classroom model and create collaborative, active learning spaces. In 21st Century conferences, participants have the choice of where and how they learn, and a learning space to fit their comfort level—collaborative, co-creational, engaged, private or just passively receiving information. Learning should be an active, physical experience.
Your participants’ conference experience must enhance engagement. Successful conference organizers give participants a choice with the type of space and experience they want so they can collaborate, connect, network, share and learn together. These learning and connection spaces help them engage with the content, the conference organizers, the other participants and their futures.
Ultimately, successful 21st conferences create learning spaces and design experiences that cultivate a well-connected, collaborative culture, with purpose-driven, passionate experiences.
So what type of participant experience are you providing? How can your conference elicit core emotions of delight, curiosity, engagement, purpose and surprise?
Filed Under: Event Planning, Experience Design
Hey Jeff, apart from what you’ve mentioned, food is an important part of the experience. Whether one arranges for a light snack or an elaborate meal, a short break gives attendees time to network. Arranging for food just makes the even more engaging, and one would notice higher energy levels and more sharing of ideas once people have got to know each other a little better.
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