The internet has made world-class content front, center, mobile and affordable—often free.
Anyone can hear the best experts for free (or nearly free) on almost any device they own. Anyone can get thought leadership at their fingertips.
And your conference audience does. They have access to the same information you do. They can hear, watch and read the greatest speakers anytime.
Technology Disrupts Traditional Content-Driven Conferences
So why should someone pay a registration fee, book a flight and hotel rooms, and take a couple of days off from their normal work to attend your conference?
The conferences of the 80s, 90s and 2000s built their attendance by offering excellent speakers, slick productions, amazing networking and access to professional tribes. They often had fantastic closing parties with great entertainment and music as well. Content, entertainment and production ruled!
The challenge today is that the internet, technology and mobile devices have disrupted that model. What conferences had that were exclusive and something to be experienced, is now portable, affordable and everywhere.
Conference Experience Trumps Delivery Of Content
Ultimately, your conference experience will have to trump content.
So we need to use curated content to attract the right target market. We need to leverage the best thought leadership to appeal to conference customers. We should secure the best professional speakers that entice the right registrant.
However, don’t stop there. Content will attract. But your experience will keep them coming back for more…or not. You’ve got to focus on designing great participant experiences!
You can no longer afford to just deliver content at your event. You can no longer afford to distribute content in two or three days and expect it to turn a profit.
More people are asking, “If I can watch and listen to this on my phone or tablet, why would I attend?”
If you don’t have a good answer to this question as a conference professional, you lose!
Conferences that cultivate great experiences win.
Great Conference Experiences
So what makes for a great experience?
Using content as a tool for active peer to peer and small group discussions. (Not large audience discussions!)
Focusing on audiences as learners and asking speakers to facilitate learning experiences not listening sponges.
Allowing audiences the chance to share and contribute what the content means to them and their work.
Leveraging content to serve as a catalyst where audiences co-create knowledge, solutions and new ideas.
Community experiences with like-minded tribes and outside influencers all discussing the same content and topics.
Sifting Through Online And Face To Face Experiences
Conference organizers will have to sift through what can happen in person and what can be duplicated online.
Those that focus on designing conference experience will continue to grow. Those who continue to follow the old model of spray and pray, sit and get, schedule and deliver, secure and distribute won’t.
You’ve got to offer something in person that you can never get online.
The future belongs to the innovative conference professionals who get better at uncovering and leveraging the differences between online content, online experiences and face to face conference experiences.
What happens to a conference that continues to focus on the traditional school model of experts lecturing to audiences to for a fee? Where do we start when designing a conference experience?
Kristin Arnold says
I soooo agree with you Jeff, and I’d like to add one more thing to consider: Think of all the interactions, the “touchpoints” that the attendee has with the organization from the moment they look at the website/conference materials to checking in at the hotel, registering for the room, walking into the meeting room etc. ALL of these little details can ADD to or subtract from the experience. The devil is in the details, and attendees’ expectations are rising all the time!
Jeff Hurt says
Thanks for reading and commenting. We so appreciate your work and thoughts.
Yes, the devil is in those details. A similar challenge, which is what you describe, is seeing how those details add up to the overall experience. Often we start with the details and they try to look at the experience. For me, it’s about starting with the experience we want our customers to have and planning backwards…stating what details we need to make that outcome happen.
Paul Kirkegaard says
How much does the destination (location) of the conference have on attendance? eg- does a tourist destination attract more attendance than a non-tourist destination? Should the conference incorporate typical tourist attractions into the conference schedule? Should time be allowed for the attendees to be a tourist?
Tola Adebiyi says
Interesting perspective Jeff. It’s true I may as well catch up on the event on live streaming or a dedicated Youtube channel. As an SEO content writer, I understand the importance of consistent insightful and valuable content as a means of building readership and marketing events.
But putting the human factor into account, a conference attendee has not booked flights, hotel room and taken a leave off work to listen to people they could have watched on their gadgets or podcasts.
People pay for experiences, they pay to build new relationships and to have access to a sphere of influence and air-tight networks. Attending a conference in another environment is an emotional outlet and a breath of fresh air to most people. it may even be their holiday!
People gather for different reasons. If we think it’s for the great speakers, we may be putting it in a box. Great content will continue to be great, but networking events, tech hackathons, conferences, workshops, retreats will never go out of style.