Configurable and Personalized Conference Experiences

The mass-personalization wave that is dramatically changing what and how we buy as consumers has application to conferences. I’ve been doing a lot of research and have learned that personalization can be achieved in a number of ways:

  1. Individualized — The customer gets exactly what meets their preferences or needs. In other words, they can order a tailor-made shirt to fit their body measurements perfectly in the style, fabric and color of their choice.
  2. Configurable — The customer can make certain choices that best meet their preferences. For example, when purchasing a laptop, they can choose the color, hard-drive size, processor and pre-loaded software.
  3. Interfaces Matter — Whether the customer is interacting with a website, an app or a human, that experience is a critical component to delivering a personalized experience. It can’t be impersonal or overly mechanical.
  4. Smart Recommendations — The business needs to learn from the behaviors, preferences and past actions of the customer to deliver intelligent and relevant advice.

Application to Conferences

Realistically, organizers seeking to improve the attendee experience through a personalization strategy should focus their efforts on items 2 through 4 above. In my opinion, the first item — individualizing a conference experience for every attendee — isn’t scalable today.

But most conferences are already designed to be configurable, by providing attendees with options — concurrent sessions, pre-conference workshops, and ticketed functions, for example. To increase configurability, consider offering additional learning experiences that are bite-sized (15 minutes) or deep-dives (2-plus hours). Identify which two or three audience segments would find each session most relevant. Tracks or learning pathways are most intuitive when they are problem-based, not role- or function-based.

Why Interfaces Matter

As far as interfaces are concerned, our industry has come a long way in improving utility with web-based itinerary-building tools and attendee mobile apps, and that will only continue to improve when more are able to sync across devices. As we’ve become more efficient, most conferences have focused less on the human touch, but the human interface can be a greater competitive advantage than any configurable tool or app. Look for ways to treat participants as unique individuals by embracing radical hospitality and concierge-like services.

Delivering Intelligent Advice

With regard to the fourth approach to personalization, when most of us talk about personalizing for the masses, we really mean making recommendations based on their other choices — i.e., attendees who signed up for one session are also planning to go to another related one.  In most cases, this requires rich data, algorithms, and machine learning.

Consider developing a meta-tag methodology that applies three to five keywords or phrases to each session, and low-tech solutions like creating and publishing five to 10 recommended itineraries based on the attendee’s role or work challenges. Analyze each session’s description and learning objectives and identify up to five other sessions that will likely be of interest to those participants. Ask the speaker or moderator to share those with the participants.

I’m a strong believer that behavioral data that is explicit or precise has a higher value for enriching customer intelligence than passive or movement data collected via beacons. Examples of explicit tracking include workshops purchased, sessions favorited or added to an itinerary, handouts that are accessed, completed surveys, and self-scans for CE credit. These behaviors can and should be tracked to enrich your customer database and provide relevant future recommendations.

Here’s a hat tip to McKinsey & Company’s article on How Technology Can Drive the Next Wave of Mass Customization for some of my big ideas. The PDF is downloadable at

How do you ensure that that the personal touch is still alive and well in your attendee’s conference journey? How can you better link your meeting’s content to your attendees’ most relevant needs?

Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2017

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
1 comment
  1. Wow!!!
    Great article.
    I completely agree with the four things you have explained in the post.
    Great work.
    Keep posting.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *