How does your conference treat its participants? How do you and your leadership team view them?
Are your conference customers more like tourists? Seeking conference swag, amenity room drops, welcome bags and quick ideas?
Or are they more like explorers? Craving authentic experiences, no matter the size, that enhance their lives and change their attitudes, behaviors and skills?
The Tourist Conference Experience
When conferences view their customers as tourists, they plan and offer slick-professionally-produced OMG wow moments, marquee speakers and headline performers. They showcase the next shiny tech tool, trendy gimmicky formats and soundbite cookie-cutter solutions to copy. These conferences aim to top previous year’s events.
Tourists are lured by the hype. They are drawn to the local city’s top attractions where they can take selfie snapshots and record short videos, which they promptly share in social media. They are attracted by the huge buffet style of program offerings. They drool over the something-for-everyone-conference-standards.
Tourists want to check off sessions they’ve attended and sites they’ve visited. It’s all about consuming as much of the conference–and the city–as possible as fast as possible. They want the next big idea, the shortcut solution and every speakers’ PowerPoint and handouts.
Tourists want to return home with a city branded coffee mug, a refrigerator magnet, a t-shirt from their trip and at least one practical takeaway. They want kitschy conference-logoed-tchotchkes, a welcome bag full of cheap treasures and the ability to brag that they were in the same room with a marquee famous person.
The Explorer Conference Experience
When conferences view their customers as explorers, they plan and offer rich, multimodal, multidimensional immersive experiences that foster curiosity. These experiences go beyond the traditional superficial sightseeing bus tours, tourist-trap destinations and copycat great ideas.
Explorers demand more. They want discovery-based, authentic, inquiry-driven real-world learning experiences. They expect experiences that lead to cognitive shifts that help them think and act differently back on their job. They want to explore new tactics to aspire to new heights.
Mental framing metaphors, higher order thinking skills and cognitive challenges are more meaningful than temporary touristy fluff. Explorers value these experiences more than consumption of stuff and copy-me DIY wow-like one-use great ideas.
Explorers are tired of the conference marketing hucksterism that comes from the over-hyped not-to-be-missed hawking of an unremarkable average-at-best event. They don’t want to be shortchanged for their attendance.
Explorers are eager to learn. They want to take their time, develop cognitive connections and foster meaningful relationships with like-minded learning peers. They want to practice new thinking strategies to develop their own best ideas and solutions instead of just mimicking others.
Explorers want to immerse themselves in curated contextual real world issues with innovative solutions.
Explorers want to bring home a transformational experience that changed their mental model, shifted their paradigm and highlighted new opportunities in their work.
Shifting From Tourist Conference Experiences To Explorer Conference Experiences
Treating customers as explorers and not just quick-in-and-out tourists means the conference has to go above and beyond the host city’s trappings.
Your conference can provide a safe space, social structures, moments of discovery and exploratory experiences for participants. Then your customers can connect with each other, share stories of success and failure, discuss common issues, create new memories and uncover hidden learning gems that shift their thinking.
Hat Tips John Moore’s Tribal Knowledge: Business Wisdom Brewed From The Grounds Of Starbucks Corporate Culture.
How might customers view your conference as the equivalent of a tourist-trap? How do you plan and foster conference exploratory experiences that lead to shifting mental models and customers wanting more?