Conference and meeting professionals like action when planning their events.
They are accustomed to juggling multiple demands. They have long to-do lists that require their attention and often exceed their available time. So, they have the tendency to want to hurry up and check-off items on their to-do list–yesterday.
Herein likes one of their challenges when starting a conference improvement process. They have to put on the breaks to avoid jumping into planning before they’ve identified their outcomes, success measures and desired results. They have to start the improvement process with a big picture holistic approach that uses a backward design for forward action.
The Traditional Present-Forward Planning Mindset
Without our awareness, most traditional planning falls short. It utilizes a common and alluring practice of a present-forward planning mindset. Unfortunately, this mindset is also full of fatal flaws and traps.
The present-forward mindset employs an unchecked assumption that the conference’s existing business model, programming and registrants can simply be duplicated and extended into the future. The current conference state of affairs and financials dominate discussions about next year’s event. This leads to a mechanical exercise of taking last year’s event, tweaking it and only changing its contents. Resources are then allocated within the existing planning silos to work on the next conference.
Inevitably, the plans that emerge focus on incrementally improving the conference experience. Once the conference starts and registrants arrive, the experience feels as if it’s stuck in a time-warp. It’s a replica of the past.
Thus the next-year’s conference gets caught in the straightjacket of today.
The Long-Term Trends Planning Mindset
Some conference professionals get stranded in the future when planning their events.
They use scenario planning exercises to analyze and prioritize long-term trends. They evaluate different versions of possible futures. Here they may get stranded in a wide range of alternative and often unrealistic futures.
What emerges is a conference program with promises of a theoretical brave new world but thin on tangible tactics to get there. No real stake is set in the ground helping conference participants identify relevant steps and guiding principles to benefit from this new world.
These conference professionals and their customers get stranded in the future with no time-travel device back to the present.
The Future-Back Planning Process
A future back planning approach uses a distinct method of defining a future state and working backwards. You start with the end in mind. Then in reverse time-lapse fashion, conference planning teams set priorities and milestones for their next event. They analyze and interpret multiple sources of past and current data to predict areas of growth and opportunity for their target market customers.
This future-back planning process necessitates a holistic approach first before jumping into managing the details. It enables the conference improvement process to clear the way forward. The path to fresh new experiences becomes more obvious as unnecessary tasks and distractions are removed. Then you can begin to imagine new conference innovations that can be modeled, examined and tested with your target market today.
When you use the future-back planning process, your to-do list is full of important big strategic tasks that will get you to your future destination. Instead of starting from the present and looking forward, you have envisioned a future conference grounded on your customers’ changing needs and aspirations.
What else do you need to institute a future-back conference improvement planning process? How do you keep your focus on big-picture strategic tasks and avoid the distractions of easy, quick to do items?