When History Is Weaponized To Keep Your Conference Stuck In The Past

We come in peace (and we bring weapon)

We’ve always done it this way and it’s worked. So why should this time be any different?

It’s a classic proclamation used to silence any discussion about changing directions. History becomes weaponized and used as a machete to clear the path for personal agendas, influencing others and legitimizing staying the same.

Ultimately, weaponizing your conference’s history when making future decisions is lazy thinking. Peddling historical conventional wisdom is superficial and unproductive. The more you and your leadership truly understand the business case for your event, its target market and value proposition, the more successful you can be at making productive, appropriate changes.

Common Conference Conventional Wisdom

Conventional wisdom refers to something that is broadly accepted as true, accurate or right. It is widely held beliefs on which people base future decisions.

When planning future events and conferences, we stake our claim in conventional wisdom. We hold on to the claim that we just need to repeat the past to produce the same results. We make minor changes to marketing, registration and programming to get better results. It worked last year so why should this year be any different? (History was just as a weapon to keep your event just like it was.)

Other times we boast that we’ve tried that (substitute any new idea or change) in the past and it didn’t work. So it won’t work now. There goes that machete clearing the path to status quo.

We declare that our organization, our conference and our audience is different from others. Therefore, those new ideas and suggestions are not how we do it here. Swoosh! That machete just leveled any innovative ideas or diversity of thought.

Conventional Wisdom Can Mislead

Accepting conventional wisdom about your conference can be a dangerous investment. It’s junk thinking. It’s an outdated belief for a new world. Today is a different time and context than last year’s planning cycle and event.

Conventional wisdom serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking says iconoclast economist, thinker, and diplomat John Kenneth Galbraith.

According to Deloitte, conventional wisdom is often a poor substitute for true understanding of your business. In the conference arena, conventional wisdom serves as a corrupt surrogate for understanding your conference’s target market, the business case for your event and its value proposition. To be successful you need to fully understand your customer, their needs, their challenges and their aspirations. You also need to grasp the business justification for your event: why it exists and its purpose.

Indeed, when one digs into the facts about your event, one may find that much of this wisdom is actually false—or at best, only partially true—and that the picture is much more nuanced. To break with the orthodoxy requires that you take a microscopic approach to the data emerging and consider what gets lost in the conventional wisdom concerning the industry, your target market, and your conference business case and value proposition. (Paraphrase Deloitte authors Kasey Lobaugh, Christina Bienie, Bobby Stephens and Preeti Pincha.)

When planning future conferences, we must remember history’s disclaimer: past performance does not guarantee future success. Today is different from then and tomorrow. Tomorrow could be entirely different, anything but right now.

What are some other common conventional wisdom thoughts that are used to keep your conference from evolving with the times? What’s the best way to manage when your conference history is used as a weapon to avoid change?

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