The Physics Of Conference Entropy


In physics, the second law of thermodynamics says all things—bodies, businesses, conferences, energy, organizations, relationships—move toward chaos and disorder. This is also known as the state of maximum entropy.

In one sense, entropy is a measure of uncertainty or randomness. It is the amount of confusion, disorganization and disequilibrium.

As your conference matures, it experiences entropy. It moves from a lack of order to disorder. Without your intentional involvement, its systems dissolve into chaos, its energy disperses and it becomes more disorderly.

That’s So True

As a conference professional, you know this to be true. You know that as time passes, things change. Once that change happens, it’s usually not undone naturally.

We all age as time passes. Our bodies grow, live and die. We are part of the natural process.

It is also the natural law of evolution for any conference. The longer it exists, the more it creates and promotes restrictions that slow its own functions. Just think about that for a minute. The longer your conference exists, the more its stakeholders want to add new rules, new regulations, new structures and new programming to attract more and different audiences. It begins to evolve into smaller fractured groups as its focus and energy dissipates.

The Myth Of We’ve Always Done It That Way

So why do our conference advisory teams, staff and leadership falsely assume that once we get to a certain point in our event’s history, our conference structure, processes and programming are built-in and self-sustaining? Why do we falsely assume that our event and its customers are self-perpetuating? Why do we believe that what’s worked in the past, will automatically work tomorrow so we don’t have to continue to devote time and resources to its success? We fall into the trap that we’ve-been-there-done-that-already and can check it off of our planning to do list.

With this mindset, our conference will ebb and flow into ways that will create distrust and anxiety says behavioral marketing and leadership expert Andrew Conrad. It will decrease its ability to retain our loyal customers, exhibitors and sponsors.

Working to create a great conference experience for your customers is no longer a good baseline for success to paraphrase Conrad. Failing to continually invest in your customers’ conference experience and intentionally maintaining it is now your benchmark.

Entropy Examples In Your Event

So what does entropy look like in your conference?

1. Time, resources and labor are directed to meaningless outcomes.

For example, your decorator convinces you to upgrade your onsite registration look in the name of improving the customers’ experience instead of improving the conference programming. In reality, your customer spends less than twenty-minutes out of three days in the registration area. Or your board chair convinces the team to invest six digits in a marquee speaker for the opening general session when less than one-third of your customers usually attend the keynote.

2. Your conference leadership team and advisors lack of basic business fundamentals about which actions result in the best outcomes.

Example: Your conference advisory team argues about which group would be the bigger payoff for your conference target market thus splintering into self-aggrandizing, self-serving segments that benefit each advisor only.

3. Your conference planning team does not have the skills to execute its plans.

Example: Your conference team fails at implementation and execution because they believe all they have to do is copy another event’s success. They don’t understand the issue underneath the situation or how to adapt the solution to their context. They think everything is easily implemented.

What are some other examples of how your event naturally goes from order to disorder? What will it take to help our conference planning teams understand entropy and how it negatively affects our events?

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