Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A conference misses the mark... again

We recognize people attend conferences for two main reasons. Call it what you like - knowledge and relationships; learning and networking; sharing information and meeting others with a similar interest (work or life). Meeting professionals and their committees spend lots of time on choosing the destination, developing a program, marketing, managing sponsor relationships, possibly working with a trade show component, sorting all the logistics from transportation to food, signage to audio visual, decor and entertainment, and ensuring the host / board expectations are met.

What remains the missed element? The guest experience.

I remain optimistic that the industry will continue to shift, as we understand more about how people like to engage, that they attend meetings for face-to-face time, that there are many ways to deliver knowledge and have participants feeling richer for the experience. We have just spent three days on a site inspection nailing down the details of a meeting where it is critical to the client that people leave with that feeling, and that we take advantage of the location, and that time for talking is part of the experience. Leaving this destination, and on my first shorter leg of my flights home, I found myself seated between two gentlemen that had just attended the same meeting. Here follows a sampling of what was shared of their experience.

What they said: "Dinner last night was really good. Did you even want any breakfast today?"
My first thought: Yep, if we stuff them at the gala they will remember that!

What they said: "There were some very thought provoking presentations. I don't know what I learned, but I do have some things to think about."
What I heard: The presenters talked AT their audiences and did not give time for discussion or assimilation.

(said) "I know, and it was so busy running between places I never had time to really think about it, but I know there will some things I want to take back to my team."
(I thought) They wanted to make sure the program was really full of good things so it was easier to market / had so much to fit in we had to cut into the break time

(said) "You know it is too bad we didn't have more time to talk at the conference, this was really interesting. Even though you were sitting across the table from me at dinner last night, it was too far for a discussion.
(thought) Yes, we did it again, closed with a gala dinner where you can talk to exactly the two people beside you!

DId this conference meet their expectations? I am sure it met some and even exceeded some of their expectations. They both seemed to feel their trip was worthwhile, and that they would return to the next meeting of this organization. Was there anything wrong with this model that was followed? Not especially, but there is so much room for improvement if we consider how people learn, and provide opportunities for connections that are broader than a seated dinner with entertainment. Each time there is a meeting such as this, that is perfectly ok if not outstanding, we reinforce this model, and we deliver the expected experience.
What could be done to make this go from good to great? In my opinion only
  1. a balance of presentations that allows for time to discuss and assimilate within the sessions - recognize attendees are also experts and share their knowledge too.
  2. allow more free time, knowing people will mainly use this for discussion with others and have those critical hallway conversations
  3. serve nutritious and delicious food in appropriate quantities and at times that allow participants to maintain a steady stream of energy for long days of meeting and thinking and participating
What else would you add?

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