Nobody wants their meeting to be boring. Meeting planners are among some of the hardest working people on the planet, and the effort that they all put into crafting conferences, trade shows, conventions, seminars and other business events is unparalleled. They care deeply about the attendee experience, yet sometimes events fall flat.
I have presented at over 300 events (from small local breakfasts to internationals conferences with over 3000 participants), and have attend several thousand other meetings throughout my career. There have been both great experiences that had lasting impact and ones where my time and money were wasted.
1. Lack of focus. Events can happen without a clear purpose. Maybe the organization has always held an annual gathering and over the years the reasons have changed, but nobody has communicated that to the organizers or attendees. Other times the idea of a new event gets everyone excited, but there is no clear plan. When focus is gone, the spark that makes the event interesting is left to chance.
2. Too long. Some events last longer than needed. In general there is no "right" amount of time for an event (half day, full day, multi-day, etc...), but an event that goes too long becomes dull. When organizers are struggling to fill breakout sessions with anyone who can breathe, then the event should be shorter. Over the years the regular attendees stop coming for the whole time, and you will see a huge drop off in the number of people at the final activities.
3. Too short. Other events do not last long enough. Too much information is crammed into a short agenda where the attendees are overwhelmed without keynotes, breakouts, etc... can leave people tired. Without the right amount of breaks, networking and social activities there is not time to discuss and digest what they learned. There is more to live events than just information. If people only wanted the information you could email a white-paper. The human to human interaction is important and there must be the right amount mixed into the agenda.
4. Same old / same old. If you have a good thing going, it does not mean it should be repeated exactly each year. Too many events start to feel like an extension of past events. Over time people tire of the same agenda, speakers, and activities. Every year there should be some new aspects added, which might mean retiring some parts of the agenda. This can involve risk, but without risk there is little reward.
5. Cliques and cronies. When an organization has "power cliques" who have the power over the details of the event, they often develop a class system. The leaders who run the show often craft the conference to be an annual reunion for the select few. They give awards and back-slaps to their friends, and make everyone else feel they are on the outside looking in. If an organization has cliques and cronies (and most do), they must be made to understand that exclusive behavior hurts the future of the event.
6. The wrong speakers. A keynote speech is not a commodity. Two highly experiences presenters on the same topic will have a different affect on the tone of your meeting. Selecting the speakers for the main stage and breakouts is very important. Making sure that the presentation has the right mix of information and style is paramount. Never assume that content alone will be enough. People want real data from experts, but if the speaker is not able to communicate well it will hurt the whole event. Remember my mantra: "Just because someone is smart or has done something cool - it does NOT mean they belong on your stage". It is not too much to ask for great content and the experienced ability to speak to an audience!
7. No continuation of community. Humans are experiential beings. Once we have shared an positive experience together we have a bond. This is how friendships are made. While a conference is a "mini-society", it comes to an end. Without an ongoing way to encourage people to extend their experience beyond the conference there is not community. TED and SXSW have become iconic conference because they are more than just the live events. Through use of video, social media, and live regional events throughout the year they keep the society alive. This is about more than having a Facebook Page!
Have A Great Day
Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections. http://www.conferencecatalyst.com