Saturday, January 12, 2013

Is Your Conference LAME? (Lectures And other Mediocre Experiences)

What was spectacular about the last conference you attended?

Over the last few years there has been a lot written about the changing face of conferences, trade shows, conventions and seminars.  There is no disagreement that we need to re-invent the live event experience, but what that means is all over the map.

The problem is there is no such thing as an "awesome app" that will guarantee your Conference Attendee Experience.  A famous keynoter does not really get people inspired.  Simply instructing breakout speakers to be more interactive cannot change their presentation ability and how they engage the audience.  Open bar and a band will not get people into meaningful "hallway conversations".

Wanting better events is one thing, creating a new way is much harder.

Too often events are simply L.A.M.E.

"Lectures And other Mediocre Experiences"

I am not saying that conferences need to eliminate "lectures", clearly when we gather people for major events there will the desire to hear from speakers who can educate, inspire and entertain.  However, the old school style speech where an expert talks at an audience is no longer interesting.  Humans are experiential beings and desire more than Moses coming off a mountain and sharing The Word.  People want a conversational style interaction, and they want to share their own thoughts with others.

Finding speakers who can do more than deliver an 8th grade book report is not an easy task for organizers.  With a record number of people calling themselves "speakers",  many people end up on the agenda who are not really focused on the overall experience or prepared to take the audience on a journey.  To create something beyond the normal it is not simply about the speaker's content, but about their style and speaking experience too! (remember, just because someone is smart or has done something cool -- it does not mean they belong on stage!)

But the solutions to better conferences are not  only on the shoulders of the presentations (although speakers do set the tone for the whole event).  All aspects of the conference design must be explored to ensure they are not just mediocre.

The breaks need to be redesigned to allow for conversations between attendees.  The amount of time and the area provided must encourage people to go deeper in discussions with each other on the topics discussed.  Talking with each other in the hallways ("hallway conversations") is often sited as some of the best parts of the conference, but if breaks are short and the space provided is over-crowded or otherwise inconvenient  then nothing special can occur.

Room layout and decorations are also part of the aesthetics that impact the event.  Allowing for more space in the networking areas and session rooms will cost more money, and too much room can make it look under-attended.  Thus working with a designer is key to creating something unique and functional.

Reminding people that the value of the conference is not actually found in the agenda, but in each other, is paramount to creating a culture where folks engage.  But that can be scary as the agenda is the tangible part of the event.  To say it is not the key focus is risky.  Yet without taking chances everything is a 'cookie cutter" to all other gatherings.

Organizers are looking for the magic formula that will be both different and guaranteed.  The same-old way to structure an event is at least proven.  Nobody gets fired for making a schedule that looks like last year. Plus, doing some things different may not work out well, and that means that people could complain.  But when something new works out and is spectacular.... everyone wins.

I would rather attend an event where I know they tried new stuff and some of it failed than just having it all be LAME.  It is my opinion that others are hungry for events that push the envelope (this does not mean having to totally re-invent the program format... although that could be good too!).

What do you think?  Are we asking too much for events to leave LAME behind and discover ways to be spectacular?

Have A Great Day

thom singer

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. 

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