As my field of expertise is designing professional conferences, I am a vivid advocate for not having conferences that does not support a certain return on objectives – such as a specific goal for the learning, motivation, networking, or problem solving that must be a result of the conference.
However, I often stumble upon conferences where it is very unclear what the objective is – routine meetings that organizations throw because they do it ‘every year in May’ or the like. And if your meeting or conference does not have an objective that lies within the areas of learning, motivation, networking, or problem solving…I would say that you should cancel it!
Putting a ‘vent’ in EVENT
First of all, I have to add a note: Bluntly speaking, most meeting planners find that designing EVENTS is the most fun. You know, events with bands, red carpets, drinks in logo colors, and the whole shebang. That brings oooh’s and ahhhh’s and pads on your back…and everybody live to tell about that time they met Justin Timberlake (or whoever is the talk of the town) at that company event.
On the other end of the scale you have conferences where the attendees are ‘treated’ to back to back Power Points for hours while seated in a theater style setting – wasting everybody’s time when they could just as well have been given the information in a memo.
Traces of what?
Unfortunately, most conferences I know about only contain traces of the aforementioned learning/motivation/networking/problem solving as many meeting planners live and breathe EVENTS (as defined above). But a conference is not necessarily a boring, run-of-the-mill gathering of people just because it isn’t an EVENT (as defined above :o)).
In the perfect world, the meeting designer should always take the return on investment or on objectives into consideration. And throwing an event can very well support an objective of motivating your employees or keeping your customers loyal to you/your company/your brand. But most of the time, events don’t magically support the goal of teaching your attendees something new, or making them network strategically.
Make your attendees happy and re-ignited
Instead of making an EVENT out of every conference, I suggest that you support the learning, motivation, networking, or problem solving with one or more of the following:
- facilitate networking between the attendees. Don’t leave them to their own devices during coffee breaks and hope for them to connect with other attendees
- involve your delegates in assignments/cases/finding solutions during the conference and embrace the co-creation it drives
- give your attendees time to reflect, support their down time with chill zones and homely settings outside of the meeting room itself
- alternate between different meeting formats: un-conference, speed geeking, fish bowls, etc.
These are just a few suggestions (feel free to leave your tips and tricks in the comment field below!), but this way, nobody will think that your conference is boring – and add a bit of experience management, and they will all leave happy and re-ignited with a feeling they got a return on their investment.
The illustration above is courtesy of Jørn Nielsen, Art Director & Illustrator, www.creativesupport.dk.