Event planners face growing challenges in today's hyper-connected world. As conference audiences enjoy greater access to information and people via the web, their conference palates grow more demanding. If someone is going to invest several days and several thousand dollars to attend a live conference, they expect more insight than they can access from their desktop and richer face-to-face exchanges.
On the money side: Many planners are asked to deliver "better" with the same budget. Some are being asked to accomplish this with less. Year's ago, conferences were netting tidy profits. Today, some breathe a sigh of relief if they manage to break even.
Can you serve two masters? Can you lift the attendee experience and increase revenues at the same time?
Conference planners are asking these same questions. All spend items are getting scrutinized more closely to make sure they're getting maximum bang for the buck. Planners are also having more candid conversations with leadership. A few are actually blowing up their old model and designing something fresh and new. As you map out your road to 2020 and beyond, here are a few things to consider:
Content and Speakers
The call for papers method to find "free" and low-cost speakers has crumbled. More and more conference organizers are curating high-tech and advanced content and hiring professional speakers who can deliver. Content committees are getting scaled back considerably. Once a vastly improved learning experience is delivered, finding sponsors to underwrite future costs comes more easily. Sponsors want to be seen as thought leaders, not funders. They want to connect with big discovery moments at your conference.
Attendee Interaction and Engagement
There's little patience for a barrage of one-way, "sage on the stage" presentations. If you want to attract the right people to your conference, you'll need to design richer experiences that include plenty of interaction with peers about critical issues. It starts with speakers, but it doesn't end there. You'll need to recruit and train a crew of strong facilitators who can take these conversations to the next level. Embed discussions throughout the conference experience and networking improves, as well.
The Tech-Enabled Conference
Mobile apps are poised to enhance nearly every aspect of the conference experience, but still, some planners hesitate to move ahead with confidence. Meanwhile, America's appetite for mobile grows ever stronger -- we're using apps in our everyday lives. We expect them at professional conferences. Leverage digital channels to improve the attendee experience. Added Bonus: Attendee acquisition comes easier as you now have more channels to communicate with potential audience members.
More Educating, Less Selling on the Expo Floor
A few of your more traditional exhibitors may balk at this concept. Identify forward-thinking vendors who recognize that when they invest time to educate buyers, they're demonstrating expertise and sales leads will follow. Do everything you can to help these exhibitors deliver meaningful education at their booths. Create learning lounges on the expo floor where short TED-like talks are delivered to juice up the learning chatter. Added Bonus: As attendees roam the expo floor, they no longer feel like pigeons with targets on their back. The expo floor now becomes a valued part of the total conference experience.
Is it realistic in today's marketplace to serve two masters (Your Attendees and Your Bottom Line)?
That same question came up in a comment thread for a post on CC Chapman's blog titled: We Need Next Level Conferences
When you get a chance, give it a read. Most of the comments (135 at last count) are as rich as the post itself. More importantly, it gets to the heart of our conference value proposition challenge. You'll see a wish list of items that attendees crave. You'll also notice growing concerns that more conferences are falling short than succeeding.
As Thomas Friedman reminded us at the last PCMA Convening Leaders conference: Average is Over. Everyone Needs to Find Their Extra.