What no one will tell you

During a planning session with a customer to organize and conceptualize their leadership conference, a member of the project team said very bluntly and inappropriately: “What are the chances of any of our leaders actually utilizing the leadership tools they have worked with at the conference for implementing change – they will go on summer vacation a few weeks after they attended”.

And her question was quite relevant – how can we ensure that conferences create value that justifies the investment and the participants’ time?


Conferences as a recurring event – with no raison d’être

Conferences are an incontestable integrated part of our work lives and we have resigned ourselves to irrelevant content, excused by threadbare concepts like inspiration, knowledge sharing and networking – although we rarely experience any tangible outcomes.

Conferences constitute an empty colored box, pressed into our already crowded calendar. And when the box is approaching, we begin to work fast, and desperately grasp anything to fill it up – without necessarily contributing to the organization’s other communication efforts and long-term strategy. If we arrange beautiful banners and serve good food, the content requirement seems less significant. And if we use applications, smart phones or other modern technologies, we even follow the technological development.

Disguising the lack of substantial content with food, layout and technology sounds like a good solution to ensure happy and maybe even impressed participants to make up for the fact that the outcome is more or less non-existing – which makes it inappropriate to be confronted with a question that demands account for specific valuable outcomes contributed by the conference. Outcomes that exceed the immediate response and initiate change, which in turn affect the overall communication strategy of the client, where conferences most often represent a lonely dot in the overall communication plan and in our priorities, which makes it unnecessary to make a fuss about it.


What do we want participants to remember?

Perhaps this is also why we prefer to measure the outcome immediately after the conference – when it is top of mind and while the good food and the mini-bar contribute to improve the feedback. It is also “easier” than to measure the effect two months later – since we would have to be reminded of what we are evaluating. However, this is when it becomes evident, whether we actually remember what we worked with, and if it has created the changed behavior we sat around tables in an up-facilitated dynamic environment and promised each other, while looking at slides, writing post-it’s and distributing high-fives.

A conference features the most precious communication media available to us – the physical meeting of people. So let us use it with respect, to create long-term outcome. And let us consider whether we need to take up people’s valuable time if our ambitions do not extend beyond the memory of the buffet-cake.

It is a comprehensive task to ensure valuable and measurable outcomes from a physical encounter with people, being it a conference, workshop or meeting. We believe the magic happens when the target audience is on point. Sure enough, it is evident to have a relevant target audience. But that is not enough; the target audience should not only be suitable in accordance to industry, position or power, but they should have the right incentive towards the agenda. If you want to share knowledge you send a newsletter, but if you want participants to change behavior, or build an incentive and motivation to change, you need to find a target audience that has not incorporated the possibility of change in their strategy, and then you need to inspire them to initiate the changed behavior. When you base your agenda on you target group’s incentive, you will be able to measure the effectiveness and value of the occurred physical encounter.