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November 13, 2005

The Problem With Conferences

Seth Godin takes conference organizers to task in his post, "How to Run a Useless Conference".  He claims that conferences aim to satisfy the middle of the bell curve with a goal of "avoiding failure" by being "average" and relying on speakers relating a litany facts as opposed to emotional storytelling.  True enough, but maybe not for the reasons Godin supposes.

Then, Marc Babej takes Seth to task for sloppy thinking in his response, "Getting Godin's Facts Straight".  Agreed. 

Facts are important at most, if not all conferences.  In some cases, like conferences where gaining CEUs are the featured draw, facts are far more necessary than emotion.  Although I can't think of a conference where a bit more emotion on the part of the presenters (and organizers) wouldn't hurt.

An exec from Blogweld, a software company, chimes in with a tidbit from his own experience - that conferences are much more valuable forums for discussion when the "facts" have been distributed to attendees in advance.  Interesting point.

I care less about whether Godin or Babej is right and more about the fact that we're having the conversation at all.  In the tens of millions of conversations happening in the blogospehere every day, discussion about the role and value of conferences in marketing and continuing education is virtually non-existent.  So if top bloggers and thought leaders are bashing conference organizers... as they say, all press is good press. 

This is the type of conversation we need more of.  Enough with all of us on the inside comparing notes at our own conferences.  Hopefully others will jump into this conversation and put in their two cents.  I'd love to hear from top marketers outside our industry on the good/bad/indifference of what we do for a living.

I'd even promote the idea of getting Godin or Tom Peters or someone of their ilk to come in as a keynote presenter and bash our industry in front of everyone at IAEM.  But... they'd then have to stick around for the whole event.  Take in as many sessions as possible.  Take notes on what they think would make us better.  Perhaps even empower them to stop a session midstream and suggest, "I think we'd have a better conversation if we did this..."

Now that would be atypical.

I'll note one thing.  In our industry, way back in the 80s, the legendary Anver Suleiman used to run a wonderful conference on event marketing.  It was both fact-based and emotional.  As were the examples of effective marketing he would showcase in his conferences.  In the past 20 years we've stopped having engaging conversations on marketing at our events. 

And not conincidentally, I believe our event marketing has suffered from it.

05:26 PM in Trade Show Industry | Permalink

Comments

"I'd even promote the idea of getting Godin or Tom Peters or someone of their ilk to come in as a keynote presenter and bash our industry in front of everyone at IAEM. But... they'd then have to stick around for the whole event. Take in as many sessions as possible. Take notes on what they think would make us better. Perhaps even empower them to stop a session midstream and suggest, "I think we'd have a better conversation if we did this..."

Now that would be atypical."

Then just do it!

Posted by: Tom Asacker | Nov 15, 2005 11:57:55 AM

I definitely think that the conference business is in need of some unconventional thinking. It's still undetermined, from my research, if business is up or down.

What is clear, however, is that there are any number of events cropping up that don't fit the traditional mold that also are delivering huge value to the attendees (and occassionally the exhibitors).

The real problem is not having these conversations, I think, but making them have an impact on the industry itself.

Posted by: Gregory Narain | Nov 14, 2005 2:31:23 PM

Hi, actually our company is called Frameweld and our blog is named Blogwelder.

It would make for a great event to have someone like Godin or Tom Peters critique your event in real time. And you would walk away with a lot of good feedback.

But you can get a lot of discussion and helpful advice from cheaper and more abundant resources. Check with vendors and attendees and the grunts who do the legwork. If you found my thought interesting, I have another 20 of them. People who are exposed to these events much more than I will probably have 10x the useful feedback.


Posted by: Sam | Nov 14, 2005 8:54:51 AM

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