Friday, December 19, 2008

Where's the Value of Conferences These Days?

It's all about, no, it's ONLY about the information and the connections. Gone are the days (and good riddance) when an event was about cocktails and entertainment. They're about getting down to and doing business.

Event managers that 'get that', will thrive and the tools they use to put on a better, more information rich, more ROI-focused events are critical to this evolution and their success.

Based on our experience, here's what our clients are asking for:

- Create an event where the attendees, vendors, sponsors get out of it more than they have to put into it, and you'll be successful.

- Traditional lead management is dead. It's a list of a list, and an unqualified one at that. Foster the development of relationships and the distribution of meaningful information.

- Foster networking and by that we DO NOT mean 'business card exchanges'. Help your attendees bring their virtual network to the event, communicate with them while they're on site and grow their network while attending the event. Make it easy and non-intrusive and useful once your attendees/vendors/sponsors leave the venue.

- Data or information? A thousand business cards, which one's to call? Thousands of dollars in brochures, which one's were looked at? Dozens of conversations, which one's were of any value? Oversubscribed, underutilized, wasted or efficient?

- Green . . . aren't we all tired of 'talking' about that? How about doing something about it (

NOW is the time that the events industry, and those that are tired of the traditional and inefficient ways of doing things, have been waiting for. Tools like the BusyEvent Event Bookmarking system provide the opportunity; let's see who has the guts to make it happen.

Here's a very well written article published by Paul Wehking that takes a new approach to what we've written above.

Are sponsors, exhibitors and attendees starting to question the value of conferences these days? Is the meeting bubble starting to break?

Well consider these two recent occurrences:

First, Association Forum is still looking for major event sponsors for its flagship one day event Holiday Showcase. For example, still up for grabs are the $55K luncheon and the $35K reception sponsorships among others. Both huge items when you consider the event is only seven weeks away.

Second, there is ASAE’s Springtime event that had its booth sales go live in a lottery format two weeks ago is now only partially sold with plenty of booths still available. Maybe it’s because this one-day event rivals the ASAE Annual Meeting in overall cost for an exhibitor – and that’s for just 4 hours of exhibit time!

OK, I’ll tell you what’s eating at me. Sure, we produce conference materials so you may think I am biased but I also ATTEND over 12 conferences each year (both industry events and some outside). I am appalled at the dwindling value that some of these events offer.

Attendees airfare costs more, the hotel room costs more, the meals cost more, etc., etc. Then attendees hear “paperless this” and “green that”… C’mon! I am for greening initiatives but not at the expense what is (used to be?) one of the core mission of most association events – EDUCATION!

Here’s what I suggest (from a sponsor and attendee point of view):

  • Cut back on all the fluff - The coffee breaks, the luncheons, banquets, the gobos, etc and take those sponsor dollars to the education side of event. Take a cue from HSMAI’s Affordable Meetings and make the education the focus, not the shrimp cocktail. Most waistlines (mine included) could use the break.
  • Align Sponsorship with Education - Make the sessions themselves sponsor opportunities where possible. This way, sponsors could be associated with the lasting value of education versus the coffee and pastry that cost $20 a head and will be gone from the mind (and body) within an hour or two.
  • Build Better Programs - Put money into developing killer programs using the latest social networking tools that will engage attendees before the event. (NOTE: BusyEvent is partnered with the premier Pre-Event Social Networking system that addresses this exact issue. Embedded in the Professional tools that are part of every BusyEvent - Event Bookmarking is the onsite carry-through experiencce of this pre-event social networking element). That way, sessions presented at the event are of interest to the attendees because they helped develop it.
  • Engage More Members - Make it easier for the common member to participate as a volunteer staffing registration, session rooms, email stations, stuffing bags, writing session summaries for web postings, helping speakers in the session rooms, etc.
  • Deliver Education! - Lastly, provide tools that facilitate learning. Printed books, workbooks, handouts, etc in the best format possible for the learning styles present – print or digital media. Then offer links or options to get additional content if work products were produced at the event. If your event is large enough, offer attendees a choice or a “buy” option. I’d gladly pay another $15 to have the materials in my hand during the event… Since I’ve already paid $1000 to $2000 just to eat, fly and sleep.

The core missions of most events are education and networking right!?!

Let’s get back to the mission and improve meetings today — Then sponsors and attendees will see the value.

P.S. Regarding sponsorship, Association Forum recently posted some keen insights from frequent industry sponsors. Find their comments at the Association Forum newsletter archive. It’s worth a quick read as sponsors eye their opportunities carefully for 2009. They also point to some other useful sponsorship resources.

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