The business conference is alive and well. Despite the ability to connect more effectively on-line, the business conference still plays a key role in the discussion of business issues for organisations both large and small. Conference events are usually off-site away from the day-to-day office environment, and the participants can be internal or external to the organisation. Of course, they can range from smaller more intimate meetings to the international extravaganza at a flash location.
We have all experienced the wide range of quality for conferences, together with the various rituals and predictable activities. For instance, we have all seen the chairperson trying desperately to inject artificial humour into meeting, or the mediocre presentations that barely pass credibility. How excruciating. On the other hand, we can also recall that truly motivating speech or idea that we took away and that we still use today, or the great colleague we met from another office or location.
But understanding the overall effectiveness of these events is more art than science. Many different ways of evaluating conferences have been tried, and reams of conference survey forms are completed every year. How can conference events be properly justified and what constitutes good value?
Too often, there can be an over emphasis on the venue or the facilities. Of course, there is nothing wrong with getting a good venue, catering and so on. Indeed, a minus on these aspects can be a real drag on gaining impact from the meeting. But organisations need to be careful not to play too much in the “good time” camp. People who attend the conference should be saying the conference delivered real value and people had a good time as well, not the other way around.
I think of the conference value proposition as hinging around four points, three of which can be summarized as the PAL principle:
People – Meeting people, networking and catching up with colleagues are the very obvious points around value. These can be hard to measure, but success in these areas is a key outcome of successful conferences. Conference evaluations almost always cite networking as one of the highlights.
Application – The ability to apply something directly from the conference is also important. It could be a software tool, a management technique, or a specific approach to problem solving. Sometimes, it could be to emulate the particular style of presentation from one of the better presenters.
Learning – Conferences are also the places where learning can occur in a more formal sense, and can be quite impactful. This could be in the form of specific training or technical information, or at a simpler level the opportunity to learn about current industry changes or developments in the organization.
But it is the fourth point that is the real kicker, namely the MaD factor or Making a Difference. The conference overall should provide enough to enable attendees to make a real difference in their personal lives or in the workplace. Does the combination of the P, the A and the L from above deliver that extra burst of energy or inspiration or focus that can really make a difference?
For your next conference, think about how it rates against the above criteria, and is it about a good time or is it about good value?