Sunday, October 17, 2010

Can this Conference be saved?

Many have attended them. One, two or even three days of mind numbing sessions, in a large space devoid of attendees, people leaving early. This is a conference gone bad. It might have been great at its “first annual” but now has run its course. It just may be time to say farewell and move on.

What should you look for when planning your next annual conference that speaks, “time to pull the proverbial plug”?

Look back – Look back at the post mortem notes from your last conference. Read them carefully and look for clues. The post event survey should highlight where there were difficulties. Be incredibly open minded when reviewing this data… are about to commit precious time and money.

Volunteers have vanished – No one wants to volunteer! Volunteers sense a sinking ship and if they participated last year and were under-whelmed, don’t expect them to come back for a repeat performance. These alternatively compensated employees are seeking something other than money…they look for excitement, the opportunity to network, fun, personal fulfillment, etc. If they are not getting it at your conference, they won’t come forward willingly.

Poor attendance – Look back at the attendance for the past couple of years….is it decreasing? If you are seeing a decrease in attendance that you cannot explain, that is a sign that this year may yield even lower numbers.

Sponsorship is diminishing – There MUST be a return on investment for sponsors…..if they don’t see value for their sponsorship money, they will quietly step back. It starts with a large sponsor who might have been a “Premiere, Gold, or Platinum” sponsor last year but this year are looking at only sponsoring at the silver or bronze level. They are being kind – they don’t want to say no right off the bat, but next year they may be “unfortunately going in another direction with sponsorship funds”.

Speakers have gone A.W.O.L. – You have difficulty recruiting speakers for the conference. You may be trying to pull from a pool of speakers who have attended a previous conference where they were not impressed with the lackluster attendance and audience interaction.

The good news is that these signs don’t have to spell disaster. Sometimes, when you note these issues occurring, it just means you have to change the way you are doing things.

Here are some tips for reinventing your annual conference:

Re energize your organizing committee – this may mean replacing your chairperson which can be difficult. Often annual events go the way of the dinosaurs because someone in the organizing chain is resistant to change. Engage these individuals in other ways utilizing their expertise and experience.

Downsize – Wouldn’t you rather do an amazing job of a smaller event than a poor job of a large event? Downsize and make your new event much more exclusive. Downsize the maximum number of attendees, cut the event back to 1 day, change the venue to a more intimate space, etc.

Be Sustainable – By taking a sustainable approach to your conference, you will minimize unnecessary waste and become much more attractive to sponsors and attendees. No one wants to see waste or over the top excess. Focus on the hospitality – a smile is free!

Rewrite your sponsorship package – Completely change up your sponsorship proposal to reflect the new project. Look carefully at exactly what sponsors are receiving in exchange for their money.

Be Relevant – Times….they have changed and your conference needs to keep pace with not only the material being presented, but also the use of social media.

Be Responsible – Attendee’s are spending money on registration, accommodation and travel – you need to take some responsibility for this and offer them excellent value for their dollar.

Be Creative Don’t create a cookie cutter conference – personalize it as much as possible.

Be Organized - Many times attendees are frustrated because the conference seems unorganized and/or unprofessional. If this is the case it may be time to call in a Professional Meeting & Event Planner who can guide you properly through the planning process.


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