10
Feb
15

Our screwed up thinking about creating conference experiences

This month’s guest blog post is by Jeff Hurt, executive vice president of education and engagement for Velvet Chainsaw Consulting. It was originally posted on Jan. 28.

Jeff Hurt

Jeff Hurt, executive vice president, education and engagement, for Velvet Chainsaw Consulting. Photo courtesy of Jeff Hurt.

As conference organizers, we need to learn about the power of experience.

Well, we already know about experiences. We have them all the time.

We’ve had experiences with our families and friends. We’ve had experiences with work. We’ve had school experiences. We’ve had experiences with institutions and organizations. We’ve had vacation experiences.

Unfortunately, we’ve made some very faulty assumptions from our own experiences. And we’ve even institutionalized some defective planning processes based on those experiences and what serves us best in our practice. Not what serves our paying attendees best.

For instance, we assume that if we secure experts to tell attendees what to believe, attendees will believe it.

Then we expect that attendees will adopt the experts’ beliefs as their own. Thus, those beliefs result in actions that lead to positive results. So attendees leave our conferences changed for the good.

All attendees have to do is register, pay, show up, sit quietly and listen. The rest occurs like a magical mental assembly line.

But that’s not how it works! At all! Ever! I mean infinity-ever!

The truth about experiences

Our experiences actually form our beliefs.

Our beliefs form our actions.

Our actions create results.

Our family experiences shape our beliefs about family. Our school experiences shape our beliefs about education. Our relationships form our experiences about friendship and love.

Our own past experiences shape how we plan and create conferences. We bring our beliefs from our experiences with other institutions into our conference planning process.

Our own beliefs of what a conference should look and feel like actually limit our ability to create authentic, engaging new experiences. And in doing so, we have created experiences that now frame how our attendees view conferences.

Looking back to move forward

We need to explore why attendees, exhibitors, sponsors, volunteer leaders, conference planning teams and conference hosts feel the way they do about conferences.

We’ve got to understand how we got where we are today.

It’s only in looking back that we can move forward. Then we can point to where we need to change directions. Then we can create new archetypes for exemplary experiences.

At its core, conferences are about people. Regular conference attendees perceive other conference attendees through interactions at the conference. The power of experience reveals a lot.

Turning nostalgic down conference lane

Let’s take a nostalgic mental journey down conference lane.

Visualize yourself walking down a traditional city street lined with various buildings. Each structure houses a different institution.

What do you see? Which of these buildings might be the perfect metaphor to describe your conference?

  • The Theater
  • The Boarding School
  • The Rigorous Academic Ivy League University
  • The Library Of Yesteryear
  • The Police Department
  • The Mayor’s Office
  • The Funeral Home
  • The Quaint Archaic Museum
  • The Political Action Committee
  • The Courthouse
  • The Church Or Synagogue
  • The Sports Stadium
  • The Department Store
  • The Local Bar And Pool Hall
  • The Mall

What type of city building best describes your current conference experience? What type of metaphor would you like to describe your future conference experience?
Editor’s Note: We encourage you to visit the original blog post to leave your comments to Jeff’s post!


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meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, running, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Digital content manager. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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