Over the last twelve months I have attended a lot of marketing, digital and innovation themed conferences, seminars and industry events. A few were a great investment of my time and money. Some were disappointing – but free. Too many of them however were, universally awful. The worst offenders were more hype over substance and I felt ripped off paying for them as I gained nothing from the experience. Isn’t it time we deserved better, smarter and more productive business conferences, events and seminars?
Expectations Over Experience
OK. I got the email. I saw the post and followed the links. Bright web-pages outlined lively agendas. The copy liberally used terms such as ‘thought leaders’ and ‘latest trends’ and ‘case studies’. Booked. In the diary. Looking forward to it.
And then – the great disappointment of the day itself. Or even worse…. the two days. Too many business events, conferences and seminars are an example of ‘E over E’. Where customer expectations are above customer experience.
Too often, one leaves feeling short-changed of your investment in precious time and hard-earned money.
Do I hate business conferences, seminars and events? Far from it – I’m a massive, massive fan. I attend a lot of them as I always see the value and potential for great business events. I love connecting to new ideas, people and knowledge and the attention focus events offer is still the best way to do that. I have a professional interest too. I build, facilitate and manage seminars, events and workshops for my clients so I am always on the hunt for better ways to run them. A well structured seminar, event or conference is often where the ‘real work gets done’; it is where we can gain the know-what, know-how and know-who that can take us forward.
No, I love great events, conferences and seminars.
Which is why I get so disappointed that so many are just so bad.
How To Do It Right
But firstly, who does these kind of things well? Henley Business School run an excellent series of one day Creative Dynamics seminars which feature high quality content, delivered with style in a wonderful venue. The format is focused and simple, the content is sharp and the people attending are great to meet. The content stimulates the thinking and time is given for people to raise the key questions and discuss the topics with new contacts. The RSA also provides a superb series of talks and presentations in London, often delivered by world leading experts. Most RSA events are free to attend and provide content and insights that shame conferences and seminars that charge so much for so little. You can see the latest RSA Events – here. Thoroughly recommended…
So, two examples of great organisations that run great events. However, too many events, conferences and seminars charge far more than Henley and The RSA and deliver a lot less. Too many over sell and under deliver. I am increasingly finding this frustrating and unacceptable. So what is my complaint against the worst offenders? What is the problem? Well here is my starter list;
The Top Five Failures Of Conferences, Seminars And Business Events:
5 – A lacklustre series business pitches from the lectern, masquerading in the agenda as ‘case study’ and ‘insight’. ( ‘Nah. Just re-package the creds deck and talk for 20 minutes. After all – this is sales!’). Sponsors are normally given free rein to present what they like and the result is often seen as nothing more than a sales pitch to a captive audience…
4 – Boring panels, facilitated badly. These result in bland comments and no disagreement. Everyone agrees with everybody else – about everything. One key question from the audience sparks interest and gets to a real tricky real issue – and then the discussion is shut down after quick 30 second replies. Wash, rinse, repeat. Instead, the best panel sessions encourage discomfort and challenge. They feature people who can professionally disagree, argue their case and raise the level of debate in the room.
3 – No genuine fresh research or original content. Many of the worst conferences and events I attended over the past year simply featured NO credible new research, statistics or evidence. Zero. Nothing. Nada.
2 – Repetitive presentations and style. Repetitive presentations and style. Repetitive presentations and style. You get the picture. Poor event agenda, content planning and facilitation means that there is no colour, shade or light to break up the monotonous trail of PowerPoints, often from very similar people, making similar comments about the same topics…
1 – No chance to connect. Too often, coffee breaks and lunches are rushed and there is no attempt made to allow delegates to properly connect to the topic or to other people. We should be encouraging good conversation and new questions. These should be with people you don’t know about something you want to know more about. Conferences, events and seminars are the perfect opportunity to curate and stimulate those great conversations but too many business conferences, seminars and events I attended last year failed on understanding and delivering this.
What can be done? We need a fresh approach to business events, conferences and seminars and I have some ideas to kick off with. See also A More Beautiful Marketing Question.
I’m keen to learn more about what colleagues think about the quality of most business events you attend. What do most conferences, events and seminars do wrong? What frustrates you the most? How do we improve them?
PS: If you work in UK innovation, marketing or digital want to really know the events to avoid like the plague, please get in touch with me… here