If you’re like me (chances are you’re much cooler), you’ve attended, planned and/or led many conferences over the years. Of those that have had the biggest positive impact on attendees, what was it that made them stand out? For me, this blog post from Seth Godin clearly identifies key characteristics of such events (no surprise there…that’s why he’s one of the most influential bloggers in the world, while I’m a…financial analyst).
As you read his post, reflect on how well his descriptions apply to the event(s) you lead, particularly those held on a recurring basis. Then ask yourself the following questions:
- “If everything is on the line, if in any given moment, someone is going to say or do something that might just change everything.” Will the freedom of interaction, personalities of faculty and breakout leaders, ideas offered, challenges discussed, surprises planned (or unplanned), and event venue produce the kinds of interactions and exchange of ideas that have to be experienced in person, in real-time, in the moment they occur? To use an entertainment analogy, are your events “must-see TV” or just additional episodes drawing out the lifespan of a show which once had promise but now just primarily resides on your DVR?
- “If there’s vulnerability and openness and connection…at most events, people are on high alert, clenched and protective.” Again, how free is the flow and exchange of ideas, both in formal presentation settings as well as informal gatherings? How generous are your presenters and faculty in terms of listening to your attendees’ ideas, respecting the vulnerability behind their questions, and responding with genuine connection rather than rote, impersonal responses which exterminate rather than germinate ideas? Your attendees will notice, and your event will earn the reputation it deserves (whether good or bad).
- “If there’s support…at most events, competitiveness born from insecurity trumps mutual support.” What will it take for each attendee to “win”? For all attendees to “win”? For all attendees and presenters/speakers to “win”?
- “If it’s part of a movement…if the attendees are part of a tribe that goes beyond demographics or professional affiliation.” If you’re familiar with Godin’s ideas, you’re likely aware of the value he places on tribes. Does your event promote, nourish, and maintain a tribal culture? If so, it will increase the attendee return rate as well as draw new participants through passionate word of mouth advertising.
Of the events with which we’re involved, an example of one that fits Godin’s criteria quite well is the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference (check out the event here). How well does your event meet Godin’s standard? And, more importantly, what criteria do you use to judge whether a conference works or not?