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Conferences should take participants on a journey… to where is the question

Participants join conferences for a range of reasons, from gaining insights through to making connections, but it’s how it’s structured that ultimately determines whether they truly gained value from joining.

In fact, we’d argue a poorly designed programme leaves participants worse off than before they joined. A confusing mishmash of subject matter, random programme sequencing, awkward networking that doesn’t match the right people – all of these and more, can result in a participant feeling they’ve fallen down Alice’s rabbit hole. Not to mention the feeling that their time and attention has been wasted, let alone money*.

By contrast, the best conferences are those that establish a clear red thread or theme, and ensure that every aspect of the programme and event itself lives and breathes it. This culminates in taking participants on a journey, one that delivers answers to their pressing questions and links them up with the right people to help them to continue to work together long after the event.

Success with participant journey mapping comes back to one aspect many conferences organisers fail to appreciate: CAREFUL PLANNING.

It’s a skill, to be sure. And it requires putting yourself into the shoes of your participant. But how do you know what that’s like if you’re not “from their world”? Good old-fashioned primary research. That means conversations with the market; not internet searches or sending a survey.

This gives you unique insights into the challenges a community is facing (their present state), along with where they want to be (their goals or future state). Then “all” you have to do is assemble them and guide them towards closing the gap. Easy!

Well, sort of. To be fair it’s actually pretty difficult. The research part is fraught with its own challenges. First you have to accurately interpret it, then you have to build a programme that, in part informs and in part transforms the information, allowing participants to co-create a pathway forward – a topic we touched on only recently.

Thereafter it’s about communicating it in a way that is simple and clear, but also powerful and compelling. This is particularly important in the case of a virtual event, given how challenging it is to gain and then keep people’s attention online, which is made even harder without a financial commitment in most cases!

The market’s expectation is already there. Participants are increasingly shunning conferences without a relevant purpose and a clear pathway to the goals it states it can achieve.

Which conference host do you want to be?

Let’s talk about it,

*This is an interesting point in today’s climate of virtual conferences that are largely “free” to attend. Whilst it’s true that participants are rarely being asked to pay to join virtual conferences, and there are no longer costs associated with traveling to a destination, we’d argue that for senior decision makers, their time and attention is often far more valuable.


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