Association Congress

Monday, 25 July 2011

Why you should never listen to conference delegates

This isn’t one of those ironic or sarcastic titles; this is how I feel. And no doubt this will surprise many of you. But I also know that a few of you will agree adn echo my calls! "NEVER LISTEN TO DELEGATES"

So, how can an events professional who has run over 700 odd events say this I hear you ask? Well, the truth be told, it is because I am an events professional who has run over 700 odd events. Let me explain.

I’ve given several presentations over the last year trying to install in event organisers some fortitude. To have the confidence to say ‘no’ to clients, managers or stakeholders, when you think they are making daft suggestions. Stay strong, adopt a solid event managment process like this and have confidence in your experience I say. And it’s fair that this message gets through. But when I suggest that event organisers ignore the ‘customer’ the resistance barriers shoot up immediately.

Delegates haven’t seen such riches so they can live with being poor

I sat in on a session recently which was almost exclusively attended by CEOs. It was a wonderfully planned session and had huge potential. Unfortunately a few things went awry. The IT broke down; the facilitator didn’t facilitate or engage people: he spoke at them. The excellent brief wasn’t followed and none of the questions were answered; well apart from the Facilitators pet questions of course. There weren’t any take homes for delegates and I felt like I had sat in on a bitching session about their organisations. A truly awful session. Later that day I asked a few delegates what they thought of the session, and (I would love to say to my surprise) some of them thought it was ‘quite good / good’.

Their response wasn’t necessary a reflection of the session: it was a demonstration of how low people’s expectations are of conferences in general. If the speaker is reasonable, and you aren’t poked in the eye with a sharp stick people don’t tend to complain. If they cover something that is relevant and perhaps allow you to think about things that you don’t normally worry about in your day to day working life, you are happy. But delegates do not know what riches these sessions can deliver, if they are structured beautifully and executed with precision. Delegates are happy with being poor. You shouldn't be.

Lead don’t follow

I knew the session above was rubbish simply because I have attended hundreds of better sessions. But I know this because it’s my job to know it. I keep up to date with the new innovations in meetings and I go to as many events run by other organisers (and I unashamedly act as a magpie) and borrow best practice. And this is what all organisers should do. This is our job.

We can not only listen to what delegates think of our conferences and I believe we’ve been doing this too long. We are too scared to stand up for our profession and say “I am the events expert here, I understand the best way to facilitate networking and to help you learn”. We know what value conferences can deliver and we must challenge ourselves and our delegates. Take them out of poverty, don’t let them set the bar so low, and show them what riches a conference can deliver.

1 comment:

  1. William:

    You are making some bold statements...and I like them! I think we could say, "Never listen to your event delegates and always listen to your event delegates!" Both statements have truths to certain contexts.

    I concur with what you said. Many event delegates don't know what they don't know. They are not the experts in designing real learning opportunities...unless it's a conference of learning professionals.

    I say we need some balance. We need someone to act as a film director stating when some experience is too much, or not enough, or too plain, or too wild. Our delegates don't often think about what's in the best interest of everyone involved.

    Thanks for these strong words. And time for meeting professionals to step up to the plate and embrace the role wholeheartedly.