So what’s the difference between a growing, healthy conference and a declining one?
(Note to reader: These same mindsets apply to growing organizations, growing memberships, growing programs, etc.)
Well, there are a lot of differences. Leadership—boards, committees, volunteers, staff—of growing, healthy conferences share some common attitudes. And leaders of declining conferences share similar outlooks as well.
These mindsets have a huge influence on a meeting’s outcomes. Here are five leadership attitudes that impact conferences. Which ones do your leaders have?
1. Actionable Metrics Versus Vanity Metrics
The only metrics that conference leaders should review and evaluate are those that help them make important decisions.
Some metrics are like vital signs of the conference. Loyalty rates, percentage of those in education session at any time versus total attendees, top 20 customers investing the most in the meeting are actionable metrics. They include who is coming to the conference more than how many attended.
Some metrics—like number of paid attendees—are vanity metrics. They make the conference leadership feel good but they don’t offer clear guidance on what to do for the future.
Many vanity metrics roll up averages instead of allowing leaders to identify opportunities in outliers. They also compare annual revenue and expenses instead of percentage invested into the attendee experience.
Leaders of healthy conferences focus on actionable metrics. Leaders of declining conferences focus on vanity metrics like registration pace, number of sponsors, and number of speakers.
2. Guiding Principles Versus Members Preferences
Leaders of declining conferences focus on the vocal minority’s preferences.
Chapter President Jill didn’t like the opening general session seating and speaker. She wants Mr. Marquee Name Author as opening speaker next year.
Veteran and longtime member James felt that the lunch décor was lacking and that we should recognize from the podium members who have attended 20+ conferences as well as those members who recently died.
Board members Sue and Sam want to move the locations of future meetings to their hometown and favorite cities.
And so conference planning teams respond. They try to please everybody.
In reality, declining conferences bend to the preferences of a few.
Growing conferences don’t.
Leadership from growing conferences focus on the principles and strategies that will help them reach their target audiences—members and nonmembers alike. They focus on what will drive their mission, not last year’s model. They focus on the challenges that their target audience will face in the next six months, not last year’s problems.
3. Proactive Versus Reactive
“The difference between these two is deadly or life giving,” says Nieuwhof.
Leaders from growing conferences are proactive. They act on issues that can impact their target customers’ futures.
Proactive conference leaders refuse to yield to the agendas of others that take them off their mission. They are biased at being out in front of their target audience and leading them.
Leaders from declining conferences are too busy reacting to problems that seem to deserve urgent action. They respond to problem messengers. They are so busy reacting to members’ requests that they never chart a future for their growth and health.
4. Now Versus Eventually
Leaders of growing conferences act! They act now. Not two years from now.
Leaders of declining conferences don’t.
Leaders of declining conferences don’t say they won’t act. They just say they will act eventually. Or later. Or someday. Or when the time is right—which is code for “not on my watch.”
Great conference leaders know that effectiveness requires acting now. They realize that ineffectiveness says we’ll act on it later.
5. Meeting For Talk Versus Action
Too many conference planning teams—boards, volunteers, advisors, committees, staff—meet for the sake of meeting. It’s an all-hands-on-deck status update.
If you serve on a conference planning team—committee, board, or staff—and you can’t remember the last time you made a major decision that changed the course of your conference strategy, your leaders are wasting time. If you spend your time debating menu selection, room set-ups, or other logistics, you’ve lost the vision and strategy for that event. You’ve become focused on execution versus outcomes.
Should you act on everything? Yes. And No. If you’re not going to act on it, remove it from the planning agenda.
If you’re going to act. Act now.
Make a decision and move on.
Action produces traction. So Act.
Jeff Hurt is the EVP, Education & Engagement, at Velvet Chainsaw. Jeff encourages meetings and events to adopt Evidence Based Education (EBE) methods based on neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and biology. His powerful message is one that moves registrants from meeting attendees to participants in the conference experience with a focus on increasing their ROI of learning. He also has experience working with organizational structures, boards, and committees to help them transition to 21st-century governance models.