The answer to the question, based on numerous event ROI studies, is that exceptional program content is the single most important attribute of any event – more so than location, theme, activities, duration, timing and even cost.
There is no doubt that attendees come to meetings and conferences for a number of reasons. Networking, recognition and an attractive location are still absolutely valid motivations. But any planner who has been managing events for more than five years knows those motivations are becoming less important, while education, access to resources, career enhancement opportunities and business insights are today’s primary motivators.
Content is king. If it (or the format in which it is delivered) is unappealing or feels like a waste of time, then the event’s attendance, participation and impact will nosedive.
In marketing terms, the product must live up to its brand promise or perish.
Happily, planners experience only two major obstacles when trying to appeal to content-hungry audiences. Struggling usually mean lackluster attendance and sagging interest, even at mandatory events. The good news is that the obstacles are relatively easy to solve.
Obstacle No. 1: Executive (internal) presentations
Executive presentations are the No. 1 complaint among meeting audiences of all sizes. Unfortunately, most planners see them as a “necessary evil.” While executives can be undisputed topic experts, they are notoriously ill-prepared, disorganized, repetitive, unclear and unrehearsed, which makes them entirely uninteresting. The alternative, bringing in outside professional speakers is costly and produces a much more general type of content.
Executive presentations pose an even more insidious challenge, though. Executives rarely ask themselves what the audience wants to hear and focus instead on what they want to tell the audience.
The answer is making executives recognize how important they are to an event’s success. One organization recently told 300 distributors that they needed to change their selling strategy or lose their distributorships – and received an unprecedented standing ovation. They did it by preparing weeks in advance, rehearsing repeatedly (with some coaching) and focusing on telling the distributors how they would benefit from making the shift.
Obstacle No. 2: Trying to be all things to all people
Audiences change – and sometimes almost overnight. But most events have a history of “how it is done.” While organizations recognize the need to change, they often are unwilling to give up the old and make room for the new. They also can be woefully ignorant about how much change – and what type of change – is needed.
Doing basic research is the quickest way to determine what your organization should provide in terms of information and structure for attendees. One user group polled a statistically significant group of attendees (and non-attendees) to determine their greatest business challenges and how they preferred to receive information (general sessions, panel discussions, round-tables, workshops, labs, etc.) The group used the research to build a customized program that attracted 30 percent more attendees than before and positioned them strongly against the conferences competing for attendees’ limited budget dollars.