Customers, Clients, and Attendees

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While it doesn't seem like it should matter what you call the people who come to your meetings, it really does reflect your mindset. As Seth Godin points out, customers (or attendees) are those who buy what you're already selling. Clients (or participants) are those who come to you with an educational/networking/whatever need that you then design the event to fulfill.

As Godin says, "The key distinction is who goes first, who gets to decide when it's done." How many meeting planners really dig in and do the research to find out what people need—or have people come to them and say, "hey, we really need this"?

Sure, everyone does the best they can with evaluation results, surveys, focus groups, calls for presentations, and the like, because that's often all the tools you have to try to get inside people's minds. But wouldn't it be amazing if, instead of putting something together and then asking people to buy into it, people felt free to ask you to design something they desperately want and need? How differently would you approach that conference's planning?

Discuss this Blog Entry 4

on Jul 15, 2013

Here's the problem Sue. As you know, I've now spent 20+ years comparing what conference organizers/program committees think people want to learn about with what participants actually want to learn about when they are given the choice _at the event_.

The results are dismal: the _best_ program committees predict at most half the topics that attendees actually end up discussing. I won't share here how poor the worst predictions are.

It turns out that _everyone_ is lousy at knowing what they want to learn until push comes to shove. (American idiom: the rubber hits the road?) That includes attendees who are asked before the event. Here's what I wrote on the topic a couple of years ago:

http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/event-design/2011/10/do-con...

When you use good group process to uncover what people want to learn about while they are together, all kinds of topics emerge that would never have seen the light of day at a conventional event.

Yes, during the resulting conference you rarely see the polished presentations that dominate conventional events. But, in my experience (and that of ~98% of participants), the quality of the connections, just-in-time learning, engagement, and community-building that result when attendees create a conference program together far outweigh the weak outcomes of traditional meetings.

When I hear people saying that a conventional event will be of value if they get just one good thing out of it, I'm saddened by how low the bar is being set. We can do a lot better, and we now know how. Sadly, the fear of doing something different stops most meeting organizers from making a different choice.

on Jul 17, 2013

I absolutely buy what you're saying, but I also imagine the thought of waiting to set the agenda until the meeting is convened would bring terror into the heart of most meeting managers. How do you ensure you have the right people to address what participants want to learn? How do you convince them to come without the usual parade of topics and SMEs? And how does that scale for a large, multi-day, multi-track conference?

on Jul 22, 2013

Some short answers to your four questions:

1) If you are stuck in the "program trap" (see my book) then yes, you will be scared of doing anything significantly different from the conferences we are all too familiar with.

2) At participant-driven events you cannot _ensure_ that there will be people who can address every topic that people want to learn about. In my experience over the last twenty years, such topics comprise about 1-2% of all topics requested. The process I've developed ensures that these topics are not offered. At repeated conferences, these topics are used to inform selection of prepared sessions for the following year.

3) Chapter 17 in the book explains how to market participant-driven and participation-rich events.

4) Multiple days are no problem (I've been running a four-day annual peer conference for 22 years now.) By the end of July my supplement to Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love should be available as a free ebook. In one of the sections I share how to extend the format to conferences that are larger than 100 participants.

on Jul 24, 2013

Thanks Adrian!

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