At a recent user conference that used nTAGs, excellent sessions were a powerful event catalyst (or performance driver, in business intelligence terminology). Specifically, for every session an attendee rated as excellent, the attendee’s stated overall satisfaction, awareness of product features, likelihood of sticking with the product, and likelihood of adopting additional product modules all increased about a 10th of a point on average--a statistically significant amount. Those were some hot, hot sessions that meaningfully advanced most key event objectives--except making people want to come back next year.
That’s right: There was no correlation between attending excellent sessions and intending to return the following year. So the irony is that one of the event objectives the organizers cared about the most--driving return attendance--was not impacted by the part of the program they spent the most time on: the sessions.
The “unstickiness” of great sessions may be part of an emerging pattern. We’re seeing the same thing at other user conferences we’ve analyzed, including the one I discussed here. We’re working to collect better data about why this is, but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s because attending a great session doesn’t provide any particular draw for coming back to the event next year (except the vague sense that there might be more great sessions). Specifically, there is no strong desire to come back to see the exact same great session next year. The same is not true for great people, however.
People will come back to the same event to see the same people year after year in order to refresh valuable connections. The data reflects this. At the recent user conference, the more interactions attendees had with alumni (return attendees), the more likely they were to say they were going to come back. Of course, our clients, like most event owners, knew their attendees cared about networking. However, before this analysis, they didn’t quite understand that--in terms of deciding whether to come back next year--this was all they cared about.
Here are a few event-planning lessons we can draw from this:
- To avoid the “Great event--I’m not coming back” phenomenon, spend at least as much energy on creating networking opportunities for your attendees as you do creating a good session program.
- Brand your sessions, as a way to make them stickier. Promote memorable speakers, and bring them back year after year. Repeat memorable formats every year--like “Executive Shark Tank” and “Roadmap Roadkill” (ask me for more details on these)--that will make attendees want to come back.
- Survey the audience about the success of all event objectives, and do the necessary analysis to reveal which catalysts drove each of them. If your client had asked about awareness of product features and overall event satisfaction without asking about likelihood of return, they would have missed a key event catalyst.
From Rick Borovoy’s blog, Meetings 2.0. He is founder and CTO of nTAG.