What Is Your Ultimate Goal for Your Attendees?

A recent study shows how attending a conference paid off for women both financially and intellectually. With those statistics in mind, consider what long-term benefits you want your attendees to gain from your conferences.

A coworker pointed me to this interesting Harvard Business Review article last week.

In it, Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, shares the results of a study he conducted with author Michelle Gielan—in partnership with the Conference for Women—to test the long-term effects of bringing women together in a conference environment.

I’ll leave it to you to read Achor’s article to get the full details of the study, but here are the basics:

  • The study included 2,600 working women across functions and industries who attended Conferences for Women in several U.S. states. (In case you’re unfamiliar, Conferences for Women is a series of events held nationwide for women from all industries to talk about leadership, fairness, and success.)
  • Since women who attend a conference might be different demographically and psychographically from women who don’t attend, researchers used a control group made up of women who registered for an upcoming conference but had not yet attended.
  • Researchers examined two types of positive outcomes that occurred in the year after the women attended the conference: financial (e.g., pay raises and promotions) and intellectual (e.g., increased optimism, lower stress levels, a feeling of connection). Attendee outcomes were then compared to the control group’s outcomes.

The results, which Achor said astounded him and Gielan, were compelling to me as well. For the women who had registered but not yet attended a conference, 18 percent received a promotion during the period researchers studied, compared to 42 percent of women who had already attended the conference.

“In other words, in the year after connecting with peers at the Conference for Women, the likelihood of receiving a promotion doubled,” Achor wrote.

Plus, 5 percent of the women in the control group received a pay increase of more than 10 percent, compared with 15 percent of women who had attended the conference.

Other notable data points: 78 percent of attendees reported feeling “more optimistic about the future” after a conference, while 71 percent said they felt “more connected to others.”

About that last statistic, Achor wrote, “This is important. … Research has shown that social connection can be as predictive of how long you will live as obesity, high blood pressure, or smoking. There is power in connection.”

What Could It Mean for Your Conferences?

Beyond the interesting data that came from the study, it provides some good food for thought for association professionals as they go about planning and executing their own conferences.

First, it serves as a good reminder to put your attendees’ needs first. Think about what they ultimately want to get out of attending and then help make it happen. If it is a pay raise or promotion, offer sessions that are more career-oriented and teach them strategies for moving forward at work. However, if your attendees are more looking to meet colleagues who they can relate to and share ideas with, then your primary focus should probably be on networking events and small-group discussions. And if they want to think big or consider the future of your industry, bringing in a big-name speaker to inspire them could be the way to go.

Second, the study highlights the impact a conference can have. The strategies Conference for Women attendees learned during the meeting likely contributed their earning promotions and raises. Imagine if your association were able to say that 15 percent of attendees received a double-digit pay raise in the year after your conference. Consider what you need to do better or different to make that happen.

What do you do to ensure that your conference benefits attendees in the long term, whether financially, intellectually, or in some other way? Please share in the comments.

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Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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