Meetings

Say Goodbye to These Conference Elements

By / Dec 20, 2018 (Liia Galimzianova/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

It’s almost a new year, which means it’s a good time to say goodbye to things that just aren’t working anymore. For meeting planners, here are three conference elements to consider leaving behind in 2018.

For the past few years, I’ve focused my end-of-year blog post on what issues meeting planners should keep in mind or trends they should consider implementing as they go about the next 365 days.

But this year, I’m taking a different route by looking at three conference elements or practices I really don’t want to see in 2019. Here goes.

“Shiny New Technology” Syndrome

Don’t get me wrong. Technology plays a huge role in enhancing the conference experience for attendees. For example, event apps make it easier for them to connect, stay in the know regarding onsite changes, and take session notes, while livestreaming technology allows people to attend who may otherwise have been unable to.

But I’ve also seen organizations so excited to try the newest and coolest technology that they lose sight of what their attendees actually want. Sure, hologram technology is out there (hello, Roy Orbison concert tour), but is that really what your attendees are looking for in a keynote speaker? Probably not.

What they do want is technology that enhances their experience and makes their lives easier while they’re onsite. And, more important, they want fast, reliable, and free Wi-Fi connection.

In an article posted on BizBash, Nicky Balestrieri, cofounder of experiential design agency The Gathery, had this to say about event technology that lacks purpose: “Interpersonal exchange is at the core of experience and event design, and if technology doesn’t enhance that one end, it has no place in the design.”

Manels

Conference panels often get scrutinized—rightfully so—for their lack of diversity, particularly when they feature all men. There should be no more “manels” in 2019.

Earlier this year, Bizzabo’s Gender Diversity & Inclusion Report revealed a depressing statistic: Of the more than 60,000 presenters at events all over the world over the past five years, just 31 percent were female.

In March, an applied history conference at Stanford University featured 30 panelists who were all white male historians. At RSA Conference, a major cybersecurity event in April, 19 of the 20 keynote speakers were men. Both conferences faced heavy criticism, and organizers of RSA went on to develop a new diversity and inclusion initiative.

Point is, representation matters, and the panelists at your conferences need to provide diverse conversation with multiple viewpoints to your attendees. If they don’t, you’re doing your organization and your attendees a disservice.

Marathon Days

Think about your annual meeting for a minute: It probably includes several blocks of education sessions, hours of networking time, events every night, and very little time for attendees to relax. And while you may have the best intentions in designing your meeting this way, you could be running your attendees ragged.

In 2019, it’s time to put more emphasis on your attendees’ well-being. In a blog post earlier this year, I shared a few ideas for associations to consider. One was building downtime into the agenda to let attendees catch up with personal business, speak to family and friends, explore the host city, or work out. Another was providing them a place to escape to while in the conference venue—whether a quiet room or relaxation lounge.

Doing this may make them more attentive during sessions, meetings, and networking events—a win-win for associations and attendees.

What other conference elements or practices do you want to see left behind in 2018? Please share in the comments.

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now. More »

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