Where’s the Value of Conferences These Days?

Topics: Associations

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Are sponsors, exhibitors and attendees starting to question the value of conferences these days? Is the meeting bubble starting to break?

Well consider these two recent occurrences:

First, Association Forum is still looking for major event sponsors for its flagship one day event Holiday Showcase. For example, still up for grabs are the $55K luncheon and the $35K reception sponsorships among others. Both huge items when you consider the event in only seven weeks away.

Second, there is ASAE’s Springtime event that had its booth sales go live in a lottery format two weeks ago is now only partially sold with plenty of booths still available. Maybe it’s because this one-day event rivals the ASAE Annual Meeting in overall cost for an exhibitor – and that’s for just 4 hours of exhibit time!

smartguyOK, I’ll tell you what’s eating at me. Sure, we produce conference materials so you may think I am biased but I also ATTEND over 12 conferences each year (both industry events and some outside). I am appalled at the dwindling value that some of these events offer.

Attendees airfare costs more, the hotel room costs more, the meals cost more, etc., etc. Then attendees hear “paperless this” and “green that”… C’mon! I am for greening initiatives but not at the expense what is (used to be?) one of the core mission of most association events – EDUCATION!

Here’s what I suggest (from a sponsor and attendee point of view):

  • Cut back on all the fluff – The coffee breaks, the luncheons, banquets, the gobos, etc and take those sponsor dollars to the education side of event. Take a cue from HSMAI’s Affordable Meetings and make the education the focus, not the shrimp cocktail. Most waistlines (mine included) could use the break.
  • Align Sponsorship with Education – Make the sessions themselves sponsor opportunities where possible. This way, sponsors could be associated with the lasting value of education versus the coffee and pastry that cost $20 a head and will be gone from the mind (and body) within an hour or two.
  • Build Better Programs – Put money into developing killer programs using the latest social networking tools that will engage attendees before the event. That way, sessions presented at the event are of interest to the attendees because they helped develop it.
  • Engage More Members – Make it easier for the common member to participate as a volunteer staffing registration, session rooms, email stations, stuffing bags, writing session summaries for web postings, helping speakers in the session rooms, etc.
  • Deliver Education! – Lastly, provide tools that facilitate learning. Printed books, workbooks, handouts, etc in the best format possible for the learning styles present – print or digital media. Then offer links or options to get additional content if work products were produced at the event. If your event is large enough, offer attendees a choice or a “buy” option. I’d gladly pay another $15 to have the materials in my hand during the event… Since I’ve already paid $1000 to $2000 just to eat, fly and sleep.

The core missions of most events are education and networking right!?!

Let’s get back to the mission and improve meetings today — Then sponsors and attendees will see the value.

P.S. Regarding sponsorship, Association Forum recently posted some keen insights from frequent industry sponsors. Find their comments at the Association Forum newsletter archive. It’s worth a quick read as sponsors eye their opportunities carefully for 2009. They also point to some other useful sponsorship resources.


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October 22nd, 2008Beth from Avenue Z says:

Excellent points, Paul. Associations can create more value by focusing their meetings on things attendees can’t get on their own, and LIVE education is definitely top of the list. With all the distractions we working people have at our desks, attending a conference is really the only time we have to truly focus on education. If we’re sitting in our offices trying to learn something online, we have too many distractions.

A second area where associations can focus is professional networking…. not just cocktail hour networking, but a full-on, face-to-face, peer-to-peer exchanges of ideas. Conferences that emphasize this as a benefit for attending can really show the importance of going to an event.

Twitter: AvenueZ


October 22nd, 2008Paul Wehking says:

Beth – thanks for the input! Must be your Type A personality suggesting the “full on” peer to peer networking! Really, I think you have a great point. Question for you however… is this not what “round table sessions” are for? Are you suggesting a new millennium version of round tables where all participate and really get a lively discussion going?? Can you expand on your thought a bit?

Twitter: paulwehking


October 22nd, 2008Beth from Avenue Z says:


Yep — more round table discussions. More facilitated peer interactions. More discussion-related sessions. Sure there are many sessions where it makes sense for one person to present, but associations are the best place in the world to find all the experts one industry can handle. Why not give them more opportunities at a conference to learn from each other as well as the chosen presenters?

When I used to record sessions for conferences, association executives loved for us to get the Q&A at the end of a session because that’s where the true discussion takes place.

So, when you advocate less cocktail parties and more education, I’d like to add more opportunities for round table-type discussions as well.

Oh, and shhhh… I keep the fact that I am a Type A secret from the world. I strive to look laid back and happy-go-lucky. Don’t I look relaxed? Well, don’t I? 😉

Twitter: AvenueZ

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