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20 Reasons Delegates Attend Conferences

Despite the millions of meetings, conferences and events taking place each year, I had a hard time finding a consolidated list of reasons that delegates attend conferences. To be clear, I wanted the delegate perspective and I wanted something more specific than “great content” and “networking.”

Frustrated that I could not find a prepackaged lists of reasons, I decided to make my own list. All of the items on this list came from secondary research and reading blogs and rants on the internet. As I came across new reasons for attending a conference, I added them to my notebook. After the list grew to 20, I thought the list might grow faster with your input. I am hoping that YOU will add anything that is missing. Will you agree to do that for me?

Photo Courtesy of BlueSkyPoint CC License

Photo Courtesy of BlueSkyPoint CC License

Here is my list of 20 reasons delegates attend conferences – in no particular order:

  1. Learn best practices
  2. Learn new skills – How To’s
  3. Learn about new trends
  4. See a vision of the future
  5. Listen to a “Star” speaker
  6. Earn continuing education credits
  7. Get New Ideas
  8. Try new concepts
  9. Listen to industry experts
  10. Gain inspiration – from networking with peers in the industry
  11. Meet new people
  12. Re-connect with old friends
  13. Share war stories (Share stories of difficult challenges overcome)
  14. Share your experiences
  15. Meet with like minded people
  16. Become reenergized as you become part of the larger whole
  17. Discuss common problems
  18. Realize that you are not alone with your thoughts and opinions
  19. Meet with several suppliers or customers in one place
  20. Had to go – the meeting was mandatory

As you probably noticed, this list is not comprehensive. With any luck, you are already thinking of one or two items that I have missed. If so, please add them in the comments section.

Why do I think this list is important?

I like to look for “hidden” insights that might help me change my perspective and challenge me to think differently. If I can learn something new that changes my perspective – then I might be able to come up with better recommendations, new solutions, etc.

For example, once this list was assembled the following words jumped out at me: Try, Share, Meet and Discuss. To me, these are action words used by people that like to engage in dialogue at conferences. They are not the words of people that want to sit and be entertained for 8 hours.

Equally important, I feel like the networking objectives were really specific, actionable and measurable: connect with old friends, meet new people, meet like minded people and share your experiences. It might just be me, but I can see value in developing networking activities (technology based and non-tech based) that help participants achieve some combination of these objectives.

What can you do?

I need you to join this conversation. Please help me fill in the gaps in this list. Let me know what is missing. Share your ideas and point of view. The goal here is to get as many people as possible commenting – positive and negative – so that everyone can benefit from your knowledge, expertise and ideas. I believe that together – we can create better ideas and solutions.

25 Comments Post a comment
  1. Joan Eisenstodt #

    Interestingly, some years ago, when I served as a Trustee, MPI’s Foundation conducted two remarkable studies about why people attend meetings/conferences — 1 for the assn. market, the other corporate. They looked at the value for the meeting sponsors and the meeting participants.

    Some of what you have in your list is a good beginning. What made me wonder tho’ was why many of the verbs were “listen” not “interact” — and I figured it’s because meetings are still not designed to be interactive.

    My additions:
    – Experience: gatherings that can be built on/copied for their own work; a destination that offers art, music, culture, food, etc., that is new and different; settings and content & delivery that stretches their thinking and actions.
    – Try, via experimentation, & practice solutions to situations.
    – Relax.
    – Energize.

    Of course all this depends on how a meeting/conf. is designed – and we’re not ‘there’ yet w/ good design.

    Good dicussion. Thanks for opening it up here.

    July 21, 2009
    • Hi Joan,

      Thanks for your ideas and comments. These are great additions!

      I like your observations about listening, interaction and design. You make me think that this list can change quite a bit in the next 18 months. Every time that I turn around I hear about another corporation that is rolling out wikis, blogs and microblogging in their company to generate ideas, share best practices and unlock the SMEs. After these social technologies become more of a SOP for corporate life – I imagine that it will influence participants desire for more interaction in conferences. I don’t know if this will be the case, but I won’t be surprised if it happens this way.

      thanks again for your additions!

      – Sam

      July 22, 2009
      • Joan Eisenstodt #

        WILL participants use all the technology, Sam? I have seen so little being done. MPI started the Wiki some years ago; MPI, PCMA, ASAE and others have all the cool stuff in place for the ‘annual’ meetings – and for other times – and few use them. I see even fewer use them from corps. & other professions associations.
        That said, I’m also not seeing evidence that organizations, in and outside the hospitality/meetings industry,listen and pick up on the daily issues that could then be part of some neat topics — even ‘just in time’ or unconference-y discussions.
        More in other posts to what you wrote about things sounding motivational.

        July 22, 2009
        • Joan, those are juicy topics!

          You ask a great question – WILL participants use ALL the technology? the short answer is NO they WILL NOT and NO they SHOULD not. The technology choices need to be aligned with the meeting objectives. You need to select the right tool for the job – just the same way that you select a drill to make a round hole and a hammer to put a nail in wood.

          In general, I agree with you that adoption rates for tech (and new event formats) have been lower than they should be. I think that some people just keep doing more of the same each year, because it is easy. Also, I don’t think that the juicy case studies from these new tech and non-tech tools are getting in front of everyone.

          Ok – I have a lot more to say about this but I have to run. hope this helps!

          – Sam

          July 23, 2009
  2. to visit a new place, see a new town, maybe there are tours relating to the content in the conference city? (we call these “Action Labs”)

    July 21, 2009
    • Hi Karen,

      I feel like this was one of those “obvious” ones that I missed. I was just at a conference in London where I was talking to an association executive about the challenges he faces with selling his destination choice.

      thanks for your comment!

      – Sam

      July 22, 2009
      • Joan Eisenstodt #

        “Action labs” perhaps — and also, if you’ve read Dan Pink’s “A Whole New Mind”,you’ll see examples of how art and other “cultcha” can broaden one’s POV. Our right brains need to be fed esp. at technical conferences.

        July 22, 2009
  3. Hello Samuel,

    – I think another could be “Motivation”, some times companies send people in order to provide them something for free, show them they are important and this way keep them motivated.(Don’t know if you meant this with point #16 though)
    – Unfortunately some participants also are there just to show off or sell.

    Cheers!

    July 21, 2009
    • Hi KenaSiu,

      That’s a great insight. To me 4,5,7, 16,18 all sound motivational. Also, Joan’s energize and Relax AND Karen’s destination sound motivational to me too.

      Thanks for your comment and the RT!

      – Sam

      July 22, 2009
  4. Dianne Davis #

    Great idea. And agree – there are endless reasons people attend conferences. This list could easily match the # of individuals who attend conferences.

    Here’s what I would add:

    1. Political reasons – want to influence the people and the process.

    2. Visibility – want to be seen at the right, happening place at the right time.

    3. To align yourself with a cause.

    4. In this market – network for job and freelance opps.

    5. To be a DVLS! If you want to know what that is you will have to ask me directly!!!! 😉 (Joan?)

    July 21, 2009
    • Thanks for your contributions Dianne! these are awesome additions. And, I will send you an email to ask about DVLS.

      – Sam

      July 22, 2009
  5. I think you got a lot of it correct. Ultimately, and Joan will appreciate this, I think it’s about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: finding security in self & employment (staying in touch with trends), and finding a place of acceptance and belonging.

    Why would anyone pay to attend a conference? Even if the event is free, people are paying their time to be there. What need does it meet that they will pay to attend?

    Bottom line, we are not made to be alone or lone-ranger individuals. We are made to be part of a larger community. We enjoy being in a room of like-minded individuals with similar concerns, challenges and opportunities. Many times our reasons for attending a conference are purely self-serving and to meet our own needs.

    Have you ever attended a conference as a means of giving to others? Giving your time, your talents, your skills?

    When meeting organizers get back to basics and see conference as touch points for community, they’ll stop trying to cram more information into our brains in 8 hours a day. They will move to becoming conduits, helping people make connections, share information, listen to one another and collaborate. Conferences have become too predictable and unforgettable anyway.

    July 22, 2009
    • Interesting perspective, Jeff, thanks for sharing! I like your Maslow’s hierarchy of needs analogy. Though, I admit that I had to go look it up to remember all of the levels. The point that I am taking away is that conferences have a unique opportunity to support our “Social Needs.” Plus, psychologically this may be more important than any of the learning opportunities.

      Your point about conferences being touchpoints for community is interesting, too. I recently read that 70% of our learning is Social. At first, I was shocked by the stat – then I thought about my own situation and I realized that most of my learning is informal or social. This could be a very powerful shift.

      Great Points! Thanks for contributing!

      – Sam

      July 22, 2009
  6. alliancetech #

    Sam,

    A key reason, for some, is to influence.

    Some do this well by balancing the listening, learning and influencing aspects of the meeting. Others, unfortunately, just make a pain of themselves by focusing all their efforts on broadcasting their message. This is sometimes a challenge for the event planner.

    Good topic for discussion.

    July 22, 2009
    • Hi Roger,

      Influence others. I like the addition!

      I know that “that guy,” too! He is the one with that gives a 30 second pitch about himself before asking questions in the Q&A.

      Thanks for your comments!

      – Sam

      July 22, 2009
  7. Some are attending because they are new to the profession or industry and are looking to do a deep dive in terms of connecting to the content and the community.

    And while I respect and agree with Jeff Hurt’s observations about the value of connecting members of a community, an alternative view of his 8-hours of information crammed down my throat would be: 8 hours of powerful content relevant to my short- and long-term needs delivered in interesting ways that engaged presenter’s expertise and the wisdom of the community. It’s not the time block that’s inherently evil; it’s the formats used within it.

    July 22, 2009
    • Hi Jeffrey,

      Great point about the “new person.” Their segment of the audience will naturally be more attracted to the content than an SME, industry veteran or influencer type person. You are making me think that creating audience profiles and mapping social/learning needs to those profiles would help develop a more customized event.

      In your alternative formats for delivering content would you allocate chunks of time to help people make connections, share information, listen to one another and collaborate? Or do you see the new formats being specifically for content delivery?

      Thanks for your input! I appreciate it.

      – Sam

      July 22, 2009
  8. What a terrific list. I’ll start using it straight away!

    Julius

    July 22, 2009
    • Cool! thanks Julius. Don’t forget to add the additional 10 items from the other commenters!!

      – Sam

      July 22, 2009
  9. Sometimes at conferences my mind is far enough removed from my desk to give it some freedom from the unending to-do list, yet it’s engaged in association issues of course and so not completely removed from those work challenges. Relaxed yet engaged. At those moments I often come up with new ideas and new approaches to challenges — breakthroughs and a-ha moments.

    July 22, 2009
    • Hi Dierdre,

      You make a really good point about separating yourself from the daily churn of email, phone calls and last-minute items. These items can distract us from looking at the world in a new way and coming up with breakthrough solutions.

      Thanks for commenting! this is great!

      – Sam

      July 22, 2009
    • I agree with you Deirdre re creating the space in one’s mind to play with ideas and also be stimulated to springboard to even bigger ideas.

      I like to use some meetings as a personal roaming sounding board. I can try ideas on a few folks, makes some adjustments and try out next version on new people.

      When events have the cool element I’ll ask myself how to apply elements or lessons learned it to whatever idea I’m playing with as well.

      Access to the right people can add a lot of meeting value for me – and the “right people” may vary based upon what I’m working on, playing with – or looking to learn.

      Thanks for starting the list and launching the conversation Sam!

      Cynthia

      July 22, 2009
      • Hi Cynthia,

        Personal Roaming Sounding Board, I like the ring of that. I believe that networking is better when we have something specific to discuss. I wonder if the shy people would feel more comfortable talking if the networking time was a structured as Personal Roaming Sounding Board time?

        Also, I like your point about the “right people.” I can see how this would vary not only by participant type – but by individual.

        Thanks again for the comments and sharing this post on twitter!

        – Sam

        July 23, 2009

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Midcourse Corrections » Blog Archive » Is Social The New Conference Black & Are Attendee Lists The New Allure?
  2. How to Save Attendees from Networking Hell « Interactive Meeting Technology

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