Event Bait: Inflated Promises, Empty Wallets, Stolen Time

Event Bait:

Inflated Promises, Empty Wallets, Stolen Time

An invitation to an incredible event or convention arrives in your inbox, and you start to feel those little fizzy bubbles of excitement washing over you as you read through the details. They’ve promised to bring that business guru you’ve always admired to a panel, the location looks like a dream, and you’re already trying to guess what’s inside of the mysterious goodie bags they’ve sufficiently bribed you with. Visions of life-changing conversations with fellow conference-goers and bump-ins with big-name guests are already swirling around in your head, and at this point you’ve justified the hefty price tag that’ll ensure all the above is yours for the taking.

And then you arrive.

The food is lackluster, the panels offer the same old tripe you’ve heard a million times over, and you’re surround by attendees feigning smiles while the crushing regret of spending time and money to be there overwhelms every fiber of their being. But hey, at least that goodie bag sitting on your hotel bed includes some delicious caramel corn you can devour once you get through this next speaker. There’s even chocolate drizzle on it!

The $$$ Event Industry

According to the Convention Industry Council’s “Economic Significance Study of Meetings in the U.S. Economy,” roughly 225 million people spent over $550 million on corporate, not-for-profit, and association-sponsored events, conventions and trade shows in 2012. It’s important to note that this data comes from a time when the economy was still on unstable ground, and when budgets weren’t exactly robust. The study also marked a 10% increase in event attendances from 2009, and it’s safe to assume the participation number keeps rising.

Of course, a percentage of these events leave attendees feeling at least sated, if not invigorated. But there’s no denying that many fail to deliver on overinflated promises and rob you of precious time and money.

Mary Thorne, based in the pacific northwest, recently attended a ~$500 marketing conference that was paid for on behalf of her employer. Though she didn’t feel the sting associated with paying for the event herself, she was still underwhelmed and lost precious time that could have been spent on something more productive.

“They had pretty high brow speakers, and there were more than a couple that were bummers because they were almost out of touch with reality,” she explains. For example, “marketing execs from Microsoft talking about how great bots are,” or big-name company panelists discussing topics and ideas that “were either above my head or were rooted in affluence.”

Thorne says that even though there were positive aspects of the event, she still left feeling frustrated. And she’s not alone.

Travel writer Karon Warren attended one of the industry’s biggest conventions a couple years ago – covering admission, lodging and food on her own dime – and was appalled at how poorly planned and unprofessional it was from start to end.

“It was disorganized, the sessions I attended did not reflect the session description in the program, and the speed dating was a mess,” she explains.

She added that the overall vibe of the event felt more like a “party scene” than a professional conference, which further added to her frustration. She even took the time to discuss the above issues with the organizer, but with no success.

Event Planners – You Can Do Better

“With the occasional exception, my mood in conferences usually swings between boredom, despair and rage,” writes Duncan Green in a rant posted to his blog, and then later at The Guardian. As the primary conference offenders, he cites “self-aggrandizing keynotes and coma-inducing panels, followed by people (usually men) asking ‘questions’ that are really comments, and usually not on topic” and “the chairs who abdicate responsibility and let all the speakers over-run, so that the only genuinely productive bit of the day (networking at coffee breaks and lunch) gets squeezed.”

Bottom line: If people are laying out tons of cash and forfeiting their time, make their investment worth it.

For starters, go beyond the clichés – “we should empower women!” “Bots are great!” – and feature a diverse range of keynotes and panelists who offer groundbreaking, genuinely compelling information in their field of expertise. Will it be easy to find these people and pull the good stuff out of them? No. Will your efforts be worthwhile for participants? Absolutely.

Also, don’t lock attendees in a stuffy conference room and subject them to a nauseating festival of dry Powerpoints. Mix up the format with well-planned speed pitching and interactive events, and carve out plenty of time for collaborating and networking.

On that same note, long doesn’t equal better. The average attention span of humans in 2015 was 8.25 seconds, and while you’re not going to accomplish anything of significance in that period of time, you can at least be mindful of the fact that people don’t do well sitting and listening for extended periods of time. Keep the panels interesting and informative, but also make sure they’re not unnecessarily longwinded.

The moral of the story here is not that events, conventions and conferences are bad. Contrarily, it’s that they have the potential to be outstanding. So event planners, if you’re going to bait attendees, at least vow to put something really delicious on the end of that hook.

Wendy Rose Gould

Wendy Rose Gould is a reporter based in Phoenix, Arizona. She covers women’s lifestyle topics for numerous digital publications, including Refinery29, InStyle, xoVain, Headspace, PopSugar and ModCloth. You can learn more about her at WendyGould.com.

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