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The Old Industry Conference Model is Broken

The Old Industry Conference Model is Broken by Dan Gingiss

We’re excited to bring you a guest post from Dan Gingiss, Chief Experience Officer of The Experience Maker, LLC. Dan's 20-year career has consistently focused on delighting customers, spanning multiple disciplines including Social Media, Customer Service, Marketing, and Digital Customer Experience. Dan is the author of the book, Winning at Social Customer Care: How Top Brands Create Engaging Experiences on Social Media. He also co-hosts the Experience This! podcast, a weekly look at what’s working – and not working! – in the world of customer experience. And in case you missed it, he presented an incredible webinar with us on Creating Remarkable Customer Experiences at Your Next Event that we highly recommend.

Is the old industry conference model broken? If so, it might take a disruptor to shake things up like in other businesses.

In any given week, professionals can find dozens of industry conferences in major cities where they can network and presumably learn something new. And while these events successfully draw day-to-day practitioners eager to ditch their cubicles for something more interesting and interactive, the educational value of the content provided is often questionable. 

One reason for this is the method by which many industry events seek out speakers. Managed by the event sales and marketing teams, the process usually identifies people in two major categories (with some overlap) – sponsors and big corporate logos. 

The sales team is interested in funding the event with corporate sponsors, so they offer up speaking opportunities as a “carrot” to those willing to shell out thousands of dollars to have their name on the wall and in the program. The marketing team wants big corporate logos so they can show them to prospective attendees in hopes of impressing them with the quality of other people attending the event.

What’s missing is any filter to determine if these people can actually communicate effectively from the stage.

Public speaking is a developed skill, and it requires the person on stage to maintain the audience’s attention while educating them and – hopefully – entertaining them at the same time. The thing about corporate sponsors and corporate executives, though, is that not all of them are good at public speaking. It’s not their fault; it just isn’t their area of expertise.

You wouldn’t want an untrained airplane pilot flying you across the country; why would you want an untrained speaker in front of your paying customers? 

The issue is exacerbated by the fact that the attention span of an audience is shorter than ever. As customer experience expert and keynote speaker Brian Solis notes in his new book, Lifescale, we are all too easily distracted today – with technology, with multitasking and with – what was I saying again? – oh yeah, with increasing demands on our time at work and home.

As corporations are taking a harder look at travel and entertainment expenses and demanding that conference attendees return to the office with actionable learnings, it’s more important than ever that the speakers at an industry conference keep the audience’s attention and prevent them from reaching for their mobile devices.

Here are some tips for ensuring high-quality content at your next industry event:

  1. Insist that the talk topic is something of interest to your audience. Demos and sales pitches may sound good to sponsors, but audiences don’t want that from a keynote stage.
  2. Ask speakers to send their presentations ahead of time so you can review them. Do not allow slides that have tons of words, graphs, or tiny images. The slides should be simple and supplement the discussion, allowing the audience to keep their eyes on the speaker instead of trying to decipher bullet points in 8-point font.
  3. Request a video of the speaker presenting at another event to determine if he or she will be a good fit for your event.
  4. Consider asking a sponsor to, well, sponsor a professional speaker for the event. While that speaker will demand a speaker’s fee, the quality of the presentation will likely be much higher and the sponsor will enjoy being associated with a memorable talk.

Remember that customer experience includes every single interaction a customer has with a brand. So for a conference, that means the location, meals, snacks, WiFi, networking, entertainment, swag bags and yes, speakers all contribute to the overall attendee experience. A bad speaker can ruin an otherwise great experience at a conference and cause an attendee to reconsider returning the next year.


Dan GingisDan Gingiss is Chief Experience Officer of The Experience Maker, LLC. You can find Dan on LinkedIn and Twitter.



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