5 Things We Expect (and Rarely Get) from Conference Sessions

by Jeannie Walters

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We’re approaching the end of the first quarter of 2014, which is a good time to assess what has worked and what hasn’t. And as I review what I’ve taken away from the events of 2013, I can’t help but think of all the poor keynotes, conference sessions and overhyped exhibit halls I’ve gained almost nothing from.

conference sessions

Who’s stolen the show?

It seems the way events are produced has become so much about sponsorships and big names that real content, preparation and vetting have fallen away.

There were some great speakers this year. There were some great opportunities at conferences. But too often, the content and presenters seem ill-prepared or just plain bored.

I know this might seem self-serving because I’m a speaker and I always enjoy it. I admit I have great days and not-so-great days, like anyone. I’ve had technology fail and introductions falter. I know how difficult it can be to present to a group of tired people at the end of a long day. But the way speakers are being asked to participate solely on their sponsorship dollars leaves a lot to be desired. I witnessed a KEYNOTE where the presenter showcased his stunning visual – an Excel spreadsheet with 11 point font. I wish I was kidding. Looking more carefully at the program, I realized two things about the presenter.

  1. His company was a client of the main sponsor.
  2. That main sponsor had paid his way into the keynote position.

There was no denying it. And it was a sad day for those of us stuck in the audience.

conference sessions

 Leaving empty-handed: Where are my real “takeaways?”

Why do event organizers behave in this way? If the point of an event is to get people to learn, share and hopefully sign up again, the content better be great. Big conferences don’t seem to want to invest in this part of the conference, and it shows. How many times do people brag about “never attending a session” at South By Southwest Interactive?

I really, really hope 2014 is a better year for conference content and speakers. Here are a few suggestions for the event planners out there.

  1. Invest both financially and in time to ensure your speakers are ready and prepared. Pay their expenses at the least and understand their content well.
  2. Ensure content isn’t completely redundant. If speakers keep saying “well I guess Joe already covered this,” that’s not the presenter’s fault. Planners and organizers should know who is presenting what and how it can benefit the audience.
  3. Be truthful about what level of knowledge there will be. Some people love case studies, some don’t. Some want basic information, others want deeper dives. Describe the content thoughtfully so fair expectations are set.
  4. Wake up to the social sphere around the event. Make it easy for attendees and speakers to have wifi, present the hashtag early and often, and monitor what’s happening in real time. I was at one event where there were about 30 of us complaining about how cold it was. Several hours later, an organizer said he was informed by their social media team in another state that we were cold. Too late!
  5. Help Q&A happen. The questions often lead to the best content. If presentations within tracks at a conference are scheduled back-to-back without time for this, audience members miss out.

conference sessions

Is this a rant? A little bit. But I really think we can do better and expect more when we give our time and attention to these events.

Customer Experience Conference

Ready to see how you stack up against your colleagues and competitors? Check out the 2014 Customer Experience Benchmarking Study, which is free to download, here. This report is a preview of some of the topics discussed at the upcoming Next Generation Customer Experience conference this March in San Diego. I’ll be speaking there along with customer experience professionals from Dell, John Deere, Barneys and more! I would love to have you join us. (I mean it’s San Diego!)

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Photo Credits: Re:groupAngryJulieMondayrodtuk via Creative Commons

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Jeannie Walters

Jeannie Walters is the CEO/Founder of Experience Investigators, a global Customer Experience consulting firm. She has 20 years of experience helping companies improve loyalty and retention, employee engagement, and overall customer experience. Jeannie is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP,) a charter member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA,) a Professional Member of the National Speakers Association, LinkedIn Learning instructor, TEDx speaker, and President-Elect of the National Speakers Association Illinois chapter. Learn more here.

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