Tony Compton, Managing Director
Ah, Springtime. Another week, another round of “gotta be here” industry events.
Finding the activity from these events is easy. Just find event Tweet streams by hashtag or look on your LinkedIn profile page and eventually you’ll see all kinds of evidence from shows which span the globe: pictures, quotes, comments, etc. from attendees on the scene. Smiling pictures of people at the event are the norm, but pictures of booth giveaways, convention food, and the host city from a hotel room view are also par for the course.
Meanwhile, back at headquarters, the boss probably wants to know why you’re attending that event. I’m not talking about being an employee of a company sponsoring an event or a member of the corporate team producing the event. (Those attendees have their own separate challenges justifying their reasons for attending an event.) I’m talking about being a regular event attendee.
Oh, and let’s cut through the clutter about what an event is called. Trade Show, Convention, Conference, Summit, Workshop, Meeting, User Group… it’s all the same here. If you attend an event, you own your attendance.
So let’s get right to the point. The boss should want to know two things upon your arrival from your event attendance:
1. What did you learn at that event?
2. What were the business reasons you attended that event?
If I’m sitting in the boss’ chair, I’ll go one further:
3. Tell me what you learned, and show me the business reasons for attendance.
Do it without charts, a dashboard, slides, or electronics. And no paper printouts.
Note I wrote that the boss should want to know, vs. will want to know. Some just don’t give a damn. Bad boss, and maybe you should be the boss or your company should get another one who does give a damn. Or at least care enough to know why you attended that event, how much it cost, and what were the results.
But aside from a few platitudes, I wonder if many event-goers could articulate what they learned at an event, let alone speak intelligently about the business benefits, and results, shortly-after the conclusion of an event.
Here are some reasons why:
The Inactive Event Learning Experience
Go back to that event Tweet stream or review your LinkedIn profile and look at those event pictures. What do you see? Attendees sitting in sessions from keynotes to track breakouts. Some watch. Some listen. Many are playing on their electronic devices. Few learn little of anything. And when one session ends, it’s on to the next. Rinse and repeat. If an attendee has stuck around long enough for the last session on the last day, chances are they’re part of the dwindling group. Many others have left for the airport before the event concludes. It’s standard practice for the conference and trade show industry to conduct “educational” sessions this way. Tidbits are gained, and stories are told. But two or three days worth of cramming an information overload in this type of event format down the throats of stagnant audiences isn’t conducive to effective learning. I know ‘cause I’ve been there, done that…
Speaking of Keynotes…
So you’re an attendee sitting in Row 49 in the back of a crammed ballroom attempting to watch a keynote speaker. The speaker seems to be genuinely interested in delivering a good performance but is somebody using eye-chart graphics worthy of inclusion in the Ophthalmology Hall of Fame. More, the keynote session is wrapped around with cornball entertainment meant for others who clearly don’t get out of the house often enough. Exactly what would you say is of value in that cheesy and cramped ballroom setting?
Are you attending an event to wander the exhibit hall and go shopping for your next piece of technology? Newsflash: you don’t have to. Vendors will come to you, at no cost to you. But hey, if getting endless sales pitches and gathering trade show junk that will go from a vendor’s booth, to your bag, to the nearest garbage can is worth your time and investment, have at it. But what are you learning from that exercise? And why are you paying for it?
There are some phenomenal public speakers in business. But they are in the minority. Most speakers are more worried about the content of their presentation vs. their ability to communicate their content. They’re more concerned with slick slides than audience value, and the learning experience. The end result is a poor attendee experience where little is gained.
I’m all-too-aware that most speakers don’t prepare or adequately practice before their presentations. Heck, most don’t practice their communication skills at all – ever. Either out of fear, or arrogance, or laziness. And most companies do little or nothing to help. But you, the attendee, are still paying thousands to sit in those sessions and learn nothing. Nothing you can deliver with confidence back in the office.
You Attend, You Own It
So be prepared to answer what you learned, and describe in detail the business benefits of your attendance. Because all of that vendor stuff you brought back with you on the plane doesn’t count. Neither does your electronic file of endless slides. Nobody is going to read those. Those pictures of smiling people at the registration counter don’t count. And that smartphone video of the entertainment act is worthless.
If I’m the boss, and you just spent four days out-of-the-office attending an event to the tune of thousands of dollars, you’d better come prepared on Monday morning with clear, concise, concrete answers about your attendance. But taking a look at what I’m seeing on these Tweet streams, what’s going to be learned is that event attendees aren’t really learning anything useful at all – except how to spend money and create excuses for being OOO.