I was recently reading an article questioning if conferences were still effective. It went into great detail about the cost of hosting and attending, man hours, conversion rates.. all very important figures to consider in business, but the one factor it didn’t consider was an organization’s willingness to accept change or embrace new ideas.
Some time ago while working for a different company, I attended a conference on Social Media. Prior to the conference, the boss of this company had seemed very excited about it and my desire to attend. His children were on Facebook, he explained, and he knew it was a Big Thing. He reviewed my itinerary a few dozen times prior to the conference, gave me a list of industry people also attending that I must meet, and reminded me to write summary reports of my every action.
I attended the conference, its various workshops and speaking engagements, learned a lot, taught a bit, made many great connections (both during business hours and after), and returned with an energy that was busting at the seams to implement what I’d experienced. I wrote multiple reports on the various social media platforms, success stories, business opportunities, and a suggested action plan.
I made sure that my report was on the boss’s desk bright and early upon my return. I was pumped. Beyond ready to really kick things into gear. A few coworkers asked how the conference went, and I was more than happy to speak about what had happened and my ideas going forward. They too, began getting excited and seeing the opportunities.
A week passed. The boss had not found the time to go over my report, and had only a few minutes to speak about it when I tracked him down to talk. Yes, it was all very exciting and it was great that I’d arranged possible business partnership opportunities with some of those people he had suggested I meet.. but he would need to take some time to read it all when he had a minute. Very busy. Very, very busy. Busy time of year. Everyone needed him. Couldn’t take time away from others to discuss this “internet thing”.
Do you see where this is going? Stop reading ahead.
Another week or so passed. My enthusiasm for implementing the ideas with the company I was with began to wane. I stopped bringing it up whenever I would see the boss, knowing it wasn’t going anywhere. Finally, late one afternoon, he had time to speak with me about it. It was all very interesting, he said, all very new and exciting.. but maybe not for us right now. We could perhaps do a few bare bones things, but our, and specifically my energies would be better spent on other things.
I was gutted. Frustrated. What had been the point of attending this conference in the first place if we weren’t doing anything about it? It took me a while to realize, but it had been about keeping up appearances. If our competition was going to be there, so should we. We weren’t apparently doing anything about it – but people knew we were in the conversation.
This is only one specific example – and maybe it’s not so much about conferences, as it is about businesses themselves. For a conference to be successful to a company attending, the ideas learned from this experience must be embraced throughout the organization. Change, no matter where it comes from or why, must be embraced on every level – and welcomed, if it’s realized to be for the greater good.
Anyone who’s been in business will have stories of company retreats or shareholder meetings where Great Things were discussed and Things Were Going To Change Right Away, only to have it be business as usual come Monday morning. Whether it be a lack of communication or a fear of the unknown, things don’t always move forward. In my example above, the boss of the company had not felt ready to make the changes, while his competition went ahead with the ideas learned from that conference to do some really wonderful things.
Let’s go back to the original question: Are conferences still effective? The answer applies to this question and everything else in life: You get from them what you’re willing to put into them.
Founder, Ambition Branding Inc.