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Ed Bernacki on conference design, innovation and ROI

Conference Buzz in Melbourne this week; but where’s the ROI?

Ed Bernacki - Monday, February 23, 2015

AIME is a major trade show happening this week in Melbourne for the meetings industry. It brings together meetings and conference suppliers with buyers from the association and corporate worlds along with professional conference organisers. Millions of dollars of deals, proposals and leads will follow.  Yet how much discussion will there be of the effectiveness of this investment in conferences?

Do they create value? How can we define this value?

How does this differ for individuals who pay to attend an event as compared to a corporation hosting a major staff event?

These are good questions.

Despite the sophistication of the vast meetings industry, the ability to measure results is, at best, rudimentary. I first wrote about this fifteen years ago and then put my ideas into a book, Seven Rules for Designing More Innovative Conferences.

There is much talk about measuring Return on Investment (ROI) of conferences but there seems a flaw; the approach to measure ROI is based a model developed for training back in the 1950s. It is a good model if you believe conferences are about training. I don’t.  At the very core, what do we believe conferences can achieve? The traditional view suggests conferences involve:

1. Learning,

2. Motivation, and

3. Networking.

We can set objectives and then design an event around these objectives. And here lies the problem…. this wastes a tremendous opportunity for people to create, connect and innovate.

What if a staff conference changed one session from using a speaker to engage staff; “Based on what you’ve learned at this event, what’s one idea to make this a better company to work for?”  

I have done this.  About 130 staff generated 170 ideas. These were distilled to 40 as many were similar. The CEO saw the list and committed to make them happen before the next annual staff conference.

Was the cost an issue to a CEO who left the conference with a plan to improve his company?  No.  Staff felt good about contributing and he had a plan of action.  

There are many ways to engage people in meaningful ways to solve problems, create ideas, and connect. This is a very simple example. So much more is possible. It starts by adding one more objective to your planning model:

4. Collaboration and Innovation

Plan one session for 100 or 1000 to collaborate in some way. This starts the process to add more ‘return’ for your ROI. When so many buyers meeting so many suppliers at AIME I hope some discussions will focus on ROI of conferences to generate ideas and solutions.

Ed Bernacki

The Idea Factory 

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