Hello, My Name Is... FAIL
AKA, Why Conferences Are Mass Failures at Communication. (For fullest enjoyment, pretend you are Lewis Black reading this rant.)
We've all seen it. You're at a conference, looking for that one business person you need to meet, and you notice that the name badges for half the attendees are on backwards, hiding their names and company affiliations. Fail.
Maybe you check once in a while and notice your own name badge is backwards and nobody knows your name or company. Double fail.
It is always the little things at conferences, the little details and the lack of attention to such, that when combined and repeated and combined and repeated over and over again dozens, hundreds, thousands of times per day over the course of a conference are usually the cause of epic failures to communicate -- epic failures we're often not even aware of. Lost connections, lost opportunities, lost business deals. Unfortunately, few conference organizers care about these details. Some do, most don't. The result? Attendees fail to connect with all of the people they should be connecting with. Presenters fail to make the key points their companies need them to make.
Here is my 2011 list for conference failures and what could be done to fix the problem and how such a fix would help:
PROBLEM: Name tag printed on one side. Almost always printed on one side, and if you ever needed an example of Murphy's Law in action, it's the name tag printed on one side. The person you are looking for, but don't know, have never met, wouldn't recognize, is only ten feet from you. But you will never know because their name tag is backwards!
SOLUTION: Print the same information on both sides.
HOW THIS'LL HELP: Because then your attendees can see who other attendees are. You charged attendees how many hundreds? how many thousands of dollars to attend this conference? Print it on both sides and help your attendees network.
PROBLEM: Name too small on name badge..
SOLUTION: Print the name bigger. Much bigger. In fact, the name badge should be bigger too.
HOW THIS'LL HELP: Attendees should be able to read names on name badges from across the room. Not from ten millimeters away. I would recommend taking a sheet of regular laser printer paper, running it through a color laser printer, printing two copies of the name tag on the full sheet, make them 5 1/2" wide and 8 1/2" high (then fold in half so you have a two-sided name badge), print the attendee name in a HUGE font, and if you really want to be nice, let the attendees upload their company logo to you to include in their badge. So what, if it costs you $3 extra per name tag to print! Add $3 to the conference admission fee. Nobody will care. Everyone will love the badges and how much easier it was to meet people and network, and everyone will love YOU the conference organizer. Flava Flav was on to something, man.
PROBLEM: Moderators don't repeat audience questions.
SOLUTION: Moderators: always repeat audience questions, so everyone in the audience hears what question was asked.
HOW THIS'LL HELP: The audience, you know, the paying attendees, will hear what was asked. I know, seems obvious . . . you'd be amazed.
PROBLEM: Not knowing who's going
SOLUTION: Letting attendees know beforehand who's going to a conference.
HOW THIS'LL HELP So, you can, you know, PLAN who you want to meet! The conference should be facilitating the networking and the communication. Nail that, and we'll forgive the rubber chicken lunch and dinner.
PROBLEM: Concurrent sessions prevent attendees from getting the full value out of the conference.
SOLUTION: Find a way to let attendees get the rest of the sessions, by private webcast, something. Anything. Incentivize attendees to volunteer to record the sessions so you don't have to pay A/V people huge hourly rates. Give those volunteers discounts on attendance, or a free lunch or gift certificate.
HOW THIS'LL HELP: Conference attendees will feel like they really got their money's worth. There are ways to make this work, make it cheap. Gone are the days where the conference organizer would say, oh, it costs too much to record the sessions and make them available on cassette or videotape. It doesn't cost squat these days. If someone pays $1000 to attend a conference, let them get the full conference, even if for a very limited period, but let 'em get it.
PROBLEM: Speakers lose out on making connections with audience because the line formed after a panel is over is too long, and many attendees don't bother waiting around.
SOLUTION: Lots of technology solutions here. It would start with before the conference even begins. Let attendees build a "wish list" of all the speakers they want to speak with. And all the OTHER attendees they want to speak with. Then everyone, speaker and attendee alike, can sign in to see who wants to talk with them. If for some reason an attendee doesn't want others to know they're attending, fine, charge those attendees double.
HOW THIS'LL HELP: Think of how much more business could get done, for starters. Again, a conference organizer should be a networking facilitator and a communications channel opener. Open, accessible, efficient, easy, natural. This is the way communications should be at a conference. Not closed, intermittent, full of hassles, hard, and awkward.
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