Associations, I’m talking to you…
I hope all event planners for industry conferences read this, as IMHO it’s time for some real change around association events. Specifically, the focus should be solely as an educational opportunity to enrich members, as opposed to a profit center.
This week I was fortunate to be among a small group (~300) invited to the Distressed Servicing 2009 Conference was developed and presented by EuroCatalyst and Housing Wire.
The event‘s theme was to challenge best practices in debt servicing and the U.S. Impact on Global Mortgage Markets.
Their tag line was “You Will Never View the Industry the Same Way Again.” That’s an understatement. Additionally, I will also never view conferences the same way again.
That’s all I can tell you. Seriously.
The organizers brought together C-Level (COB, CEO, COO, etc), high-level executives from across the servicing value chain (and around the globe), economists, GSEs and others for a series of peer-to-peer, brutally candid conversations lasting two days. The concept was to foster open, candid sharing and panelists were asked (and answered) challenging questions.
Interestingly, to encourage open discussion, ensure confidentiality and privacy, thus alleviating the need to stay “on message”, everyone was asked to sign a No Media policy. No taping, tweeting, writing, blogging etc. about the specific content or attributing quotes to anyone.
Associations, I challenge you!
I understand the need to make money. I do. I’m all about profit. That said do your members really want to attend events where they get more value from networking than the sessions?
Have you ever had 300+ heavyweights, CEOs, etc. arrive at 8:00am and sit in a conference room, engrossed in every single session for 8 straight hours?
“This is the first time I’ve actually learned something at a conference.”
Big associations and conference organizers – are you listening? What a shame for your events that this sentiment was echoed again and again at this event.
Commented Toni Moss, CEO of EuroCatalyst in the July issue of HousingWire
“We wanted to do something different by focusing on interaction, education and entertainment – particularly because networking is needed to become more sophisticated rather than drinking in bars and hallways; we had the challenge of educating an audience of extremely senior people who did not feel the need for education; and we find most conferences void of content so we thought we’d provide more color and commentary by editorializing through music and art.”
Provide value, they will come!
And, they will pay handsomely for the privilege. The key word here is value, in addition to perspective. This was not a fluffy event. No economists sharing flowery predictions of a hockey stick home price index magically appearing over the next two years. No blame storming, not too much time checking the rear view mirror. Just true grit discussion on moving forward, what that could look like and potential impacts for future generations.
Another fantastic feature at the event was the “Twitter-esque” audience interaction. Each table had a laptop where the audience could anonymously ask panelists questions, make comments, sneer, jeer and engage one another on the topic at hand. And, periodically the rolling dialog would be projected on the screens be it for a good laugh or an intriguing comment.
Predictions of failure
It’s my prediction that future events will attempt to emulate the format of Distressed Servicing 2009. I also predict they will fail. They will fail for a number of reasons, not the least of which is they will continue to sell the podium. Of course, this is a widely denied practice, but I think we all know differently.
At the end of the day content without relevant context does not provide value.
Content is King, context is Queen
Rather than focusing on selling booth space, sponsorships, ads, fun outings, or booking the Beach Boys to perform for the 25th time, plan the content. Make it timely and relevant. But, not six months in advance! As fast as everything moves, how can a program created six months ago still be relevant?
Recipe for an amazing event
Here’s what made DS2009 so amazing
- Participants had to be invited to attend (hundreds of requests were denied)
- No sales people or Business Development were invited
- No trade exposition
- The attendee list was not distributed prior the event
- Sessions were sequential, rather than multiple and parallel
- Presentations were meaningful, as opposed to thinly veiled (or blatant) sales pitches or product demos
- Content was current and highly relevant
- Sponsorship did not equal stage time
- Panelists were interviewed talk show style
- The audience could ask questions and interact with one another live via tabletop laptops
By the way, this was not a lucky freshman attempt at an event. EuroCatalyst has been hosting these events throughout Europe since 2002 and has developed almost a cult-like following.
BarCamps prove the hypothesis
Huge hat tip to Andy Kaufman, Todd Carpenter and the others that pioneered the BarCamp “un-conferences” that are so popular among agents. I believe the popularity of the discussion-type forum demonstrates the appetite for open dialog and candor.
So, Associations and conference organizers, what will you do to add more value? How will you evolve? If you continue to utilize the same tired template you may lose revenue and credibility as more progressive, passionate individuals like Toni Moss and BarCamps develop a stronger following. More importantly, you will fail in helping move your members forward.
Think about it. If you offered enough, why were BarCamps invented?