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5 Myths About Attendees that Can Wreck Your Meeting

You know your meeting’s attendees. You even love them—well OK, some of them. But are you unintentionally doing them a disservice? As a frequent meeting-goer, here are some traps I see planners fall into all too often. But they don't have to!

1. Thinking about your attendees as “attendees.” Sure, you want them to physically show up at your meeting, but is their body the only thing you want to check in? What about their hearts, their minds, their attention, their intentions? If you want all that to show up at your event, you have to think holistically about the people who are coming to experience what you’re offering. And that starts with what you call them, especially in your own mind.

Instead: Think about what you want them to get from the experience, then walk it back to who you’re appealing to. Do you want participants? Learners? Connectors? How you think and talk about them will, intentionally or not, color how you craft the experience you want them to have.

2. Thinking you can please all the people all the time—if you just throw enough stuff at them. Do you have so many concurrent sessions scheduled that people complain that they have to miss some they really need? Do you pack sessions in back to back with barely a bathroom break in between? Do you keep them partying until midnight, and then expect them to show up for an early morning yoga session followed by a networking breakfast and then straight into session after expo hall after session? I get that planners feel they have to pack every minute to give people their money’s worth, but all that really does is exhaust them, shut down their ability to learn, and ultimately frustrate them as they drag their overcooked brains home to try to make some sense of it all. Or, more likely, forget pretty much everything they learned.

Instead: Think again about the people who are coming, and what will bring value to their experience. What will make it a successful experience for them? Then provide just those things, along with quiet time to let what they’re learning sink in, to discuss solutions with peers, and to translate how what they’re learning could play out in real life.

3. Missing opportunities to connect them with your organization, the content, and each other. Is your registration line just a line of people avoiding eye contact and shuffling their feet? Are your hallways between session rooms just spaces to pass through as quickly as possible?

Instead: Think about all the blank spaces in your event as perfect opportunities to make connections. Can you put thought- and conversation-inspiring objects along your hallways and lining-up spots? Give each person entering a line something that connects with the conference theme or your organization’s goals that they can compare and discuss with others? Hold a trivia contest with questions relating to your market?

4. Assuming they want continuity and tradition above all else. Also known as the “We’ve always done it this way” syndrome, you’re right, “attendees” who have been coming to the same meeting for years do expect to get the same meeting they’ve always gotten, even if it doesn’t really do much for them in the long run.

Instead: Show them what they’ve been missing, how much more effective—and interesting—it is to be a participant than an attendee. Sure, some long-timers may grumble at first, because change is uncomfortable. Until they see how much better their experience can be.

5. Assuming that, because they’re highly trained professionals, they want their meeting to be deadly serious at all times. I hear this one a lot in relation to medical meetings in particular, that docs don’t want to be bothered with anything but the latest research results delivered by a key opinion leader from the stage. “They won’t stand for anything else,” I hear. Oh, but even the most serious-minded will if you give it to them!

Instead: Inject a little fun. I’ve seen docs go into a competitive frenzy trying to outdo each other solving cases they work on in teams, have a ball doing a Jeopardy-style session, and connecting topics and treatments to patients through the use of art and music. Don’t underestimate your audience’s basic human needs, such as humor, storytelling, connection, competition, and physical movement. Whatever their profession, your participants are people first and foremost.

What participant-related challenges do you see, either as a planner or at meetings you go to?


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