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Education or profitability?

As I was proofreading the cover story for the February issue of Association Meetings (the article is about what we need to change about association meetings, based on the book We Have Always Done It that Way: 101 things about associations we must change), I was struck anew by this bit:

    The old metric of success—people standing in the aisles and maxed-out session rooms—also needs some rethinking, says [Jeff] De Cagna. “That’s a way of looking at whether something was popular, but not if attendees are learning anything.”

This is a fundamental issue, I think. While assocations always say their conferences are about education, the way they are designed seem much more focused on the bottom line; i.e., getting more seats in seats, keeping sponsors happy, and making attendees feel good about coming so they'll come back next time and bring a few colleagues. I can't tell you how many press releases I get touting record attendance and record numbers of trade show booths. I have yet to receive one that outlines what participants did with the knowledge they gained to improve their effectiveness on the job.

It's hard, because associations tend to depend on their meetings for such a large percentage of their revenue. But if association meetings truly were all about education rather than the bottom line, they'd be very different animals than what we typically see. Am I unrealistic for wanting to see these meetings become more educationally focused? What would a truly educational conference look like? And, if you held one, would anyone come?

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