My Top 10 Reasons to Attend

What seems like eons ago, I wrote a little ditty called My Top 10 Reasons to Bolt about the things that would make me grab my stuff and run from a session. This week, after reading Chief Marketer’s survey on what makes a conference worth attending, The Association Blog’s Kevin Holland’s excellent musings on the topic, and Internet guru Dave Taylor’s thoughts on what makes a conference valuable, I’ve been thinking about the top 10 things that would make me come running to an event. Here’s my wish list:

1. Give me access to big brains—no, make that big, relevant brains. I don’t care if they’re the keynote speaker, session leaders, or the guy I meet while snagging some coffee, I want to interact with people who will stretch my mind in new directions. We’re not necessarily talking about top gurus (though Marcus Buckingham alone would probably do the trick for me), but people who really "get" where the attendees are coming from, and where they can go with a little help.

2. Provide content that will wake me up, shake me up, and give me what I need to make me better at what I do. Take me out of my comfort zone, turn my world upside down, and show me what I can’t see without climbing out of the rut I’m in (and most of us are in a rut of some kind, no matter how much we hate to admit it).

3. Show, don’t tell. I don’t need talking-head dudes and dudettes telling me about the latest developments in an industry. Put my damp little hands on whatever it is and let me take the idea for a test drive. For example: ASAE did a brilliant job of introducing attendees to new tech tools they can use with their meetings by incorporating a show blog, Flickr photo sharing, del.icio.us content tagging, and the social networking tool IntroNetworks into ASAE’s recent annual meeting. Score: 10+.

4. Surprise and delight me (as opposed to surprise and freak/gross me out, like serving green ketchup or inviting giraffes to a reception.) Give me something that reawakens that six-year-old inside, like an unexpected walk through a tunnel of fireflies on a dark summer night.

5. Touch my emotions, ignite my passion. Give me that visceral, from-the-gut connection to the information presented by engaging not just my mind, but also my body and spirit. Make me care, deeply, and I’ll be a lifelong attendee.

6. Make it fun. Make it interactive. Toys are cool, too.

7. Forget networking—help me have meaningful conversations, not business card exchanges. Build into the format opportunities for attendees to connect with each other and the material presented. There’s a reason way the "hallway track" is the most popular one at most meetings—show me how you incorporate that accidental learning into the very heart of your program, before, during, and after the meeting.

8. Make me feel special just for being smart enough to come to the event. Make me feel that not only is my industry cool and important, I’m also cool and important, and even cooler than those unfortunates who didn’t get to participate. We all want to be recognized for our specialness.

9. Give me takeaways, then follow up to see how I’m using what I’ve learned. Send me reminders, and give me ways to share how I’m using the info back in my real, post-meeting life. And, more importantly, how others are using it, so I can continue to learn from the organization and my peers.

10. Blow something up—whether it’s the standard meeting formats (PowerPoint, anyone?), or a leading misconception, dynamite something to make way for something new. (I’m also a big sucker for fireworks, if you want to take it literally.)

But that’s just me. What makes an event a must-attend for you?

Update: At least one person agrees with me on #3.

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