Are You Really Thinking About Delegates When Running Events?


Are You Really Thinking About Delegates When Running Events?

As someone who believes in ongoing professional development for personal and business success, I attend a large number of conferences and events each year. 

And because I wear the hats of both speaker and delegate, I’m always curious to see how well the event organisers deliver on what it promises to those who invest time and money to attend, the delegate.

Now, I know most organisers would state emphatically that the delegate is always at the forefront of their mind when preparing an event. Yet I continue to see a lot of ‘same old, same old’ topics in programs and hearing disgruntled delegates complaining ‘that was a waste of time’.

And we are also seeing a shift in numbers and priorities as delegates are making different choices for where they invest their time and money. For example, in the professional development/training space, delegates are choosing more virtual (webinars) options and ½ day events over 1 to 3-day workshops and conferences because they are more cost-effective in both time and money.

So why is this happening? I believe it’s because these 5 issues, many of which interrelate, are not being truly considered from a delegate’s perspective:

1. Offering ‘time to network’ as one of the benefits to attend but giving delegates no time to do so.

Generally, the only time delegates are allocated ‘time to network’ is at the breaks, which looks like there is so much time but the reality is delegates probably get a chance to talk to one or two people if they are lucky because by the time they have gone to the toilet, checked their phone, stood in line for coffee and food; it’s time to go back in for the next session.

And please don’t have networking functions with loud music and nowhere to sit because that’s a dance party, not an opportunity to connect and have a real conversation with a potential client or alliance.

Solution: If you truly want people to network, then allocate a session in the program so it can actually happen, and stop hiding behind privacy as the reason why delegates can’t get the contact list (which is what everyone wants). A button on the registration form enables delegates to opt out of having their work contact details provided to everyone.

2. Too many sessions at once.

We know from a business perspective that choice complicates the sale, and yet, the many conference programs I see have 5 to 8 concurrent sessions. This is not only disrespectful to the delegates who are frustrated because they feel like ‘they’re missing out’ on a number of great sessions, but speakers aren’t feeling their time and knowledge are valued because they are presenting to fewer numbers than was originally pitched at the time of submission.

Solution: Offer no more than 3 sessions at once and ensure they are distinctively different so delegates can choose the one which best suits their needs. If you can also video the sessions and provide either the audio or video files to delegates post-conference, they will no longer feel like they have missed out.

3. Nowhere to sit.

Whilst I realise chairs and tables increase the costs to organisers, they are necessary so people can actually eat and drink at the breaks without having to do a balancing act or sit on the floor (again something I have seen too often).

Solution: If chairs cost too much, then at least have enough tables that all delegates can stand at whilst they ‘network’ and eat. Please remember to accurately calculate how many tables you need so lunchtime doesn’t turn into a ‘musical tables’ game.

4. Choice of venue.

Although CBD venues appear on the surface to be central and the best location for a 1-day event, they are often the most frustrating for delegates. Why? Because what seems to be an economical event price, e.g. $47.00 turns into a very expensive day due to excessive parking fees, either at the venue or within the CBD. Alternatively, some venues state there is plenty of street parking, but when delegates arrive, they find out there really isn’t. Add in travel time, either driving or public transport, and this can become a very long day.

Solution: Look for venues which actually have plenty of free onsite or street parking (after the adjoining businesses clients and workers have parked) or negotiate a reasonable onsite parking rate for delegates.

5. No opportunity for sponsors to gain a return on investment (ROI).

Sponsors provide event organisers with much-needed investment dollars, and yet, I see many sponsors disrespected rather than valued. At conferences where tables and exhibition halls are filled by sponsors who have paid for that privilege (as well as loss of productive time by being at the event), they often don’t gain a reasonable ROI because delegates have no real time to learn about their products and services and how they may help their business. Instead of again blocking out a session, so delegates and sponsors have the time to connect; it is usually a quick walk through by delegates as they drop their business card into the draw after they’ve grabbed lunch or at the end of the day.

Solution: If a session can’t be blocked out, then at least provide the delegate contact list to sponsors so they can follow up after the event. It is not fair to sponsors who have paid for the privilege to attend and be a drawcard for an event to then not have any opportunity to meet every delegate. Sharing information is the way every business grows and prospers, and a conference/event is no different.

Now although this article is written with event organisers in mind, the messages and lessons are relevant for every business owner. Because when we lose sight of our customer and what’s in it for them and only provide products, services and information that we want instead; we risk losing the one thing every business needs to be profitable. Customers.

So, whose needs are driving your business, yours or your customers?

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  • Renee Hasseldine

    Great article, Tamara. I don’t run big events (Half day workshops and meetups mostly), I have found over time (and trial and error) that so much of what you’ve written is true.

    I tested moving my workshops to the city (which, as you point out, is actually very inconvenient). Now I run them at a venue further out, but with a dedicated free carpark – which reduces the stress and cost of the event for everyone!

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