maybe you should cancel your meeting

Here’s something that sounds weird coming from me: Most conferences and meetings are a complete waste of time/money/resources for both organizers and attendees.

I do several events a year as a marketing speaker. Since, no matter what business you’re in, everyone needs information on marketing — I get to go to meetings for a diverse range of groups and industries and be a third party fly on the wall. As I have worked at these meetings and conferences over the past several years, I have noticed a few things:

  1. Most attendees are not there for knowledge. They’re there to play golf, go to the casino, work on a tan, wine/dine, etc.
  2. If God did a session where He dispensed Perfect Knowledge, there would be at least two guys after the session talking about why His ideas won’t work in their business.
  3. During that break after God’s session? The conference organizers paid the hotel $15/person for coffee. Seems like this is where to cut the budget, not in the programming.
  4. Panel discussions and cock fighting are similar activities. Put several huge egos on a stage and see who can win with a moderator who doesn’t understand what the panelists are talking about.
  5. The amount that people corporate expense accounts pay for alcohol/food/etc increases exponentially during a conference.
  6. Instead of paying for good speakers who know the content and can be entertaining while they present it, let’s just have some executives get up and read in a monotone voice the slides that someone else prepared for them.
  7. There are hundreds of people who have mutual interests together at the meeting. Very few of them make connections with each other except for maybe a greasy business card exchange.
  8. 99.99% of presenters have no idea how/when to use a PowerPoint deck.
  9. Interesting presenters/speakers with new actionable ideas are given 10 minutes to speak. Presenters/speakers reading old information verbatim off their slides are usually given 2 hours.

There are lots more — but the biggest problem that I see over and over is this:
The entire concept behind the meeting is to get a bunch of people who think the same together and have them listen to people who also think that same way.

Mark is getting calls to come to meetings during a tough time for people in his industry and wonders why some of these gatherings aren’t just cancelled. And I agree with him. If your conference / corporate meeting will consist of the “same tired old subjects from the same tired old white guys”, then yes, you should cancel the meeting. And remember that some of those same “old subjects” include new things. If your meeting is just giving lip service to viral-marketing-facebook-web2.0-social-networking new media buzzwords, then re-write your agenda. This is not just current recession/depression/end-of-times thinking. I would say it’s an even bigger problem in boom times as more meetings attended means more missed opportunities.

Having said all this, I have been to many great meetings and conferences that were beneficial for the attendees — while they were at the conference. Even if you have a great experience at the meeting, the real danger time is the day you return to the office after the conference. The kitsch and tchotchkes that were picked up in the exhibit hall get a place on the desk, but what happens to the knowledge? Most often, it’s lost. People and companies that can implement ideas picked up at a conference or meeting are the ones that you see succeed.

I hope you don’t cancel your meeting. While everyone else is sitting on their hands waiting for the storm to pass over, I hope you use this time to put together a meeting that will cause inspiration and action — both at the meeting and when everyone gets home.

(that’s the end of the blog post — here’s the commercial)
If you’re looking for someone to present new ideas and shake up your organization’s thinking at a conference/meeting, you can find more info on how to bring me to speak to your group here.

Chris Houchens is a marketing raconteur & writer. Connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.

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2 comments on “maybe you should cancel your meeting
  1. Mark Van Patten says:

    I’m Mark. The one in the post.

    There are three people that I would pay to hear – pay my own money – stay in the local Motel 6, and eat Denny’s, if I had to.

    1. Chris – if you read his blog you know why, if you don’t read his blog then please do and you will learn why I read it. I’ve heard his thoughts. They are worth it.

    2. Jeremy of Trendhunter.com Jeremy sees things differently than the rest of the world. He makes connections that others just don’t see capable of. You want your mind bent? I think Jeremy can do it.

    3. Laurie of Punk Rock HR She doesn’t have a “road show” yet, but how can you not like a “Punk Rock” HR person? If you have 25-34 year olds working for you, you need to pick her brain.

    It’s not always possible to shelve the $15 coffee because you need the space and that’s part of the deal. But if you get the right people, you can put them in a church basement with the Christian Women’s group serving coffee and cookies and get rave reviews.

    …end of unsolicited plug… I will now resume my attack on the windmills.

  2. Chris Houchens says:

    @Mark — Thanks for the recommendation. In truth, I enjoy the $15 coffee (if there’s no setup for hot tea, I get out of shape as I like to drink it before I speak)
    But you’re right about the church basement — I will offer a 25% discount on my speaking fee to the next group that books me in a church basement.