So you’re holding a conference. How are you going to get your audience tuned in and engaged?
So you’re holding a conference. How are you going to get your audience tuned in and engaged?
“Best” is context-specific, a matter of opinion, and transitory.
When we use “best” dishonestly, we ignore one or more of these realities. We appeal to status, implying that our “best” thing is absolutely best, transcending environment, viewpoint, and the passage of time.
Claiming the highest status for our “best” thing preys on our audience’s fears by offering a simplistic solution. “Believe us, buy this, and Bingo! You can stop worrying that you might have made a mistake!”
Sure, when aware of environmental and personal context, it’s fine to make an in-the-moment judgment that some thing or course of action is the best of multiple alternatives (be sure there are at least three!) We do this all the time.
But when we simply slap on a “Best” label we are selling comforting feelings disguised as our product or service.
In addition, believing that we have or are the best does ourselves a disservice. We will focus on “best” practices instead of next practices. Consequently, we may maintain the status quo, but with the danger that at any time a competitor could make our “best” second best.
Ultimately, what’s important is to continuously strive to be the best, not for the sake of being best, but from a genuine desire to provide the best value / outcomes / opportunities for one’s organization or clients. Rather than feeling proud under the illusion that you are the “best”, work to be proud of your own efforts and achievements (including the learning that occurs when things don’t go according to plan or you take a risk that doesn’t pan out.)
Live with the knowledge that “best”, while well worth pursuing, is a moving fluid target. Remember, there will always be a next best thing.
Photo attribution Flickr user thomashawk
We struggle at times with change we would like to see in our lives but can’t seem to make happen.
And we are continually exposed to marketing that promises quick and easy solutions to the problems we are experiencing.
If we want to lose weight, find the right person for that special relationship, be at peace with ourselves, become rich, give up addictive behavior, or make a hundred other common changes, there are tens of thousands of speakers, books, and programs that offer a revolutionary, simple method to cure what ails you.
Just have Jim speak at your event, buy Sarah’s best-selling book, or sign-up for Esmeralda’s online course—and your problems will be over!
Over and over again we delude ourselves that the next miracle diet we try will be the one that “just works”, a new management fad will whip our recalcitrant employees into shape, or the latest event technology will make our attendees happy, wealthy, and wise.
In reality, I’ve found that only a tiny fraction of speakers, books, and programs offer real value. I’ve mentioned a few on this blog over the years, including David Allen’s Getting Things Done, Pomodoro, Eric de Groot & Mike van der Vijver’s Into The Heart of Meetings, and a high percentage of Seth Godin’s thoughts and books.
Another barrier to implementing change is that we overlook the months or years of preparatory work we usually need to do before those aha! change moments we remember the rest of our lives. As Theosophists say: “When the student is ready the teacher will appear” — i.e. the best advice in the world is useless if we are not prepared to receive it.
In addition, even when we successfully pan the valuable flecks of gold from mountains of hype, permanently integrating useful desired change invariably requires significant effort.
For example, even after many years of use, my Getting Things Done implementation is imperfect. I flip haphazardly between several trusted systems, depending on the messiness of my desk, my mood, and—for all I know—the phases of the moon. And though, 99% of the time, my email inbox contains well below 100 items, Inbox Zero remains a fantasy, permanently out of reach.
Which leads us to a final trap: the belief that if we don’t implement a personal change perfectly, we haven’t really changed. This is dangerous if we conclude that minor slips mean that we’ve failed to change, and might as well go back to the old way of doing things. Instead, give yourself full credit for the change you’ve fundamentally made, notice when you revert to old patterns, and don’t beat yourself up when it happens (because it nearly always will once in a while.)
Given all these obstacles, it’s a miracle when personal change occurs. And yet, with hard work, it can happen!
Notice when it does. Acknowledge what you’ve done—it was hard!
Photo attribution: Flickr user tracyshaun
My book Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love has now been available for over five years in both paperback and ebook versions and is still selling well. I thought it might be of interest to share how the proportion of paperback versus ebook sales has changed over time. The following figures include both indirect (mainly Amazon) and direct (my web store) sales.
As you can see from the above graph, paperbacks were, on average, 82%, of sales when the book was published in 2009. Although there’s significant variation from month to month, due mainly to bulk sales of one format or the other, the five year trendline shows that by March 2015, the most recent month for which I have full indirect sales figures, paperback book sales dropped to just over 60% of all sales.
The paperback is priced at $27.95 (Amazon) or $26.00 (from me directly), and the ebook format costs $11.00 (only from me). I haven’t changed any prices over the years, though Amazon plays tricks with the paperback pricing from time to time. These pricing levels provide me approximately the same income per copy for direct sales, regardless of the format.
One factor that affects the quantity of new paperback sales is that, these days, there are usually a few used copies of the paperback available on Amazon for a few dollars under the new price. Sales of used copies reduces new copy sales. On the other hand, I expect some copies of the ebook get shared too.
An additional trend I am noting for my website sales is that combination sales (both ebook and paperback versions of the same book) have been increasing over the last year. I offer a discount when both formats are purchased simultaneously, and this is worth considering if you are selling your books yourself.
Are you an author with book format sales history of your own? Feel free to share your experience in the comments below!
—Traci Browne, Facebook post
Like my friend Traci, I receive a constant stream of messages from developers about their new event apps. Naturally, as a frequent commentator on the event industry, I am anxious to throw myself into the tiniest details of these innovative products that are sure to revolutionize every event professional’s life. Clearly they are tools that will: (more…)
Another issue of an occasional series—Dear Adrian—in which I answer questions sent to me about event design, elementary particle physics, solar hot water systems, and anything else I might conceivably know something about. If you have a question you’d like me to answer, please write to me (don’t worry, I won’t publish anything without your permission).
Q. Dear Adrian,
Forgive me if this is something you have been asked a million times before (and maybe you could point me to the page on your website which gives the answer, although I couldn’t find it.)
How do you market a new peer conference?
I can see that the peer conference structure can work for groups which have already been meeting for many years, for example industry association meetings, and people are looking for a better format.
But I think it would be very hard to get people to have enough confidence in a new peer conference without anything to show them about what is going to happen there (except possibly a list of other delegates, if it was possible to get anyone to sign up to a conference where the agenda was a blank sheet of paper).
The standard way to market conferences as you know is to try to attract some relevant interesting sounding speakers, and use the speakers names in the marketing – but that forces the structure into the standard 30 minute powerpoint format.
Do you have any examples of where someone has developed a new peer conference as a commercial business?
Digital Energy Journal, London, England
A. Dear Karl,
Great questions—no need to apologize! I’m often asked about how to market peer conferences and your request has an interesting focus.
Most of my consulting clients want help with conference redesign—making established traditional events more peer-driven and participation- and connection-rich. You may be surprised to hear this, but I think it’s often easier to create a new peer conference than to change the format of an existing conventional event. Changing something that already exists is often harder than starting from scratch.
I’m not saying that it’s simple to market a new peer conference. As you point out, people are accustomed to seeing a pre-determined schedule of conference sessions and speakers, which influences their decision on whether to attend. (I cover this “program trap” in Chapter 4 of Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love.) Many wonder a) how you can create a great conference program at the event and b) how good the resulting conference will be. Your marketing has to address these concerns.
In my experience there’s an essential prerequisite for a new peer conference to get off the ground: a core group of organizers who understand and believe in peer process (ideally, but not necessarily, through experience) and who are committed and prepared to proselytize the envisaged event to their professional circles. My rule of thumb is that this group should contain at least five people.
Once you have your core group in place, your marketing should feature the peer conference format without going into all the details. Intrigue potential attendees, especially those who are tired of traditional conferences, and talk up the proven nature of the design. Here’s an example of what you might say:
Have you attended a conference about TOPIC recently? Then you probably sat in room after room with scores of other attendees listening to outside experts talk about topics that weren’t quite what you were interested in. You were sure there were some interesting people to talk to, people who had the same questions you did (and maybe even some answers)—but how could you find who they were and meet them among the swirling crowds? Did you come away frustrated, feeling that only a small portion of the time you attended was valuable to you?
If so, you’re not alone.
INNOVCONF is different.
INNOVCONF is an out of the box conference experience for those accustomed to highly scripted events, calls for papers, pre-determined workshops, keynote speakers, networking receptions, etc. We use the proven Conferences That Work design to create a conference that adapts to meet your needs, leverages the combined expertise and experience of all participants, and provides unique opportunities to discover, connect, share, and learn with the peers you want to meet.
Our conference format is participant-driven and participation-rich. The attendees themselves—DESCRIPTION OF TARGET ATTENDEES—will determine the conference’s agenda, presenters, session format, focus, and results during the first afternoon of INNOVCONF. (To learn more, visit conferencesthatwork.com.)
The goals of INNOVCONF are simple. Create the best possible conference for each individual attendee, maximize participant interaction and connectedness, strengthen our community, and explore future group initiatives. Sounds good? Then register today to join your peers at this innovative event!
In answer to your last question, until my book was published in late 2009 I was the only person creating peer conferences, so it’s a little early to expect many examples of established pure Conferences That Work format peer conferences “as a commercial business”. In addition, many of the peer conferences now being held are not designed to be commercial meetings-for-profit ventures. Rather, they are seen as effective ways to bring a professional or vocational community together, with fees and budget set to cover costs and make a modest profit.
What people have started to do is to use the Conferences That Work format in conjunction with traditional general sessions to create what I called in the book a hybrid event (unfortunately of course, since publishing, “hybrid” has come to mean an event that has face-to-face and online components). The marketing of these events often plays up the big names invited, but the formats themselves contain significant peer conference elements. Three examples are FinCon: A peer conference for the financial blogging community, the Swiss Caux Conferences, and the Renaissance Weekends.
Karl, I hope this is useful. I’d love to hear more about your potential conference, and if there’s anything I can do to assist you, please let me know.
With best wishes,
Here’s the problem with self-publishing: no one cares about your book. That’s it in a nutshell. There are somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone, depending on which stats you believe. Many of those – perhaps as many as half or even more – are self-published. On average, they sell less than 250 copies each. Your book won’t stand out. Hilary Clinton’s will. Yours won’t.
So self-publishing is an exercise in futility and obscurity. Of course, there are the stories of the writers who self-publish and magic happens and they sell millions of books, but those are the rare exceptions. How rare? Well, on the order of 1 or 2 per million.
—Nick Morgan, Should You Self-Publish Your Book?
Nick paints a realistic picture of the work required to become a “successful” self-published author—if you’re defining success purely in terms of book sales. But I think there are other perspectives to consider.
My first book, about participant-driven and participation-rich conferences, was published three years ago. I have only sold a few thousand copies (though sales per year continue to rise) and the money I’ve made from selling books translates into a few cents an hour for the four part-time years I took to write the book. Not successful by Nick’s terms, right?
But. During those three years I’ve moved from complete obscurity to become a fairly well known authority in the field of innovative event design. My blog had 2.25 million page views in 2012, I’m routinely presenting at industry conferences, and a typical consulting gig brings income that’s equivalent to selling five hundred books.
If you are writing non-fiction for a niche market and you have something important to say, your book can provide wonderful exposure and authority that may (no guarantees!) translate into significant income.
I considered going the traditional publishing route and I’m glad I didn’t for several reasons:
I hope my experience and thoughts are helpful and perhaps encouraging for some who have been considering self-publishing.
Image attribution: Dianne Heath
The following story by Vaughn Bell on a recent change to the DSM “psychiatric bible” shines light on a fundamental but little known reason why smart companies sponsor events that have a bearing on the products or services they supply. Event sponsorship is usually marketed as a way for a sponsor to increase visibility, image, prestige and credibility with a target audience, differentiate the company from competitors, help to develop closer and better relationships with customers, and showcase sponsor offerings and capabilities. Yet we’ve known for over five decades that gift-giving activities like sponsorship change recipients behavior in ways that they’re not aware of. Read on:
One of the most controversial changes to the recently finalised DSM-5 diagnostic manual was the removal of the ‘bereavement exclusion’ from the diagnosis of depression – meaning that someone could be diagnosed as depressed even if they’ve just lost a loved one.
The Washington Post has been investigating the financial ties of those on the committee and, yes, you guessed it:
Eight of 11 members of the APA committee that spearheaded the change reported financial connections to pharmaceutical companies — either receiving speaking fees, consultant pay, research grants or holding stock, according to the disclosures filed with the association. Six of the 11 panelists reported financial ties during the time that the committee met, and two more reported financial ties in the five years leading up to the committee assignment, according to APA records.
A key adviser to the committee — he wrote the scientific justification for the change — was the lead author of the 2001 study on Wellbutrin, sponsored by GlaxoWellcome, showing that its antidepressant Wellbutrin could be used to treat bereavement…
The association also appointed an oversight panel that declared that the recommendations had been free of bias, but most of the members of the “independent review panel” had previous financial ties to the industry.
Actually, it’s kind of sad that this isn’t a surprise, but perhaps more worrying is the fact that the chairman of the mood disorders panel that made the change, Jan Fawcett, doesn’t seem to understand bias.
“I don’t think these connections create any bias at all,” Fawcett said. “People can say we were biased. But it assumes we have no intelligence of our own.”
Fawcett is assuming that bias means ‘dishonesty’ where people deliberately make choices for their own advantage against what they know to be a better course of action, or ‘sloppiness’ where people don’t fully think through the issue.
But bias, as you can find out from picking up any social psychology paper from the past century, is where incentives change our behaviour usually without us having insight into the presence or effect of the influencer.
So when someone says, “I don’t think these connections create any bias” it means – ‘I’m not willing to think about the bias that these connections create’ which is a red flag that they won’t be recognised or addressed.
—A depressing financial justification by Vaughn Bell
From the Middle East merchant who invites you into his shop for coffee before a sale is even discussed, to the Italian winemaker who plies you with her wines to taste before she graciously shows you what a dozen bottles would cost to be shipped back home (yes, this happened to me recently), most cultures learned long ago the power of giving gifts to change behavior.
What is interesting to me is that Western cultures, believing in the supremacy of our minds over our emotions—”the rider over the elephant” as Daniel Kahneman puts it—discount the effects that sponsorship can have on our hearts and subsequent decisions. I sincerely thank the myriads of event sponsors who have often made my time at events easier and more pleasant, while acknowledging their influence on my future consulting recommendations and purchasing choices. As Bell points out, people who believe their intelligence will protect them against the ways our brains actually work are fooling themselves. Meanwhile, the smart sponsor smiles and continues to be generous.
Product/service developers and marketers—listen up!
Google “Generation X’ and you’ll get over 300 million results.
I think this way of thinking about people is nonsense. And so does Clay Shirky.
“One of the weakest notions in the entire pop culture canon is that of innate generational difference, the idea that today’s thirty-somethings are members of a class of people called Generation X, while twenty-somethings are part of Generation Y, and that both differ innately from each other and from the baby boomers. The conceptual appeal of these labels is enormous, but the idea’s explanatory value is almost worthless, a kind of astrology for decades instead of months.”
—Clay Shirky, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age
Shirky goes on to say that those who like to dramatize these generational differences are making a fundamental attribution error; mistaking new behavior for some kind of change in human nature rather than a change in opportunity. Much of the “difference” between “generations” is in fact caused by a change in that generation’s environment or circumstances.
Rather than start with supposed generational differences, dig deeper into the causes for changes in behavior. Instead of marketing driven by statistical analyses of differences in behavior, concentrate on understanding why behaviors have changed. (Or haven’t.)
Then develop your products, services, and marketing around your understanding of relevant human behavior and the changing environment.
Remember, people don’t change that fast. But their environment and circumstances can.
That’s what you should focus on.
P.S. If you haven’t already, read Switch by the Heath brothers for a great practical approach to changing people’s behavior.
Download five free chapters here!
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