A powerful question: Whom is your event for?

Who is conference for

A fundamental question frequently arises when I receive initial requests for conference or meeting designs, because it’s often not clear whom the event is expected to benefit:

Whom is your event for?

A powerful way of thinking about events emerges from answering this question.

Here are three constituencies that could be components of your answer:

  1. Individual participants.
  2. Organizations.
  3. Culture.

(The third, Culture, is the best word I can think of to represent societal patterns and beliefs: i.e. forms that are followed. Not strictly a “whom”, but still a powerful force that needs to be included.)

Looking through this lens leads me to the Venn diagram above, which I think is an interesting way to view different kinds of meetings. You may quibble about the definitions and boundaries of the event types plotted—feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

Four quick observations:

  • It’s surprising how nicely most common event types fall  into one of the seven combinations of the three constituencies. One exception is what I call “client conferences” which can be predominantly for an organization’s benefit (e.g. “in order to qualify to sell our products you must attend this conference”) or for both the organization’s and clients’ benefit (e.g. “learn how to sell our products better and let’s all make more money”).
  • In my work, I sometimes see tension between the needs of the organization and those of the participants. Part of my approach to event design is to make events win-win for both.
  • I can’t think of any events that are purely “for” culture. People or organizations always seem to have to be involved. (Though perhaps The Long Now or a burial of time capsules are rare exceptions?)
  • Feel free to add religious events wherever you think appropriate. I’m not going there.

I see this formulation as a work in progress, so your comments, additions, and corrections are especially welcome!