Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Noble`s Seven Rules for Successful Conferencing

Noble’s 7 Rules for Successful Conferencing

Over my career I have organized a lot of conference/workshops – all told somewhere around 50plus.  All have been small (500 people or less) and most are one-day events, and most (but not all) have been financially successful in the sense that they have not lost money.   I put these on because I have a sense of mission about creating opportunities for people to meet and share ideas, knowing that when they leave they have a tad more passion that when they came. 

My most recent venture is our upcoming conference/workshop on Listening to the “Voice of the Customer” in the Medical Laboratory [ http://conference2016.polqm.ca ]

It seems that I have reached that point in my career that I am starting to feel comfortable with trying to systematize what I do, to share ideas and maybe some experiential knowledge.  And so just as with my previous “Rules on How to Not Die…”  I provide the following:

1: Quality IS Conferencing.
Quality is all about continuing education, error reduction and continual improvement, and customer satisfaction and managing risk.  Conferences are all about continuing education, error reduction and continual improvement and customer satisfaction and managing risk.  

2: Conferencing IS Quality
There is nothing more “Deming” than putting on conferences.  The only chance for success is to be laser focused on Plan-Do-Study-Act.  PDSA can’t guarantee success, but its absence will absolutely guarantee failure.

3:  Plan your Upside
The things that promote the opportunities for success are:
Topic:            Be current and relevant.  A small committee will help focus on your top 3 ideas.  A big committee will distract and delay.  Pick your topic and work with it.
There are 4 good months and 12 bad months.  If possible aim for April, May, October, or November, but understand those are the same months when the level of conference competition is greatest.  December-January and June-August are poison. 
Sponsors are a tremendous asset because they help build up a bankroll.  But sponsorship does NOT work as the more the merrier.  Keep the group small and close.  
Pick your audience. 
For smaller conferences, you are probably looking at a select audience.  In my situation, I focus on the group of laboratorians with an interest in matters Quality.  Physicians, Scientists, Technologists, Administrators, Ministry workers and students.  We understand that the audience is going to be fairly “close to home”, with perhaps 2-3 percent being from away.   Knowing this helps us sort out how we can promote the meeting
[ As long as I am talking about meeting promotion, please visit http://conference2016.polqm.ca ]

4: Plan for Success
Meeting attenders at large conferences are pretty much settle to be passive observers and party attenders.  There is little opportunity to really get engaged.  Small meeting attenders on the other hand are looking for another experience.  They still want the name speakers, but expect the opportunity to get engaged in conversation.  Some want to talk about their own experiences, either in person or by poster.  We create opportunities for all that.
Our accreditors require that at least 25% of the conference/workshop is spent in discussion-interaction.  Because we are small and continuing education focused we ensure they get all that (and more).

5: Don’t shoot for the moon.
Small conferences benefit from the comradery and collegiality.  They can be designed for all sorts of pluses, but a big revenue stream is NOT one of them.  But if you cover your costs plus 100 percent, that will give you enough to feel pretty good, and maybe enough to bankroll the next one.  Don’t make up for smallish target attendance by setting registration high.  That will only serve to annoy and discourage.  

6: Control your Downside.
The single most significant way to ruin conferences for now and for the forever future is to lose money.  Money failure is (near) always excess expenditures, like excess speaker travel costs, or overly generous honoraria, or two killers of all killers, excess expenditure on promotion and especially food. 
There are tons of free promotion site these days, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, just to name a few. 
To the extent possible, avoid holding your conference in a hotel; without trying very hard hotel catering food and service costs can run up to $150-200 per person per day (without alcohol).

7:  Study-Study-Study.
If you are thinking about doing more than one conference, get really sharp and active in your satisfaction surveys.  Find out what worked and especially what did not.  Design them to optimize for truth telling.   As a general rule, in my experience and that of others, most people do not like to fill in surveys.  At first pass you might get a 5-10 percent response, which is interesting, but not relevant.  Push for 15-20% if you really want to know what your audience thought.  Instead of one long survey, consider randomly sending out 2 or 3 short ones. 
(If you really have absolutely no interest in going through this again, don’t bother).