In my line of work I have been at a lot of conferences, either as a speaker, or just attending. Last week I had the worst experience I have ever had at a conference.
The first thing is that I am getting tired of sitting in awards luncheons for organizations where current and former board member give other current and former board members awards. I would love to have one honest speech like this: “He was nice and never caused any problems for the rest of us, so Bill is getting the go-along to get-along award. He was mentally checked out for most of the meetings, and we can’t really remember anything he ever did, but we have seven awards to give out and figured he might as well get one.” I would feel like I was getting my money’s worth if we had those kind of speeches.
The major problem is that the convention hotel we were in was under construction. While a workshop was going on, people were outside in the hallway or in the room next door building walls, tearing out wires, etc. It is really hard to concentrate in those settings. One workshop I tried to go to had ten chairs in it for attendees. I think it was a storage room that was “converted” to a workshop room. Most of the rooms were dark, too, or had strange colored lights that gave you a headache.
To get from one part of the hotel to another you went through a narrow temporary hallway made up of planks, curtains, and plastic. I have visited a submarine that had more room to move around. At the end of the day, I just wanted to run as far away from this organization and its conference as I could.
I have no doubt that a lot of money was saved by having it in this “under construction” setting. The savings was not passed on the attendees, however. In an economy where conference planners are about as optimistic as mortgage brokers, I think it is time to do more to keep people coming back, not less.