Conference ROI

Are you benefitting from all the conferences you attended in 2019?

Most of the 2019 conference calendar will be in our collective rearview by the time you read this article. I’m coming away from it all somewhat indifferent this year. Being someone who has the good fortune of being asked to speak at several events throughout the year, I always look back at the sessions I presented to my audiences.

Did I present timely and relevant content? Did the session help dealers identify issues at their stores and, more importantly, give them actionable items to help remedy them? Did the session promote dialogue and questions from my audience where we all could problem-solve together? Did my audience see value in spending their time with me?

Are you looking back at your conference experiences the same way? Where did you see value in the shows you attended and where did it lack? I ask this because I saw a lot of shows trend in the wrong direction.

Content bait and switch

I felt that a lot of the conference content lacked a true educational approach and leaned towards thinly-veiled pitches of services or products. I can understand why this happened. It was a year of cutting vendor services for many dealers due to the fluctuations in the market. Having the opportunity to speak at any conference is a great way for a company to show subject matter expertise, and also demonstrate how your company solves everyday issues for dealers. But that content needs to be weighted more to the educational benefits of the audience and not the business needs of your company. For my vendor friends reading this, the dealers noticed. I had many conversations at numerous events where the dealers in attendance felt that they were sitting through pitches and that the session information they audited pre-show was misleading. Most of the events do what they can to review all show content well before the conference begins, but what’s submitted and what’s presented can vary. I offer these pieces of advice to both vendors and dealers.

Vendors, educate first, educate often. Audiences respond well when they can see you’re there to truly help them tackle an issue or understand an evolving technology. Save the pitch, and give your audience full access to your expertise during and after the session. This goes a long way and builds better relationships and, over time, better profitability without forcing your agenda.

Dealers, don’t be afraid during a session Q&A (or during a session) to address areas where advertised take-aways aren’t being addressed. Be tactful about it. Don’t come out of the weeds guns blazing, but hold the presenters accountable to what they promised in their session descriptions. I feel too often that when presentations aren’t hitting the mark we only hear about it post-show. If we change the dialogue during the sessions perhaps we can all move the focus back to learning and evolving.

All show, no roll

I saw a lot of you, numerous times this year, at numerous events. I’m always curious if those attendees that spend a lot of time and money to get to numerous (if not all) events were actually taking strategies back to the dealership? On the other hand, I talked to many dealership staff that were able to get to only one conference but made the most of them by starting their strategic work while still at the show.

If you are at the end of 2019 and attended “all the shows” but are still struggling to get your store strategies to line up, perhaps it’s time to diversify the experience. Find other events that other members of your team can go to. Build a “conference plan,” so to speak, and spread the educational opportunities around your leadership team. Build real goals for post-conference efforts and make everyone responsible take new ideas into their departments after every event.

New year, new opportunities

If your own takeaways from this year’s conferences were hit and miss there are easy ways to shake things up. If you have traveled abroad to the same shows for some time, switch it up. Audit other events, often, to see what is being offered and if it could be of benefit to a member of your team. Shows are always evolving. If it wasn’t a great experience five years ago, it doesn’t mean it will deliver the same now.

Not everything has to be heavy on cost. Check with your provincial association and vendors for local low cost or free events. Find online conferences that you can attend simply by logging in at your desk. Great content doesn’t always happen in a convention centre.

Create a conference strategy as you would a customer experience or sales strategy. The point of attending is to learn, discuss, challenge and evolve. It’s not just about saying you were there, or saying you spoke at this show or that conference. It’s about challenging each other to be better, make our businesses and our industry better. Let’s all look at our conference experience differently in 2020.

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