Conference Success Series: You Can’t Get There From Here
Editor’s Note: We’re ramping up into conference season in market research, and there are more and more choices for speakers, sponsors, exhibitors and attendees to pick from (although why anyone would attend any other event but IIeX, I just don’t know!). We decided to ask Annie Pettit, who arguably attends more industry events than anyone else in the industry (and who always provides useful critiques of them) to distill what she has learned about making conferences a success into a series of posts. Here is the third one. Enjoy!
By Annie Pettit
There are some quaint fishing villages on the east coast of Canada where you can watch the fishermen unload their daily catch of lobster, shrimp, and clams. You can even chat with them about their unique lifestyles if you speak English. But, if you weren’t raised in their fishing village, there is no way you will understand a word of their English.
While it would be fascinating for a conference to grant us an amazing opportunity to conduct ethnography in an isolated village, most attendees would be extremely annoyed. Let’s unpack the reasons why.
Flights: The worst path to a conference is one that involves finding a ride to a major hub, followed by a flight to another major hub, followed by a flight on a tiny airplane to a local airport, followed by a 90 minute taxi ride to an outlying community. If you can indeed get there from here, you’ve wasted the majority of a day and emptied out your wallet doing so. Ideally, the best conference location is a huge city with a major international airport and an impressive public transportation system. Think Amsterdam, Berlin, Chicago, London, Paris, Tokyo, and Toronto. These cities have multiple airlines competing for business which means potential conference attendees won’t be disappointed by unaffordable flights. And, they can hop directly onto local transit for $10 without worrying whether a taxi service is going to refuse the trip (oh, pesky little New York!) or rip them off. I love the cutesy hamlets and isolated resorts, but leave those to personal holidays.
Hotels: I’m a cheap date and I suspect that most people from small research companies are too. Make sure there is an abundance of hotel choices so that more people can find affordable lodgings. In my case, I look for hotel rooms that have locks on the doors, clean sheets on the bed, and a private bathroom. I don’t care if the room is only 75 square feet (yes, I stayed there). Fancy spas and on-site restaurants increase the costs and most conference goers won’t have time to use them anyways. Indeed, some of my favourite hotels have been two star historic buildings with oddly shaped rooms named “Anne” and quirky amenities like a light fixture that is a model ship in a lightbox. Even better, the cheaper the hotel is, the more likely it is that the wifi will be free. Not kidding.
Local facilities: While we may not need fancy hotel facilities, we do need some facilities, particularly people who are fortunate enough to be able to add a Saturday or Sunday to their trip. We would much appreciate a local coffee shop that serves regional treats for breakfast, a small fruit store, some local restaurants that specialize in regional favourites, and a few generic clothing stores for people whose luggage is on its way to Kathmandu. In most cases, this requirement rules out business parks and resorts which usually feel like prisons anyways. Even better, list the facilities in the conference program so that people know where to go if they’re having a pantyhose (or macaron) emergency.
Local activities: If your conference managed to pull together all of the above items, then you’ve met the requirements for basic human needs. Congratulations! But, if you want to go one step further, there are a few things you can do to improve your grade from a B venue to an A venue. First, nothing beats green or blue space. Find a venue that is walkably close to a huge wooded park where people can take a one hour fast-paced walk without going in a loop 37 times and without smelling seven other people huffing and puffing on their electrical devices (smoking or cycling!). Find a venue that has walkable access to a river, lake, or ocean, ideally one in which people can swim without being slimed to death. Find a venue near world renowned museums or one-of-a-kind attractions like The Icelandic Phallological Museum, or the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum.
Sorry Paris, Ontario. You have a great bakery, but that is not going to cut it this time!