I read a disturbing article by Martha White in the New York Times that conventions and conferences were being canceled because manufacturers and associations don’t think people will come so they don’t want to spend the money.
At the same time, I’ve witnessed a bunch of groups who commit to hold a meeting and choose to save money by not using a professional speaker and instead use their vendors or members.
I can’t imagine a greater recipe for disaster.
Your best customers are depending on YOU in times like these. You want to make sure every one who comes to that conference leaves with actionable items based on shared positive experiences.
5 Reasons To Have A Conference
A conference is the one place the people who “get it” are able to come together and do a better job when they return to their stores. The very power of a meeting comes from the community that forms for those couple days.
The old mantra you get 80% of your business from 20% of your customers is still true. Those 20% are looking for how to do better – these are the people who attend conferences.
If you are not giving them a place they can come together and learn, it is only a matter of time until they look for someone else who gives them the inspiration - a competing organization or association- has a conference. If you "can't afford it,"it can make them question what they get from being members.
A conference keeps attendees from being insulated from what is going on in the real world. It is important to hear what is going right with other dealers, not just listening to naysayers.
There is great power from people seeing possibility in the face of adversity. Those who come can pledge to move ahead, hold themselves accountable and form mastermind sessions to keep themselves up. You can’t do that unless you start off face to face and with shared stories.
While vendors know their products, they don’t necessarily know how their products work on the sales floor. Some presentations can feel out of touch because selling to other businesses is different than selling to the consumer. Which, in this age of downsizing and “I’ll wait,” falls flat because your members are searching for the tough answers to their tough concerns.
Choosing to use a vendor to speak because it is “cheaper,” often means the budget for the food is more important than the content. I’ve heard from a few potential clients who have told me as much. Remember, content and delivery are the kings at a conference.
3) The Future
It seems like a great idea to have members share "best practices" instead of a professional speaker, but what if someone's "best practice" may not indeed be best? I was at a convention when one of their members gave a presentation on how Groupon was a great way to market your business.
In addition, members are not used to performing for an audience. Poor presenters who read off of PowerPoint slides or stammer from notes can bring everyone down. The problem of that lingers - when you have the next meeting or conference, attendees remember they got “nothing new” from the last one.
4) Challenge poor thinking
I was at a Best Western convention after 9/11 and James Evans, the CEO got up with a graphic of the world – kind of like a Sherman-Williams paint logo that had ice instead of paint covering the world. His keynote was deadly- no one was traveling, tough times, nothing we can do about it. This guy should never have spoken – it killed the conference.
I heard an amateur tell an audience during a breakout that they could grow their business by 50% this year -“just think you can.” That was his whole speech. You could see attendees disbelief in their face.
Look, I am all for positive attitudes and feel it can influence your sales, but it isn't that simple. A professional can give your attendees the tools they need to affect change and deliver it to them in an organized fashion that has a beginning, middle and end.
No, a professional speaker doesn't know the titanium coated aluminum strut on the triple valve is the latest thing. That's because a professional speaker is up in the blimp looking down at what keeps your attendees up at night. They then customize the speech to meet those needs.
That's how I received this endorsement from Ken Wilson after keynoting the NAMM convention, "I am always apprehensive when I book a speaker from outside our industry but the way you customized your presentation to suit our members hit the nail right on the head and you really connected with them. I have received nothing but positive comments about your presentation and I can tell that our members are excited to get back to their stores and apply what they learned from you."
Yes, I speak for a living and you could consider me biased but the reality is, I’ve helped thousands of business owners compete. I can share what has worked throughout whole industries that is transferable to yours. Isn’t that what a conference is for? Isn’t that what they are looking for if they go to all the trouble to attend a conference? Of course it is.
Associations, franchisors and manufacturers, if you don’t bring them together – who will?
Likewise if you don’t use professionals, how will your members compete?
Bob Phibbs, The Retail Doctor, has helped hundreds of small and medium-sized businesses in every major industry, including hospitality, manufacturing, service, restaurant and retail. His clients have included such well-known brands as Yamaha, Hunter Douglas Window Fashions, Caswell-Massey and LEGO.