Kevin O’Keefe, Carolyn Elefant and others have been discussing legal conferences over the past few days. O’Keefe wants to see some changes, and Elefant raises practical concerns she feels make those changes unlikely. Having hosted our first legal conference just a few weeks ago, I can attest to the fact that the challenges Elefant raises in the comments are real. But that doesn’t necessarily mean accepting the status quo.
I think we’ve all had experiences like those O’Keefe describes, sitting through dull or repetitive presentations by people with excellent affiliations but not-so-excellent advice or presentation skills. Get a LifeTM was designed to bring real value to participants at every level, starting from a simple concept: the best people to bring to the table when you’re creating something new are those who have already worked out pieces of the puzzle and successfully implemented them.
There are plenty of talented people out there who want to contribute. You don’t have to sell panelist seats to the highest bidder, and you don’t have to reject panelists just because they are associated with a commercial endeavor. The answer is simple: choose speakers based on the value they bring, not the money or the affiliations they bring. Value is measured in large part by the usefulness and relevance of the subject matter.
As we prepared for the first Get a Life conference, we took great care in this area. Total PMA scheduled a conference call with every panel/panelist to review the subject matter and make sure the content fit the Get a Life theme. Not only did that help us to deliver great, targeted content, but it strengthened our relationships and credibility with speakers, who appreciated our attention to detail.
The real question isn’t whether to “keep sponsors off” the conference agenda, but how speakers, panelists, topics, perks, and even diversions are selected. Our conference philosophy is the same as our approach to other products and services, and it’s very straightforward: offer value and people will want to be a part of what you’re doing. That’s true for attendees, speakers, vendors, sponsors and everyone else who plays a part in making a successful conference. Too often, conference organizers have some agenda—politics, economic concerns, or some other underlying motivator–that they put before the interests of their attendees and the integrity of the conference theme.
As networking, technology, marketing strategies and the like have moved into the foreground, too many industry associations have lost sight of their true purpose….to use conferences primarily to benefit their membership. Generating revenue should be a secondary goal.
As you know if you attended Get a Life, watched the live stream, or have joined Total PMA, our focus is on skills and strategies to help improve your life—regardless of the source of that information. If “competing” associations and vendors had products or information we believed would be helpful to our members, they were invited to share that information. We streamed the conference for free to ensure that the information was available to the broadest possible audience. We lost a lot of money, but the association and its sponsors benefitted in many other ways: positive PR, increased involvement, and further establishment of the players as thought leaders in the industry.
Conferences are, in part, a means of letting the world know that players in the industry have quality products and services to offer. But at the end of the day, those products and services have to speak for themselves. Offering value to customers is the one immutable piece of any successful business endeavor.
Why should a legal conference be any different?