Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Events for Love and Money, Book Review

For IT consultant and computer science professor Adrian Segar, the journey started with a bad conference experience. Determined to do better, he set out to create an event that would truly serve him and his peers. Now, seasoned by years of experience and research, he has written a book: Conferences that Work, Creating Events that People LOVE. It’s a good practical guide for running participant-directed conferences.

Essentially Segar was doing unconferences before unconferences were cool. His book is refreshingly free of the “hipper than thou” vapors emitted by some unconference advocates and free media proponents (see Chris Brogan on The Audacity of Free). There is no hocus-pocus. However, Segar is focused on generating participant value, not profit margins or volume.

Segar reminds us that “to confer” is not passive. He lays out methods for identifying, on the spot, what participants want, making sure they get it, then and there, and facilitating participant connection with their fellow conferees. For the amateur looking to get peers together, he provides a step-by-step recipe for a successful conference.

If you are a conference pro, you might bristle at his critique of the “traditional conference” model. He endows traditional conferences with the weakest traits of formulaically produced, soulless events. He’s overstating to get our attention – deeper into the book, he writes freely about blending traditional elements such as a keynote with his own peer exchange format. And I have heard plodding conference marketers and meeting planners voice each of the traditional assumptions he attacks.

I have probably applied most of the elements of Segar’s method, piecemeal, in traditional (and profitable) peer-to-peer executive events we’ve run for media brands and associations. I’ve written in this space about the unique attributes of face-to-face conferring and the benefits of facilitating engagement and interaction. What makes his book original and worth a look is that it provides a complete system based on a coherent peer conference rationale.

Segar says peer conferences are “not in the business of making money.” He is frank about the difficulty of promoting conferences that rely heavily on the volunteer efforts of participants, and he states that his model works best for groups no larger than 60.

For those of us who are in the business of making money with events, his techniques have promise for tracks within larger events and for staging a series of regional events under a single promotional umbrella. Most importantly, his rationale for generating participant value has broad application. Our task is to find ways to scale up while making sure the perceived value sufficiently exceeds our costs!

If you share my interest in creating events that participants really LOVE, take a look at Conferences that Work by Adrian Segar. You can learn more and buy the book at his website. And then, if you want to make money with your events, give me a call.

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