Influence people

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Why are Conferences Dying?

Millennials are killing dozens of industries, according to Business Insider.

"Psychologically scarred" by the Great Recession, their wayward generation is boycotting:
  • Retail outlets like banks, department stores, and home-improvement outlets
  • Chain-restaurants like Applebee's, Hooters and Ruby Tuesday
  • Groceries like beer, cereal, and yogurt
  • Household goods like bar soap, fabric softener, and napkins
  • Sports like pro football, golf, gyms, and motorcycles
  • Luxury items like diamonds and designer handbags
Will conferences be next?

Many industry watchers predict so; and some producers are clearly anxious, if this ad's any indicator:

But for the scrappy producer, as Mark Twain said, "the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."

That breed of producer is testing the participatory "unconference," embracing the design ideas of trailblazers like Adrian Segar.

Segar insists old-school conferences "unconsciously promote and sustain power imbalances"—imbalances anathema to new audiences, who crave equality opportunity with producers and presenters to influence outcomes.

The power imbalances stem from producers' "underlying belief that when you lose control everything turns to chaos," Segar says.

"Meeting stakeholders and planners typically subscribe to this viewpoint because they can’t conceive of (usually because they’ve never experienced) a form of meeting that successfully uses a different kind of power relationship."

It's high time conference producers abandoned that viewpoint.

Or it's Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday.


  1. Bob, your post here is timely.
    Earlier this week I attended two mid-school orientations for my grand kids.
    I was struck with the principal's and teacher's presentations. All old school slides and talking heads. And I wondered - I/we have been led to believer that all of the "experiential" and "adult-learning" was being driven from the bottom up. I did not see any of that this past week.
    Also, per your comments about what millennials are boycotting - other than online, e-commerce shopping, where are millennials getting their entertainment, clothes washed, and breakfast?
    And third: It is nice to do crowd-scourcing and learning with peers, but what about learning at the foot of the wise? I know when I was 20-something, even 30 and 40-something - I sought out veterans that were wiser and more experienced than me. Is that not still a good resource for everyone, no matter what their age?

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  3. Mike, coming of age as we did in a command-and-control world, sitting through talks was how we learned. And we're grateful for it. I can no more imagine my college professors asking us to "share" than I can Westmoreland asking the troops if they wanted to assault Huế before, or after, the group hug. But as you have taught me, "that was then, this is now."

    Peer-learning is experiential learning, and experiences are where it's at. While I, like you, would rather learn at the feet of an experienced master, today's audiences don't share that preference. They want to chime in and mix it up. Fine by me (as long as everyone uses bar soap in the morning).

    Thanks for sharing your reactions.


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