The Post-Orgasmic Effect of Conferences (aka Event Refractory Period)

December 26, 2009

in Basics, Interview

David Orban, Advisor & European Lead of Singularity University (photo by Joi Ito)

David Orban (photo by Joi Ito)

Before the conference: you promote and try to sell. During the conference: you engage with people and generate real-time buzz. After the conference: you disappear… until you will have to promote your next event. This often involuntary behavior is comparable to the refractory period after sexual intercourse or “the recovery phase after orgasm during which it is physiologically impossible for an individual to have additional orgasms” (source: Wikipedia).

To further explore this common symptom of the “after conference” and some possible solutions I met David Orban, Advisor & European Lead of Singularity University and active speaker and delegate in many important international events.

David describes how “conference organizers treat rather symmetric periods of time, before and after an event, very differently”:

  • Before the conference “organizers want to pump up the excitement”, invite potential attendees to social networking sites, communicate official hashtags, etc.
  • After the conference everybody moves on… “the organizers pack up, the venue is deserted, the participants go home and after having been away for 2, 3 or more days of course they have all kinds of things to think about in their private and professional lives” (simply put, their attention is captured by something else).

Which are the negative consequences and missed opportunities for both organizers and attendees?

For the conference organizer there is a big missed opportunity here and that is the possibility of engaging with the attendees as intensively as it has been done with potential participants before the event. A pure marketer would say that you would “capture their attention for longer”. If you let go the conversation, when the time comes to promote your new conference -which might be a year later or so- you will need to re-engage with people whose interests have been stimulated by other stuff (competing or not) and you will have to capture their attention starting from scratch. Notice that I wrote “conversation” and not “communications” -better known as “event spam”- because there has to be real interaction, not just irrelevant content pushed from the top down.

Note: For a conversation to happen both parts must be actively involved. Engage with real value, do not try to fill up your audience with crap just to keep them aware of your event. Give something valuable out and value will come back.

One of the attendees biggest loss is that they are not aware of content they might have missed during the conference, things that inspired or made them enthusiastic or that simply they would like to share with colleagues and friends. Another power item is giving them the means to meet back people they encountered (or missed) at the event and create their own private conversations.

How to reduce or eliminate the event’s Refractory Period?

David suggests to plan beforehand the workflow requirements to keep the same tools in use (email, social networks, etc). Well before the event takes place, when you’re not yet in an emergency state, make a detailed program of  what should happen after the event. Prepare the structure so that it only requires couple of hours to deploy. Keep in mind that we’re talking about a period of time that is not necessarily short (days) but could be long several months or up to your next conference takes place.

Having a clear task list (or better a Gantt chart with tasks and due dates) frees your mind from thinking what to do and let’s you move directly into the execution of the plan. Remember to indicate who is responsible for what and to oversee the whole process. Make all the work possible before the event (e.g. preparing the template for a newsletter, setting up the after-event website leaving the necessary spaces for material that will be produced later, etc).

Note: It’s not just about sending a thank you email (which is often sent). There is a lot of material created during an event (video, interviews, summaries, photos, media coverage, etc) that is worth being shared.

Map all the content related to your conference and help your community find it. It does not have to be all created by your organization. Scout for the best and make it available through your website, social networks, etc carefully crediting the authors. Giving visibility to third parties is often a great way to transform them from mere participants to loyal members of a community and will stimulate them to produce even more high quality stuff the next time.

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