A Live Studio Audience

Last week I went to gathering of people who were all brought together by their shared interest in a podcast (that will remain nameless here). For two days, I sat and listened, along with 200 other people, while the two guys on the stage essentially recorded and re-hashed a live podcast episode. At some point, it dawned on my wife and I that there was no need for us in this space. The event would have been the same whether we were there or not. In fact, the event would have been the same with or without any of the groups that were there. Some deep part of me suspects that the event would have even been the same if NOBODY had been there.

This led to a simple, but powerful insight that is backed up by lots of research around participation and member engagement: If your event is not dramatically altered by the presence of every person in the room, then consider sending them an email, recording a podcast or writing a book instead.

Too often our gatherings are just talking books. And here's the thing, I don't need anyone to read to me. I can do it on my own...and I will. I don't need anyone to stand up on a stage and tell me what I can see on Youtube or TED or listen to on a podcast.

All of this comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of where the source of value lies in conferences and events. For a long time, we needed experts to deliver expert content in a live venue. Before the internet, this mode of delivery made a lot of sense. It was a good model. It's just not an effective model anymore.

The source of value is not in the expert on the stage, it's in the audience that the experts bring together. I can listen to a podcast from the two guys on the stage whenever I want. But that was the only time I've ever been in a room with 200 people who knew exactly what I was going through and what I am experiencing. I wanted so much to talk with them, to have our experience guided with expert questions and discussion. But that didn't happen, and now that opportunity is lost forever.

The source of value in a collective conference experience lies in other people because even as we are more connected to information, we are less connected to each other. There is a mountain of social science research which shows that people learn best and understand new information more deeply when they do it together. So in an era where we can get all the information we want without your event, the real value is in getting to engage that information with other people who understand my challenges and struggles in my business.

If you're designing events and meetings that don't put people into connection with each other, then you're operating with a model that was built for a different era. It's a new world, and we need to engage people differently.

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