Forward Thinking

The Risks of Mimicry

We always seem to be looking for the next quick tip, idea, or feature to implement for our next conference. But not so fast — there’s some work that needs to be done first.

We like to see or hear about others’ great ideas and copy them for our own meetings. We like to find lists of practical tips or steps to solve an issue and just plug them in. We’re just like many of our conference attendees looking to pack in as many industry education sessions as possible to get the (insert number here) best practices or top great ideas for success. Face it, we’re attracted to shiny objects for our conference innovation.

Being inspired by other’s fresh ideas and conference features is in itself a good thing. The challenge is understanding those ideas within the context of your own event, and thinking through how they might improve your conference participants’ experience. To be a fast follower, you need to be fast while ensuring that what worked at someone else’s event will be embraced by your customer, the attendee.

When we have only a surface familiarity with those ideas, it will likely lead to failure.

Show-floor education theaters provide a good example of what I mean. It’s a smart move to make your expo more educational, but about half of the attempts that I’ve witnessed have failed miserably because: 1) the show organizers put the theaters in the back of the hall; 2) they adopted a pay-to-play speaking model; and/or 3) they didn’t create their education programming with bite-sized, threaded learning experiences. In each of these examples, the customer experience was not given sufficient consideration. The beta test failed.

Illusions of Knowing

Part of the problem is that we are poor judges of when we are learning well and when we are not, according to Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel, the authors of Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. We are deluded by the belief that a list of tips, tricks, or fresh ideas will help us improve. We think that if someone else has already done the work and taken the risk, they’ve given us a quick and easy blueprint for our own event’s improvement. We are unaware that the gains from these strategies can be fleeting and temporary.

Research from learning experts like Ruth Colvin Clark, Daniel Willingham, and James Zull reinforces that just giving the best ideas to someone to implement leads to parroting behavior — and when we have only a surface familiarity with those ideas, it will likely lead to failure.

Go ahead and borrow ideas from others. But be sure to double down on deep thinking and experience design. You must invest the time necessary and have champions willing to support your efforts to think those ideas through, from incubation to execution.

Dave Lutz, CMP

Dave Lutz, CMP, is managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.