Conferences 3.0: Attendee Bill of Rights

June 7th, 2012

These days, staffing is tight, budgets are tighter, and it’s often a challenge to get to any conference, nevertheless multiple conferences. That means as conference planners, we need to make this experience count for our attendees.

In the spirit of Conference 3.0, we have devised a basic “bill of rights” for those attending student affairs conferences or, well…any conference.

As conference planners we believe attendees have the right to…(lines in parentheses are personal commentary from blog authors)


– Free WiFi.
          (Ask any attendee if they would have paid $10 more in their registration for free WiFi and I
doubt they’ll say no way. In fact, I’ll bet $10 they wouldn’t.)

– Tweet, blog, or even text during sessions.
          (It doesn’t mean they’re not engaged – in fact, it could mean they’re engaging even more than
folks in the session that are staring blankly at the presenter.)

– Electrical sockets with power strips.
           (Our devices spread the conference experience and entice others to consider attending next year. No juice means no spreading of message.)

Get Inspired

– Get inspired by conference speakers, presentations, and the overall experience.
          (This is the opposite of apathy. Leaving a room with an eye roll and sigh means lack of inspiration.)

– Enjoy the conference!
          (This isn’t just another day at the office. If they don’t enjoy it, they won’t return rejuvenated. If they don’t return rejuvenated, what did their institution pay for?)

– Have a fresh conference experience every time.
          (Recycling is great for the environment not for conference experiences.)

– Make their own name badges.
          (My personality doesn’t come through in Garamond font size 16.)

– Not sit through another boring PowerPoint presentation.
          (If someone can’t present without reading, well, they’re not presenting.)

– Learn something new – preferably several things.
          (This does not include them discovering that they suddenly like dirty martinis or mini quiches thanks to the three socials they attended.)

– Be provided with opportunities to engage beyond the conference.
          (And no, we don’t mean a conference hook-up here. How are they going to take what they’ve learned and put it into practice? How will they continue to build on the relationships they’ve started?)

– Make connections and network; start new conversations and continue old ones.
          (Perhaps conferences should offer a directory of who is attending via a GoogleDoc complete with voluntary information provided by members. It will be like the original Facebook, the one that was printed.)

Get Frustrated / Give Feedback / Leave

– Complain. They do. We won’t please everyone, but we promise to address it, solve it, and empower them to help.
          (Let’s be honest, you are halfway through this list, and you probably already have a complaint about the list.)

– Have access to session descriptions before the early registration deadline – they should be able to know what they’re paying for.
          (Would you pay a cover to get into a restaurant without seeing the menu?)

– Leave a session if it is not what was in the description.
          (No bait and switches here. If they don’t like it, they can leave.)

– Join a session late.
          (For having left one that was not up to par – or even because they were networking in the hallway.)

– To judge me as a conference planner. Their feedback is important and we want to hear it.
          (It helps if it is constructive. Yelling about the lack of cookies isn’t constructive.)

– Evaluate individual presenters and sessions, as well as the overall conference format in any way they see fit.
          (Tweets, blogs, pictures – we hope they’ll share it and be prepared to be approached for more of their thoughts beyond 140 witty characters.)

– Skip conference sessions to see the city – especially if they’re not getting any of the rest of these rights and especially if they had to use personal vacation time to attend.
          (No one goes to a city check out hotel ballrooms unless they are shopping for remote wedding locations.)

Above all else…

– Be judged by their knowledge – not their position title.
          (Just like on Twitter, hierarchies do not always match knowledge shared.)

– Wear what they are comfortable in.
          (If jeans and a polo works for them, it works for them. If a suit and tie works, then a suit and tie works. Who are we to judge how people want to present themselves?)

We think this is a pretty good list, but we’re open to the ideas of others – in fact, we’re sure there are other rights that should be included. What rights do your conference attendees have? What rights would you like to see as a conference attendee?

Join the conversation on Twitter at #conf30 or by sharing your thoughts in the comments below.

This is cross-posted on my co-conspirator’s blog as well: you can follow him at@JoeGinese