The 12 Worst Things About Conferences We're Officially Nixing

Corey Wainwright
Corey Wainwright



make-events-coolSome events are cool. Some events are as stale as a week-old pizza crust.

Okay. Confession time. I've done all the following at corporate events: fallen asleep sitting up, gotten a la-hot of work done on my mobile device, found refuge in an isolated corner, Googled how to grow an indoor herb garden.

That's the kind of stuff people do at events that have components falling on the spectrum from boring to downright frustrating. I am a big fan of trying to break the mold, though -- and so is HubSpot's event team. Last year at INBOUND, I personally think our events team was able to throw a marketing event that was actually awesome. (As in, I wasn't even annoyed I had to get up at 5 a.m. to get there and work.) This year, our events team took last year's feedback and found ways to make it even more extraordinary -- and more importantly, strip away a lot of the stuff that makes many corporate events pretty lame. Here are some of those lame things we're getting rid of for good.

12 Worst Things About Corporate Events We're Eliminating at INBOUND 2013

1) Sessions That Don't Teach You Anything New

It's really hard to gauge what the content of an event will actually deliver, so it's easy to end up at an event that just regurgitates the same stuff you've already heard elsewhere. Similarly, a lot of events try to appeal to the broadest general audience, and as such, their content ends up being general, too. We're trying to achieve a diversity of session types to combat this -- things like Big Ideas and Bold Talks (similar to TED-style talks, for a little inspiration), Inbound Stories (case studies of people actually doing inbound marketing), and How-to Sessions (you know, so you can take some tactics home). This way, you can choose which sessions are best for you, and get the most out of the event's content -- no matter who you are. 

2) Uncomfortable Sponsor Interactions

You know when you go to a sponsor pavilion and there's a row of booths with two fold-out tables and a drape? And then you walk around it feeling a strange mix of awkward and guilty ... awkward because you have to force conversation and feign interest in a company that probably doesn't apply to your business, and guilty because if you skip over them you'll feel bad that you didn't stop and talk? Yeah, that's done.

We're trying out this thing called Club INBOUND, where sponsors aren't in an expo hall -- they're located around other things to do so you can stop by and talk if you want to -- and you can determine that while doing other things, like chatting with other attendees, or just lounging and checking your email. It's a more natural approach for everyone, because there's other stuff going on, so the pressure's off for all parties.

3) Boring, Uninspiring Speeches

It's not easy to motivate an audience. And I don't think every session necessarily needs to be a life-changing, motivational speech. But I do think it's unfortunate when you leave an event with no inspiration whatsoever. That's why we're bringing in a host of amazing speakers, like Marcus Sheridan, CEO and founder of The Sales Lion (holy cow can that man get your blood moving), Lori Richardson, author of Score More Sales, Rachel Cogar, CEO and founder of Puma Creative, and Jill Konrath, author of Snap Selling. Leaving each day, and more importantly, your entire time at an event, feeling motivated makes you feel like your time and money was well spent. There's nothing worse than taking off to go home and thinking you should've stayed there the whole time.

4) Giant Bags of Print Collateral

Does anyone ever take that stuff home? I get needing some print collateral for something you're actually interested in, but wouldn't that end up being a couple pieces of paper, at most? Why do we all leave conferences with enough glossy paper to print next month's issue of GQ? Instead of shoving a giant bag of print collateral at you when you walk in, we'll give you a bag with the need-to-know stuff only, and some SWAG that'll make your time here easier, and more enjoyable. And then you can fill it with however much -- or as little -- as you want. #gotrees

5) Aimless, Awkward Wandering

We didn't do this very well last year. We had last-minute room changes that were reflected in the mobile app, but not in our print collateral. We have to do better than that this year, and we will! There's nothing more awkward than wandering around an event with a blank look, and no purpose. We're here for you. We will get through this together. We will put an end to the aimless wandering with more instructions on where to go than you can shake a stick at!

6) Networking Events That Don't Foster Actual Networking

A lot of people are just really awkward -- and networking brings it out in all of us. In fact, I personally loathe the prospect of networking, because unless I'm in rare form, I'm pretty terrible at it. (I actually requested this post about non-awkward networking be written so I could read the answers.) But there are things event planners can do to make it more natural -- and that's fostering a great networking environment. For instance, we're going to try to make it better by providing things to do around the networking, to help start a conversation and give people a natural reason to meet one another. Club INBOUND is a great example of this (so if you're feeling weird, remember to hop over there.) And if all else fails, you can always turn to Happy Hour. We're hosting one at the end of every day for people to unwind. And we've also published a new ebook about how to overcome awkward event networking if you could still use a few pointers.

7) Impossible to Find Electrical Outlets

We're all on our smartphones constantly. So why is it so damn hard to find an electrical outlet at these things?! We're hosting a recharge station to make it less painful to charge up -- because let's not kid ourselves, if any event needs this, it's an inbound marketing event. We're even making it nice and cozy, providing places you can hang out, rest your legs, and even leave your phone with an attendant if you want to go do stuff while it charges up.

8) Not Taking Advantage of the Event's Surroundings

When you attend an event in an awesome city, it's such a bummer to get no time to actually see that city. You hole up in a conference center for three days, and then just peace out, never seeing the sun, sky, or any of the sites. But we're kind of in love with Boston, so we're turning that trope on its head and getting you out into Boston's nightlife -- just like we did last year! (P.S. this was one of my favorite things about SME in San Diego ... they had a welcoming event at the Museum of Natural History. How cool is that?)

9) Ugly Presentations

No matter how amazing the content of a session, an ugly presentation can totally and utterly distract from it. It may seem petty, but it actually really hampers your learning ability as a member of the audience; you spend more time focusing on the weird things going on with the slides than the actual content of the slides -- or even what the speaker is saying. We're investing serious man and woman hours into the design of all of our presenters' slides so people can actually listen, not focus on the weird flashing images and strange fonts you can't quite read.

10) Stupid Swag You Don't Want

This goes hand in hand with the endless mounds of paper you seem to accumulate as time passes at conferences. Why did they give me this weird sticker book? What am I going to do with this? Has anyone seen a trash can? No. Enough wasting money on useless swag.

First of all, I think there's such a thing as fun, cool swag. Also, I think you should get to choose what you take home with you. Last year, for instance, we had a ton of people asking where they can get HubSpot swag, and it was a big request in our feedback surveys. So this year, we're bringing HubShop to INBOUND so you can actually purchase cool stuff if you want it. And if you don't, hey, that's cool, too.

11) Like, No Coffee

Events start really early. A lot of people are coming from different time zones. A lot of people are also out drinking really late. Coffee. Is. Needed. Why's it gotta be so hard to find? Let's make this really simple ... there will be coffee. Lots of coffee. And there's also lots of coffee shops around the event site, if your needs are more dire or more specific. If you can't find them while you're there, tweet me. I know a lot about where to find coffee in my city.

12) No Wi-Fi

Ohmygosh I hope this is actually true. (It is, it is.) The anxiety around this is that marketing events have people who are very digitally connected, and want to be on the internet pretty much all the time. And any event planner knows their sites tell them there will be definitely, absolutely, 100%, no questions asked, be wi-fi.

And then there's no wi-fi.

But in all honestly, we're actually investing a ton of effort in ensuring that event attendees will actually have wi-fi. Absolutely. Definitely. 100%.

What event tradition do you wish would die? Maybe we can nix it in time for INBOUND 2013 this year!

Image credit: diekatrin

awkward conference networking guide

Topics: Conferences

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