A colleague and I went to a free conference that was hosted by a company in our business sector. We spend a lot of money on each year with this company, for many of our business and software solutions.
Some of what went on was good and some of it was very bad…
Hopes and expectations
In the days leading up to the conference I received various emails promoting the conference, guest speaker Blah the 1st from leading company X, guest speaker Blah the 2nd from leading body Y. I was ready to hear from these experts and gain from their knowledge and wisdom!
The itinerary detailed exciting workshops in the afternoon. I was upset that the two that sounded the most interesting were on at the same time and I had to choose between them.
The pre-event information had got me in the right mind-set and not even the train strikes, which meant I was forced to be packed in like a sardine on my way to central London, could hold back my hopes and expectations.
A good start with good content
The morning started off well, the expert speakers were all good, engaging content and providing really useful information to take away, I was scribbling away in my notepad ready to go back to my company and revolutionise what is quite a boring and traditional business sector.
I was really impressed with the passion and delivery from most of the speakers, technology was used well by some, getting people to log in with an app and provide live polls and opinions. It was a great example of listening to the questions the sector has, and then posing those questions to the experts whom delivered great structured content to the attendees.
After a nice lunch the workshops started: 40 minute seminars that attendees were able to choose out of three on at the same time. In total they would get to go three of these sessions out of the nine on offer.
I was still hyped from how good the morning was. The workshop speaker came on and it was obvious the person was some kind of middle management from the company hosting the conference.
A faltered start, low production values in the presentation and a lack of enthusiasm from the speaker: the professional air from the morning was quickly evaporating.
Where is the content?
The workshop was titled along the lines of “how to update the marketing in your business, gain sales and not lose potential sales.” The talk started as a lot of these things do with some stats, a very blatant use of stats, “how many people view a website for a company before buying something” and “length of time someone stays on a homepage.” The stats were obvious, in your face, focusing on one aspect of marketing, (the website) all from the angle they wanted to talk about. My pen had not written anything yet.
A live poll was put out to the audience, “do you think your business needs a website?” Shockingly everyone said yes. I could see exactly where this was going: I knew the organisation running the conference had recently purchased a website design company so my mind had already finished the obvious presentation. I did still have some hope it would not go the way I thought it would.
I was naïve to think it would not turn into a sales pitch, I had to sit through some more stupid waffle about how important the internet is and websites are, my pen was in my pocket and my pad closed and on my lap as I was talked to like a five year old and spoon fed basic information.
Sales without content
About 15 minutes into this “workshop” the sales pitch hit and went on for the remaining 25 minutes. My pad was back in my bag and I suffered through a sales pitch that was lacking any enthusiasm or depth. I felt cheated and lied to!
I can survive a sales pitch at the end if I have been enlightened with good focused content and feel like I have something to take away. When it is just thrown down your throat and obvious, limited content is used to try and dupe me into a sale is a poor showing indeed.
Unfortunately the remaining two sessions I attended were exactly the same and my colleague who attended three different sessions reported the same feedback.
I understand companies need to make money, renting out a venue in central London to accommodate 200-400 people and provide lunch for everyone for free is not going to be cheap, you want a return on your investment. But it needs to be handled better than this.
Being subjected to three lacklustre sales pitches with next to no useful content did not make me feel for a single second that I should take on these extra services the company was offering. In fact it had the exact opposite affect and made me think I would look elsewhere if I needed to resolve these issues.
Final thoughts on content marketing and conferences
Good content is key! When it comes to these types of events or any kind of sales pitch if it is in person, a webinar or at a conference, the content will sway the person.
What was interesting in the way that they spoon-fed these basic concepts, skirting the main subject so much and providing so little content, it got to the sales pitch and I was missing a key thing to actually buy, need and want!
I wasn’t sure I had the issues they were trying to provide solutions for because they had provided basic stats, opinions and no content about it.
Free conference or not, I expect better and I hope you do also.
Great post Mike. I agree with your sentiments and I understand where you are coming from. A free event, conference, webinar or other type of free event is always a gamble. We all know to some extent there is a sales pitch involved and I am comfortable with that but as long as there is a value add for me.
My principle with such events is if I can take one new idea from a free event that I can apply or implement then it has been worth it.
Event organisers do have expenses thus I am comfortable with a sales pitch and to be honest I welcome it, as long as I get something in return – the day/time has not been wasted and I get lunch 🙂 Win Win!
You have got it spot on Con! We understand what free means but we still want something to walk away with!