Attendees Want Less Flash, More Substance

Research from Freeman reveals that attendees value hearing from industry experts and from each other more than celebrity keynotes. It’s even more highly prized, the research suggests, than open bars.

Author: Barbara Palmer       

“No more talking heads.”

That was the motto that WorldatWork’s Courtney Mesmer said she kept in mind as she launched an initiative to transform the education sessions at Total Rewards, the organization’s annual meeting. Her goal in launching a speaker coaching initiative in 2022 was rooted in educating industry experts in an interactive style of facilitating learning — thereby bridging the distance between what she thought that attendees wanted from education sessions and what they typically received.

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Courtney Mesmer

The data in the “Freeman Trends Report: 2024 Attendee Intent and Behavior,” released in January by the global events company, not only quantified many of the disconnects that Mesmer was working to overcome, but provided evidence that she was on the right track. Included in the survey’s findings:

Attendees want to hear about innovation from industry experts. When survey respondents were asked about the kind of speakers and topics they most preferred, 39 percent said that they wanted to hear about innovation; 34 percent said that they wanted to hear from industry leaders and experts. Almost no one — only 1 percent — said that they most preferred to hear from celebrity speakers, and 14 percent said they preferred inspirational or motivational speakers.

RELATED: Inside WorldatWork’s Speaker Coaching Program

Attendees want to learn through hands-on, informal sessions with industry experts and peers. When asked how they liked to learn at in-person events, 56 percent said they most valued hands-on interactions; 48 percent preferred informal meetings with subject matter experts, and 37 percent were more partial to peer-to-peer learning. Only 23 percent preferred “hall-style sessions.”

Bonding with peers and experts over shared professional challenges is what attendees are most looking for in networking experiences. More than half of attendees said this is their goal in attending networking activities. When asked about the factors that most positively influence their networking experience at an event, 52 percent chose meet-ups with professionals with similar challenges. Only 34 percent chose after-hours events; one in 10 chose on-site ambassador programs.

The Freeman report is based on the responses of nearly 2,100 individuals to an online survey conducted in November 2023 who had attended in-person and online business events over the past 12 months; the results have a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

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Earn one clock hour of CMP certification by visiting Convene’s CMP Series page to answer questions about this article, those listed below, and the Freeman Trends Report “2024 Attendee Intent and Behavior,” available for download.

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