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The Rise of the Confibition

By Julius Solaris
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There is a new emerging format in the event industry that everybody knows but nobody talks about. Enter the Confibition. What is it and how can it benefit your event?

EMB_image._confibition

I am not sure if anyone else has noticed but we are witnessing a big change in two of the most popular formats in the event industry; the conference and the exhibition/trade show. It is quite apparent to me after travelling around the world attending and speaking at events that there is a new way of engaging attendees - the confibition.

As much the name sounds funny, I believe we are actually witnessing a substantial transformation in the industry and we should better understand the implications of the growing popularity of this new format.

Convergence

One of the strongest driving forces characterizing the industry is convergence. We are witnessing the impact of blurred boundaries in event technology but this trend is equally affecting event and meeting formats.

The formats we all know have a common problem, we all know them! That's why those event professionals brave enough to experiment are creating new ways of making stakeholders happy. Very often the process involves mixing elements of different concepts, giving birth to event mashups.

The Problem with Exhibitions

While exhibitions are still surviving as good examples of business making opportunities, they are surely struggling on the education deliverables attendees demand.

It cannot be all about business. Attendees increasingly require a content component that trade show and exhibition managers are clumsily trying to deliver. Education and learning may not be the number one priority for those attending but it definitely makes it the top three.

Alas sales people on the show floor could not care less. After speaking to several show managers it is apparent how exhibitors are annoyed by the conference program, could not care less about attending sessions and just look at leads generated in most cases.

The Problem with Conferences

While the education value of conferences is constantly challenged, this type of event remains the undiscussed leader in event driven education. The truth is though that most conferences cannot survive without sponsors.

Despite the sporadic attempt to innovate, the wide majority of events deliver quite depressing sponsor packages, with little value and sad thank you remarks and banner opportunities. Therefore more and more conferences, meetings, seminars, workshops are introducing an exhibition component where the business development angle can be unravelled and sponsors can generate leads and tangible awareness programs for their brand.

Running A Successful Confibition

The confibition is not something new. You've probably attended dozens of them but there is no clear reference or best practices to run a successful one.

Historically the confibition was born with academic conferences where together with the plenary sessions, attendees could enter an exhibition style area where academics were displaying their research. The so called posters sections.

The key to running a successful confibition is understanding the correct balance of business versus education objectives of your attendees. There is a delicate expectations analysis that needs to be carried out when deciding on items such as:

- the ratio of sessions versus exhibitors
- whether there needs to be an appointment system in place
- whether exhibitors appointments should be part of the schedule
- the ratio of the exhibition area versus the conference area

The Risk of Not Being Enough of Both

One of the most pressing risks of running a confibition is not delivering on any of the benefits of the two formats. This is why it is important to determine the primary objective of the event.

What are your attendees' objectives?

Are they attending to learn or to network? Do they want to discover cool new brands in the industry or are they interested in listening to panel discussions?

Once you define the primary attendees' objective, you can make easy decisions in regards to what format will have more prominence at the event, the conference or the exhibition.

The recipe for success includes carefully calibrating an event that is a little bit of both. The official event agenda needs to be shaped with elements of both worlds. Some very common mistakes include:

- entirely removing one or the other format from the schedule
- treating the two formats as separate events
- not involving the speakers and the exhibitors to participate in creating a blended experience.

5 Tips to Becoming a Confibition Superhero

1. Get the Name right
I believe the best naming for confibitions is adding the term 'Live'. If you run events for ornithologists, instead of creating a 'Ornithology Conference' or a 'Ornithology Exhibition' it is much better to opt for 'Ornithology Live'. 'Live' is becoming synonymous with conferences and exhibitions. You are getting the best of both worlds.

2. Work with Appointments
I am growing more and more of an enthusiast for the hosted buyer model. I believe having buyer appointments is a great example of creating good opportunities for exhibitors with the noise, the selling and the shouting of trade shows. I recently spoke at MIS conference by our friends at Eventoplus - a very good confibition with buyer appointments in place.

3. Sponsors are Not Speakers
I don't want to be rude to anyone here, but that's what it is. The over zealous event planner can quickly turn high paying sponsors into professional speakers. The only problem is that they are not! Speakers should be professional sourced and if you really need to give voice to sponsors and make them part of the education, make sure they are given clear guidelines in terms of what they can and can't do. This is the only aspects of both worlds that needs to be separate.

4. Choose a Suitable Venue
A proper confibition is held in a venue that can accommodate both formats. The venue needs to be as neutral as possible and not over-impose one or the other concepts. This is quite a tough one as most venues are either made for conferences or exhibitions. You should use one common show floor to accommodate different elements and blend them in a unique experience, while preserving the need of conference goers to listen to speakers and exhibition visitors to have quiet conversations.

5. Keep it Together
The key for a successful confibition is to merge the two experiences. Anything that you can do to foster that perception is welcome. Involving the speakers and exhibitors to clearly understand the format is paramount. Try to avoid signalling the 'exhibition time' and the 'conference time' with disturbing sounds. I've seen creepy bellmen walking the room and annoying sirens used and it's not cool.

In Conclusion

This is the first attempt to create a reference guide for the confibition. It is by no means exhaustive and it needs the contribution of the community. I hope you can use the comments section to share more best practices or pitfalls so that we can all learn to better leverage this interesting concept.

about the author

Julius Solaris
Julius Solaris is the editor of EventManagerBlog.com, he is an international speaker, author and consultant.
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