The program at a recent conference was nearly perfect. The keynotes were terrific. The speakers were selected with care. The order of the sessions was a logistical masterpiece. The hosts seemly put all of their effort into the show and education.
After a long conference day, one night, I fell in with a crowd walking to the reception, and I learned they were some of the conference staff. They talked with each other about the giant egos of the CEO and COO. They spoke of the logistics and everything that was going wrong. They talked about how unprepared they felt. They spoke about the particular demands from the keynoters and what a hassle they were. They talked about how they couldn’t wait for the reception to be over so they could get the heck out of there. I was dumbfounded.
The conference was beautiful on the outside, but it seemed very broken inside.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been shocked because all of the administrative stuff was a mess. Staff members at the registration table were grumpy when I checked in. Then, even more irritable when I realized that the t-shirt packed in my bag was not the size I ordered. Coffee ran out during coffee breaks causing some attendees to make a run for it as their session was wrapping up. Staff members couldn’t answer attendees’ questions. The registration desk was often left unmanned. By the second day, the attendees started to grumble.
Perhaps the event hosts had neglected the care and feeding of the staff.
There’s training that could have happened. The hosts could have spent time with the staff explaining the goals of the conference, how they want attendees to feel, and what experiences they want attendees to have.
In this case, the hosts were part of the program, and they took quite a few bows. While they acknowledged themselves, the MC, and other speakers, they never gave credit to the staff behind the scenes.
Did things get better once they got back to the office? Probably not. This organization probably needs to reform its culture. And figure out more ways to care for their staff members (day off post-conference, anyone?).
Even with all the planning in the world, if the staff is off, attendees will notice.