Small business Owners - Industry Events
Small businesses value conferences and industry events as positive activities to improve their business skills. They value the updated information on trends within their industries, networking opportunities, and face-to-face interactions these events provide.
The lack of data available specific to small business concerns regarding conference attendance leads to the belief that there are no differentiating barriers to attending industry events between small and larger businesses. An older article appearing in Small Business Trends corroborates some of these concerns with a more recent generalized article. Factors functioning as obstacles to conferences include cost, time, and location. Qualitative factors include content relevance, applicability, and distractions. In order to be successful, conference planners must incorporate a variety of teaching strategies to engage different learning styles.
SMALL BUSINESSES VALUE CONFERENCE ATTENDANCE
Small business owners value the opportunities presented by attending conferences. A survey performed by APCO Insights in 2016 revealed that out of 300 respondents from 24 different industries, 81% made conference and trade show attendance a priority. 75% of respondents stated a key factor for conference attendance was the networking opportunity they present. In addition, 68% of respondents in the technology industry felt that attending educational events strengthened their business skills.
Another more general survey conducted in 2015 by the IAEE, PCMA, and the Experience Institute recorded that 9 out of 10 respondents stated maintaining current information on trends in the industry was a key factor in attending educational conferences. Respondents also valued in-person interactions over online interactions. 63% of those surveyed by APCO Insight cited the importance of "face to face community engagements." The "after event value" also drives attendance with 80% citing location as a key driver in selecting which events to attend. Lastly, positive experiences equate with repeat attendance. 80% of attendees are more likely to recommend a conference if they felt it was a positive experience.
BARRIERS AND FRUSTRATIONS ASSOCIATED WITH CONFERENCE ATTENDANCE
The limited amount of data specific to the barriers experienced by small businesses regarding conference attendance leads to the belief that small businesses share the same concerns as businesses in general. An article appearing in the April 29th, 2014, edition of Small Business Trends states that small businesses need to be prepared to attend conferences due to the time, travel and energy commitments. Although this article is over 2 years old, it corroborates parts of the three main quantifiable barriers of cost, time, and location found in a more recent source.
The average conference registration fee is $1000, and 61% of the Experience Institute survey respondents stated that cost was their biggest deterrent. 60% stated that some type of subsidy or discount would encourage attendance at these events.
Time commitments and schedule conflicts were also cited as key barriers in conference attendance. 41% of respondents stated that leaving their responsibilities to attend the conference was also a deterrent to attending these events.
Location is also a significant variable in conference attendance. As stated above, 80% choose which conferences to attend based on location and after event plans. 37% of respondents in one survey stated they would only attend a conference if it was in a desirable location.
Other barriers to attendance at industry events consist of content relevance. Attendees may chose not to attend a conference because of the lack of new and exciting information. They feel that the information presented at these events doesn't change very much. In addition, distractions created by other attendees, vendors, and access to continued operations for their business via their smartphone create the appearance of a physical rather than mental presence at these events.
Attendees may, at times, feel that the information presented at conferences is not applicable to the specific requirements of their business operations at the present time. Another common complaint is that speakers are not engaging with their audiences but lecturing to them in a dull and drab theater-like setting, deducting from the ability to apply new knowledge. Many conferences involve the rapid successions of speakers and programs allowing little time for questions and further expansion into topic areas.
LEARNING STYLE PREFERENCES
A theory on Multiple Intelligence introduced by renowned psychologist Harold Gardner published in 1983 suggests that there are variations to the way people learn and process information and that no one "standard method" should be used in the evaluation of instructional effectiveness. Seven different styles of learning have been identified when planning educational conferences.
"Visual learners" learn by observation and the use of images and visual aids. The PowerPoint presentation is one way to engage people exhibiting this learning style. They need to associate the information with a picture or image in order to retain knowledge.
"Auditory learners" learn information in step by step processes through repetitive auditory exposure. They utilize tools such as mnemonics to retain what they have learned. Unlike auditory learners,"verbal learners" learn through the spoken word of a traditional classroom or lecture setting.
"Physical learners" learn best when they are moving around. They learn by doing and experience the information. They also incorporate phrases with movement.
"Logical or mathematical learners" learn by applying logic to information. Preferred teaching methods include case studies, charts, graphs, and methodology.
"Social learners" learn through interaction, group discussions, and question and answer sessions. Their counterparts are the "solitary learners", which learn best on their own at individual work stations and at their own pace.
In order to overcome frustrations associated with content management, conference planners should incorporate a variety of learning methods catering to different learning styles.
To wrap up, conferences and industry events are considered a valuable way to keep current on the industry, create networking opportunities, and hone business skills for small business owners. The main obstacles affecting conference attendance relate to cost, time, location, content, and distractions. Care should be taken by conference planners to incorporate new, exciting, and relevant content via methods catering to varying learning styles.