Leadership Conferences Grow, Become More Interactive

February 12, 2009

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Analytics, Automated & MarTech | B2B | Brand Metrics | PR | Trade Shows & Events

Nearly two-thirds (62%) of global conference organizers say that the demand for executive conferences has increased in the past three years and 46% claim it is still growing despite the recession, according to a survey by Weber Shandwick.

The research reveals the increasing importance executives place on face-to-face networking, especially in tough economic times. More than two-thirds (70%) of respondents say that the last three years have seen an increase in speaker acceptances and submissions to speak.

Executive Conference Circuit Trends

The survey also found several emerging trends in the executive conference circuit:

  • Conference organizers are now planning more time for Q&A (72% more vs. three years ago), more interactive sessions between speaker and audience (70%), and more panel sessions (64%). At the same time, they are planning fewer keynote sessions (30%) than they did three years ago.
  • Business leadership conferences are featuring more podcasts (62%), blogging and Twittering during events (58%) and live videocasting (56%). Less common, though still noted, are YouTube broadcasts (34%) and “unconferences” (18%).
  • Organizers are expanding or considering expanding their business into emerging markets such as China (32%), the Middle East (24%) and India (24%).

CSO Speakers in High Demand

Aside from company CEOs and chairmen – who continue to be the most desired speakers -? the chief sustainability officer (CSO) is the executive in greatest demand at conferences around the world today, the survey found.


Highlighting the growing importance of executive team visibility, the next most requested conference speakers are the CFO, CMO and CTO/CIO. Lower on the list of? popular executive speakers are chief risk officers and chief ethics officers, who may have lost credibility in light of the financial crisis, said Weber Shandwick.

“Business success is no longer dependent on the CEO, as corporations continue to diversify their bench strength. The demand for executives such as the CSO and CFO on the speakers’ circuit demonstrates the shifting strategy toward ‘all hands on deck’ when conducting business in a global world,” said Jennifer Risi, EVP of Weber Shandwick’s Global Strategic Media Group. “As we move forward in 2009 and beyond, we see the future of the conference industry migrating toward more intimate, peer-to-peer forums where companies can create their own channels for discussion in an effort to drive business.”

Most Talked About Conferences for Leaders

Respondents were asked about which conferences in a variety of categories generated the most positive word-of-mouth among the global business community. The number-one most buzz worthy conference in several categories:


Global conference organizers also indicated which types of conferences and events they considered most attractive to Fortune 500 CEOs and non-CEOs/chairmen. The top five for each executive type:


“The demand for conferences continues to be strong as executives are on the lookout for opportunities to exchange ideas, build relationships and maintain an edge over the competition,” said Risi. “Networking to build business is more important than ever and having your top executives out in the marketplace is critical to gaining market share and demonstrating that the company is intensely focused on growth.”

About the survey: The survey, “2009 Global Five Star Events,” is a global poll of 50 program directors among the world’s top conference organizations. The survey was conducted in Oct. and Nov. 2008, and reflects perceptions in the midst of the economic downturn.

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