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Two ways to make conferences better

by Adrian Segar

Attendees talking 7088326883_a77ef0d148_o

Samantha Whitehorn of ASAE’s Associations Now recently wrote an interesting article on new staff roles for meetings and events and I’ve picked out two of her suggestions to comment on:

Attendee Concierge. Full disclosure: I pretty much stole this one from our June Associations Now cover story about Terry Fong, member concierge for the California Dental Association, who calls 1,000 new members each year to welcome them and ask, “Is there anything we can do for you?”

What if you had a staffer call all new attendees after your meetings and ask them what they liked most and least about the meeting and what else you could be doing to get them to register for the meeting again?

You could also use a similar role onsite and assign new attendees to attendee concierges—in this case, maybe extra staff or member volunteers—and have them check-in with attendees throughout the meeting and then follow-up after.
—Samantha

I think it’s crucial to check in with attendees during an event—something that I’ve done for years—and it’s easy to do. I like to concentrate on attendees I don’t know (the one’s I do are probably going to bend my ear anyway) and ask how the event is going for them. And listen. Do this and you’ll get tons of good in-the-moment feedback, build goodwill and relationships with the people you talk to, and get occasional opportunities to answer questions and solve problems they mention while the event’s still going on, rather than having to wait until next year. Don’t just ask new attendees, by the way; returning attendees can have equally valuable feedback for you. And make notes promptly about what you’ve heard so it doesn’t evaporate from your brain from the heat of the conference.

Conference Connector. I’ve blogged before about how the association education model needs an overhaul where the focus is put more on attendees learning and connecting with one another rather than just speakers on a stage or in front of a room.

At ASAE’s 2013 Great Ideas Conference, Thom Singer, served as “Conference Catalyst.” Over the course of the meeting, he gave attendees networking tips and helped them to engage and connect with one another. And at the California Society of Association Executives’ Annual Conference in April, Jeff Hurt served in a similar role, helping attendees keep the conversation and learning going between sessions and during lunch by having organized chats about what they recently learned.

What if you had a full-time staff person who helped form these small-group discussions to not only help members engage but also to help process and remember what they learned in the larger sessions?
—Samantha

Thom and Jeff are doing great work around this important topic. But rather than simply adding opportunities for connection piecemeal into our events we can do better. We can build opportunities for meaningful connections right into our entire event design. This means that we need to adopt meeting and session formats throughout our events that facilitate effective participation, connection, and engagement in the sessions themselves. We’ve known for years that the learning and connections that occur when we do this are far superior to what happens at traditional meetings. This is not rocket science—I’ve been designing and facilitating meetings like this for over twenty years. Participants love them. And more and more of them are taking place, all over the world. Let’s do this!

Photo attribution: Flickr user michigancommunities

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  • thomsinger

    I fully agree about building opportunities for meaningful connections right into the entire event design. When the people are the priority and their “conference attendee experience” is put on top of the priority list…. everyone wins.

    • http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/ Adrian Segar

      My thoughts exactly Thom!

  • Arturas Jonkus

    Most of conferences are held in “I talk you listen” style. There are a lot of instruments of engagement of audience and interacting with participants. Why speakers are not using those tools? Do not care? Are afraid of gerting real feedback?

    • http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/ Adrian Segar

      I suspect most speakers don’t interact much with their audience for one or more of the following reasons:
      1) They believe their job is to speak impressively.
      2) They believe their job is to braodcast content.
      3) They are repeating the model of “speaking” to which they’ve been exposed.
      4) They do not know how to engage and interact with an audience. 5) They are scared of losing control, of what might happen, if they engage with an audience.

  • Tracy R

    I like the idea of Attendee Concierge. This would be a great intern project – graduate or under graduate. I am going to discuss with my team the possibility of incorporating for our larger meeting each year.

    • http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/ Adrian Segar

      Tracy – let us know how it works out!

  • Matt “Mookie” Thayer

    These service oriented jobs are great but there is one that is mostly forgotten about that could easily save more money and bring better engagement than the rest of those jobs combined. A network engineer. Conference planners and AV companies are dropping the ball and allowing their clients to be charged an exorbitant amount of money by the venues because they don’t understand there are other options for internet connectivity. Venues are extorting their clients by forcing them to either use the house AV or pay a very large internet service fee when they choose an outside AV provider. Having someone on the team that understands the actual value of the connections required makes a huge difference in overall cost.

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A true innovator in the conferences space, Adrian is at the forefront of attendee-driven conferences and meetings. His blog posts are extremely insightful and incorporate ideas and tactics from other disciplines (like physics and psychology) to shed light on how to better plan and manage meetings. His blog is required reading for this industry. — Jeff Kear, http://blog.planningpod.com/2014/05/01/31-must-follow-event-planners-event-bloggers-twitter/

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