How to add participation into a traditional conference and market it

One of the most common questions I’m asked is how to add participative elements into existing events and market them effectively. The Medical Group Management Association will be doing just that at their 2011 PEER conference (estimated 800 attendees).

Even MGMA’s choice of name for the conference echoes the event’s theme of “directing the conversation”: PEER, a neat acronym for Participate, Educate, Experience, Relate.

Conference marketing

Take a look at how the PEER themes are carefully woven into the conference brochure (click image to view).

MGMA PEER brochure

What do you think of MGMA’s design and marketing?

Full disclosure: MGMA is a client of Conferences That Work.

  • My comments are in response to this post and your Giving Conference Participants what they want post and the comments in reation to it.

    The “both” track gets my vote too. I would enjoy an evening or half day session that was 100% in an unconference style. If I paid for a 2 – 3 day conference and the whole thing was unconference, I would feel ripped off. I am all for scrapping the traditional design with its 1 hour keynotes and pre-determed 1 hour slots for all breakouts. It’s just not flexible enough. It makes it really challenging to cover anything with depth. I am all for:

    – crowdsourcing in advance to help drive the agenda
    – having a mixture of 1 hour, 2 hour and half day sessions
    – building roundtable and unconference style slots into the design that allow for crowdsourcing at the event

    I blogged about it here:

    Re-engineering Conferences with Accelerated Learning http://bit.ly/confengage

    Executive Corporate Meeting Re-engineering Guide http://bit.ly/exmeetingguide

    I would also keep a couple of keynote and breakout segments “open”. As we saw in 2008, there were major changes in our industry in the Fall. Conferences that had their content locked down missed an opportunity to really address key trends and developments in a timely manner. Fill the open keynote segments a month prior to the session and the open breakout can be announced at the session to addres a hot topic or new development in the industry.

    One other thing. Even when I am giving seminars, and running public team building sessions, a 1 x a day peer networking session is built into the design. A W5 format is used in which participants get to quickly ideintify a burning issue about which they would like to get input from peers (When, Where, Who, What, Why). Once a day, there is a 1 hour segment. For corporate sessions, business application exercises give the client an opportunity to analyze specific burning issues that they identify using the tools that they have picked up in team building. They then create content by pulling together mini-presentations with their reccommendations. I’ve never blogged about this in detail. You have inspired me.

    • What great comments, Anne! I am particularly interested in what you have to say because you often work in the corporate meeting sphere, which is a fertile yet still relatively unexplored area for creative event design.

      I agree with you that at 2-3 day events, a mixture of unconference and traditional sessions makes sense. (Though I have run very successful 3½ day events with no traditional sessions.) For the Conferences That Work design, 1½ days is the minimum time necessary for the unconference elements—longer events can add keynotes and pre-scheduled sessions.

      I’m still skeptical about how well crowdsourcing event content in advance works, and have blogged about this very topic: (see http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/uncategorized/2010/02/does-asking-attendees-in-advance-for-program-suggestions-work/ and http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/event-design/2010/07/comparing-pre-conference-and-at-conference-crowdsourcing/)

      I’m completely with you on keeping some time free in a traditional schedule for last-minute hot topics. Of course, if you crowdsource at the event these topics get chosen for sessions by attendees…

      I haven’t used W5 myself, but it sounds like a smart way to rapidly define attendee issues to address at the meeting. And having attendees create short presentations about the outcomes is an excellent way to focus minds on deliverables. You should definitely blog about this!

  • This is a really interesting model, but I’d be interested to know what role you think new media technology can play in this style of conference? Thanks, Francis

    • Francis, new media technology is being increasing employed at all kinds of conferences, not just participation-rich events like MGMA PEER.

      Before the event social media can be used for promotion and creating connections between registrants.

      During the event, social media acts as a channel for feedback, discussions, and outreach to non-attendees. And new media technology like live-streaming has given rise to hybrid events, where non-local attendees can get a taste of what’s going on and even participate remotely.

      Finally, post-event, social media can be used to continue discussions and share post-packaged content.