3 Steps That Will Protect the Quality of Your Conference Submissions

 

The annual conference is often the first, and sometimes only, in-person contact your members have with your organization. In addition to providing an exceptional overall attendee experience, it’s important that the educational sessions reflect your organization’s standards for quality, integrity and originality. Particularly if your association frequently competes for members’ attention with less discerning free or low-cost resources found through an internet search.

Some organizations have modified their call for abstracts process to ensure submissions are of the highest quality, and to help weed out those that aren’t. Here are a few examples:

Charge a submission fee

While submission fees can help generate some added revenue for the conference, fees are usually modest enough to have little impact on overall revenue. Many organizations use it simply to discourage submissions from those who are simply “phishing” for any available opportunity.  Some find that it also encourages more thoughtful, thorough and complete submissions from even the most legitimate authors.

Limit per-author submissions

Some planners have instituted a limit on the total number of abstracts one author can submit, ensuring they present only their best work for consideration. Others set limits within their abstract management system that prevents a speaker from starting a new submission until their previous submission is complete.

Use plagiarism detection tools

The internet has made it easier to access, and in some cases “borrow” previously published work. As a result, more and more organizations are turning to plagiarism detection tools such as iThenticate as part of their submission review process. Some abstract management systems (such as CATALYST) can integrate directly with iThenticate, using essentially a one-click process to upload abstracts and papers to their database from within the submission form. Results are returned to the conference planner within minutes.

Top-notch event content is one the most important elements your conference can provide. Making some simple changes to your abstract submission process can help ensure you receive the high-quality materials that reflect your organization’s reputation. Not only will great content help generate interest in your next event, but over the long term, it will continue to reinforce your position as the go-to resource for your industry.

Improve Your Conference Sessions With These Proven Educational Ideas

According to our annual State of the Conference Industry Report, a majority of associations recognize that education is the primary value their annual conference provides to attendees. And, the quality of educational programming is a major factor in whether an individual chooses to attend a conference. As a result, organizations continue to look for ways to increase the relevance of their programs and the quality of their speakers to maintain and elevate attendee satisfaction. But this alone will only take the learning so far. There is significant opportunity for meeting planners to incorporate proven educational ideas based on adult learning best practices into the structure and format of the conference.

Researchers spend considerable time studying how adults learn and retain information best. Using these findings, professional educators continually experiment with new classroom techniques to increase the amount of active learning and retention. Meanwhile, conferences continue to rely on the same, long-established format: subject matter expert positioned at the front of the room, walking through a PPT deck. The session may include some type of interactive, small-group exercise or discussion, but that’s as far as most sessions go to break from “traditional” format. Because the conference is a primary way that associations deliver education to members, there is significant opportunity to apply the principles of adult learning used by classroom educators into conference breakout rooms.

Here are four guiding principles to consider when thinking about the structure and format of your conference.

Guiding Principle #1: Andragogy

The study of andragogy, or the art and science of adult learning, was developed by Malcolm Knowles in the 1950s. The concept acknowledges that, unlike children, adult learners bring a wealth of professional experience with them into an educational session. According to Knowles, the best way to engage adult learners is to focus on how new information relates to these life experiences and allow them to be active participants in their education. Some examples of andragogy principles put into practice include:

  • Focus on task-oriented instruction versus memorization
  • Put learning activities into the context of real-world tasks, challenges and issues the learner encounters regularly

Guiding Principle #2: More sensory input leads to greater retention

The average adult classroom will contain three types of learners: visual (looking, seeing, watching), auditory (listening, hearing and speaking) and kinesthetic (experiencing, moving doing). Creating environments that incorporate all three learning styles does more than just appeal to a wider audience. It also increases retention for all learners. According to the Principles of Adult Learning & Instructional Systems Design, we retain approximately 10% of what we see, 30-40% of what we see and hear, and 90% of what we see, hear and do.

Guiding Principle #3: More content is not necessarily better

As meeting planners, we want to deliver as much value as possible for our attendees in return for the time and expense they invest in our conference. Delivering more content, however, can actually be detrimental to the overall experience. One of the greatest challenges attendees face when attending a high-quality, jam-packed conference is how to battle the inevitable learning fatigue that comes from trying to process a lot of information in a short period of time, while spending a majority of that time in a physically passive state (sitting and listening).

Guiding Principle #4: The “Forgetting Curve”

Hermann Ebbinghaus, a 19th Century German psychologist, conducted a series of memory experiments that uncovered some alarming statistics about learning retention. On average, we forget up to 90% of what we’ve learned within the first month. Repetition and reinforcement after the initial learning event does help to decrease this, to an extent. Retention is also affected by how meaningful the information is. The more a learner can connect new information with existing knowledge, the greater retention is over time.

Putting these principles into practice

Understanding how adults learn and retain information is just the first step in creating a more effective learning environment. The second (and perhaps most challenging) task for meeting planners is how to use this information to re-think the structure of your conference. Here are a few educational ideas to try at your next event.

1. Create a layered approach to learning

Consider decreasing the number of topics featured within your conference schedule, and instead, feature multiple sessions that address a singular topic in a variety of ways. For instance, you may introduce a broader topic or concept in a standard, classroom-style session. Then, dive deeper into specific aspects of that topic in subsequent sessions, each featuring more active learning applications. So if, for example, you featured a general session on strategic planning, subsequent sessions may include:

  • A hands-on learning task where attendees build the framework for their own strategic plans, which they can then bring back to the office and use
  • A makerspace-type session where attendees gather together to tackle a specific organizational challenge or experiment with solutions, under the guidance of a facilitator
  • A hollow-square session, where attendees have the opportunity to pose questions to and learn from each other

2. Interject micro-learning moments

Zoos and museums are two examples of organizations that know how to create great on-site micro-learning moments. While walking from one area to another, you may find a staff member or volunteer standing next to a small cart or table, providing a hands-on opportunity to touch, feel or see one aspect of a larger display. They’ve figured out that learning can truly take place anywhere—including outside the exhibit. Similarly, think about how you might be able to interject short (two to five-minute), pop-up, multi-media learning sessions throughout the venue: in the hallway or stairwell during breaks, in a lounge area where many attendees are often taking a moment to sit and check email, on the sidewalk outside of the conference center. These can be fun, interactive, almost “freestyle” or “street-style” opportunities.

3. Add more thinking and moving time

Instead of packing every possible hour with expert-led educational sessions, think about ways to schedule more “whitespace” into your conference—blocks of time designed to make learning more effective and productive. Consider scheduling “study” time designed to absorb and use what has been learned. Provide workbooks to help structure notes from the entire day into ideas and action plans that participants can apply as soon as they get back to the office. Have multiple attendees from the same organization? This can become a valuable team collaboration session (which can be difficult to find time for when everyone returns to the office).

Look for ways to get people moving more at the conference. Consider removing the chairs from a breakout session to keep the blood flowing. Schedule a 10-minute networking “walkabout” before your mid-morning and mid-afternoon sessions. Turn a learning lab into a scavenger hunt. Think about including five minutes of breathing and stretching exercises throughout the day.

4. Provide resources for attendees to reinforce learning after the conference

Learning doesn’t have to end when the conference does. Consider creating value-added opportunities for attendees to continue the learning after the conference throughout the year. Use both structured (instructor-led) and unstructured (attendee collaboration) virtual events to foster continued discussion. Provide ongoing access to conference and supplemental materials through an online conference library.

By following these educational ideas for conference sessions, your conference attendees will be more engaged and retain more information, making your conference and its education much more valuable.

How to Improve Your Conference Sessions (and Create Happy Attendees)

“What an educational experience!”

“I enjoyed every session I attended.”

“The speakers did a great job.”

This is the kind of feedback that makes the months of planning worthwhile.

Every conference planner knows how important educational sessions are to your event. Attendees often justify the cost of their trip by citing the new topics they learn about. This means nothing is more welcome than receiving positive feedback on your conference sessions. After all, who is more likely to return next year than satisfied attendees?

But these positive learning experiences don’t just happen.

A big-name speaker for the keynote speech is not enough to ensure a good learning outcome for everyone involved. Successful planners know the work they do before the conference plays a major role in the feedback they receive afterward.

Here are five tips that will help your speakers deliver impactful sessions:

1. Have a system in place

Organization is key to ensuring a smooth-running conference. But coordinating with speakers before the event has been known to derail even the most seasoned planners. The constant back and forth can become an all-consuming experience.

An abstract management system takes the hassle out of coordinating with your submitters. Having the right organizational tool means less time hunting through emails and attachments. Freeing you to focus on finding speakers that resonate with your audience.

2. Inbox hero

Peer review is another organizational challenge that will overwhelm your inbox. A full-featured abstract management system organizes and automates your peer review process. Emailing research paper abstracts to individual reviewers can be a thing of the past! Imagine what other elements of your conference you can work on with these time savings.

Seriously, go ahead and imagine.

Others will notice the improved communications, as well. Your reviewers will delight at the ease of use that allows them to focus on what they do best.

3. Plan for different learning styles

Not all conference attendees learn in the same way. Some prefer the traditional presenter/listener model, but try to offer other formats, as well. A panel discussion allows for different points of view, while a workshop creates an interactive experience. Embrace this variety! Encourage your speakers to re- evaluate event learning models for presenting their educational content.

“Visual” vs. “verbal” learning is another factor to consider when selecting conference session formats. The format of the presentation is best left to the presenter, but as the event organizer, you play an important role. Make sure all the necessary A/V resources are available to handle a dynamic presentation.

Start this dialog with speakers early during your call for abstracts to avoid any surprises during the conference.

4. Make an introduction

Letting your presenters and attendees connect before the event is good for everyone. Speaker bios, preliminary papers and conference schedule give attendees a preview of the sessions. Speakers will appreciate the chance to develop their personal brands online. And this fresh content drives traffic to your website.

Keep a space reserved on your conference website for guest postings. Promoting these posts on social media builds attendees’ excitement in the weeks leading up to your conference.

Presenters can also use this opportunity to provide preliminary information on their topics. This is especially helpful in emerging fields. Attendees will be able to get more out of their conference session by having a baseline education before the event.

5. Give your educational content a life of its own

Over the course of the event, your speakers present more information than any one person could master. In fact, the average attendee forgets 70 percent of what they learn within 24 hours!

(Psst…. Guess what? There’s a way around that.)

An online content library is a great way to create a single location for all your conference content. This digital library lets your attendees know exactly where to go for the information they need, when they need it. And finding material is a breeze whether browsing by topic or searching by keyword.

Online conference materials add depth to your association’s website. This relevant, high-quality content makes your website a destination for those researching industry-specific topics. Exactly the kind of people your association wants as members.

Don’t wait until the conference is over to start gathering materials, though. Avoid confusion by making arrangements with your speakers early in the process.

These discussions should happen as part of the initial call for papers.

Conclusion

Focusing on what’s important to your attendees is critical to hosting a successful conference. Having the proper system in place leading up to the event allows you to spend more time choosing content and less time managing communication.

As a result, your attendees biggest challenge will be deciding which sessions they have to miss. And when the show is over and everyone has gone home, how will it feel to hear that feedback?

Has feedback ever motivated you to change your organizational process? What other ways do you accommodate different learning styles in your sessions? Any good tips to help attendees make the most of what they’ve learned? Let us know in the comments!

5 Ways to Continue the Learning After Your Conference

There’s something magical about the vibe you get at a really good educational conference, isn’t there? Attendees are soaking in the sessions like sponges. You can see the wheels turning as they nod in agreement, already thinking about ways they can apply an “a-ha moment” to their daily work. They linger at their tables after a session has ended, enthusiastically trading ideas. They flag down their colleagues in the hallway, excited about new possibilities. Everyone is buzzing, and the energy is high.

But then the conference ends. And the chatter stops. And we are each sucked back into the vortex of our perpetual to-do lists, hoping to find time to implement at least one new good idea we gained.

The learning we experience at conferences does not have to end when the conference does. And that wonderful content that you spent months collecting and vetting does not have to fade into oblivion. You can use it to keep the ideas flowing, keep your attendees energized and, better yet, increase the ROI of your conference for months, if not years, after the fact.

Here are a few ideas to leverage content after an event:

  1. Start by archiving your content on a searchable website. More than a PDF, a website specifically built to house your conference content means that users can search for relevant topics by session, track, speaker or keyword. By giving your content a user-friendly home, you provide a platform to better leverage your content more easily (see ideas 2-5 below).
  1. Host an exclusive, post-conference online discussion group for your attendees in the weeks following your conference. This can be one larger group, or you can break the group out by session, track or job function. Invite your speakers to participate (ideally, as part of the initial speaker agreement). This provides a great opportunity for attendees to ask follow-up questions of your speakers, particularly if they were short on time during the session.
  1. Wrap your conference content into a broader content marketing strategy for your event. Turn a session topic into a blog post, infographic, video or interview article (with links to the initial session presentation housed on your content website). Send this to your attendees to keep them energized, keep your conference top-of-mind and provide additional value to increase your attendee retention. Send it to your members to remind them of the value your association provides and to let them see what they missed at the conference. Use it to market your association to non-members.
  1. Was there a substantial amount of interest in a particular topic? Based on your post-event surveys, is there an area your attendees want to continue to hear more about? Take a deeper dive into that particular topic with a webinar or webinar series and brand it as a continuation of the conference. Remember to keep driving them back to your content website and remind them of other featured topics they may not have seen at the conference.
  1. Start an online special interest group (SIG) around specific topics, and set monthly or quarterly virtual meetings. Then, use the discussions from those meetings as fuel for your broader content marketing strategy.

What else has your association done (or is considering doing) to maintain momentum after a conference? Share your ideas with your community here!

Want to learn more about how to leverage online content before, during and after your conference? Read our free whitepaper: More Than Paper Behind Glass