Download Our 2019 Conference Industry Report

 

We are excited to announce that our 2019 State of the Conference Industry Report: Delivering Educational Content has just been released! A new year is here and with it comes new challenges and opportunities for association and conference professionals.

For the fifth year in a row, Omnipress has tracked the evolution of conference content and the role it plays at an association’s annual event. While educational content continues to provide a significant amount of member value, this year’s report highlights some changes on the horizon: emerging themes, new challenges and increased opportunities for organizations.

Delivering Educational Content: Current Challenges and Future Opportunities

For instance, this year’s report indicates that meeting planners they are being asked to deliver conference content in more formats than ever before. On average, associations are providing content in 2.6 formats—up from 2.4 in 2018, and 2.1 in 2017. The most noted increase was in the number of respondents who are providing three and even four different content delivery methods for a single conference. The reason? Attendees have indicated this is what they want.

Conference demographics are more diverse than ever, with four generations now living concurrently in the workplace. Additionally, there are ways than ever for people to consume content, which is creating a diverse set of preferences that don’t always follow generational stereotypes.

While associations look for ways to provide device-agnostic content, budget does come into play—particularly with other internal stakeholders. Few meeting planners have the luxury—nor the bandwidth—to do it all, leading to some tough decisions.

Other conference industry trends from our 2019 report:

  • Association membership trends mirror conference attendance trends, which means membership and conference teams need to work together more closely to achieve organizational goals
  • While organizations are offering more content formats at the conference, there is still uncertainty on what the content mix will look like in the future
  • Emerging learning trends are starting to have an impact at the conference
  • Organizations have not yet fully addressed the needs of younger generations

The report compiles data from an online survey of 150 association and meeting professionals to understand how organizations use educational content to increase visibility, extend their value and reach new attendees.

The purpose of this report is not just to present the data, but to help facilitate a cross-team discussion on how to leverage your greatest asset—education—to advance your mission and achieve strategic goals.

Download the free report to read the full results, and use it to spark a conversation within your own organization.

Tips for Designing an Inspiring Conference Program Booklet

 

Your annual conference is so much more than an agenda of sessions, speakers and networking events. It’s an exciting, energized community of attendees, where innovative ideas are shared and new relationships are forged.  You go to great lengths to convey this excitement and energy on your event website and in your marketing and promotional materials. But the program booklet—as one of the last items checked off a meeting planner’s to-do list—often takes on a more practical and utilitarian format. This may be a huge missed opportunity.

One of the first interactions attendees have with your conference is with the program guide. This booklet, while providing all necessary logistical information for attendees, also sets the tone of the meeting, and helps the attendee prepare for what’s to come. How are you hoping to engage attendees at your event? Do you want them to actively participate in sessions and interact with the content? Collaborate with speakers and each other? Do you want to challenge them or pull them outside their comfort zone? The design of your program book can help promote and facilitate these objectives.

What Inspired Program Book Design Looks Like: An Example from ASAE

asae xdp program book 360 live media
Photo credit: 360 Live Media, www.360livemedia.com

We’d like to give a shout-out to ASAE’s newest conference, Xperience Design Project (xdp). This event for meeting planners focuses on helping attendees re-think their own meetings and find new and innovative ways to deliver educational content.  The branding and promotion of the event certainly communicated this. But as an attendee, I didn’t realize just how different this event was until I started paging through the program book when I first arrived.  I could tell immediately this was meant to be a fun, energizing meeting. This extraordinary program book, designed by 360 Live Media, included design elements such as non-linear text, bold typography, graphic cues and on-page interactive elements, the xdp program book made it clear I was being expected to actively participate in my own learning. I was excited to be there even before the first speaker took the podium.

The takeaway: it’s not just about delivering relevant information to attendees, it’s HOW that information is delivered. Challenge yourself to think about how you can present the schedule, session descriptions, speaker bios, etc., in a way that really makes a lasting impact on attendees and sets the tone for the event, getting them fired up before the first session.

Six Design Pro Tips for Your Conference Booklet

First and foremost, your program book needs to be easy for any attendee to navigate. Think of it as user experience (UX) for printed materials. Beyond that, here are six aspects of your booklet design to consider.

Font and Typography

There is a documented psychology behind font choices and how they trigger ideas and emotions. Serif fonts, such as Times New Roman, convey a feeling of class and heritage, making them appear formal. Sans serif fonts, like Arial and Helvetica, convey a straight-forward, simple and no-nonsense attitude. Modern fonts, like Futura, convey feelings of intelligence and chic style and have been reported to attract the attention of Millennials. The font choice you make throughout your program book should support the overall “vibe” of your meeting.

Also, don’t be afraid to go big and bold with font size in unexpected places. This is a great way to provide an assertion of key ideas and themes that attendees will expect to hear, gaining their buy-in before the meeting starts.

Color and positioning

Within your brand palette, do you have any secondary colors that provide an interesting contrast?  Use these colors to highlight key aspects of your meeting content, make a statement or direct attendees.

Iconography

Icons have emerged as a popular element of design, particularly on the web, because they provide quick and sometimes complex visual cues quickly while minimizing the amount of text needed. Incorporating iconography into your conference program booklet provides consistent visual cues throughout the book that help direct the reader.   Depending upon the icon style being used, you can interject a bit of whimsy to make a more formal-looking program book feel approachable and conversational.

Interactivity

One of the top trends in meeting design for the past several years has been providing a more interactive and collaborative approach to the learning process. Conferences are no longer a place for attendees to simply consume learning; they are active participants. Your conference booklet can help facilitate and promote this approach as well. Sure, providing dedicated pages to take notes is always handy, but can you take it a step further? Provide thought-provoking questions and space to answer them. Include short workbook-like activities in your program book. Or, give them a specific place to take notes about people they’ve met.

Maximize Branding Opportunities Wherever You Can

cesse conference program bookletOne of our own fan-favorite program books features a simple, but impactful change from the previous year—we happen to know this because they are also one of our customers. The Council of Engineering and Scientific Society Executives (CESSE) incorporated tabs in their book to make it easy for users to navigate. Taking it a step further, they used what is often blank space to extend their event branding. The flood of bold color and graphics on what is traditionally a blank page helped to reinforce the perception that this is a high-quality, professional conference.

Find Inspiration Outside of Your Industry

Some of the most cutting-edge event designs come from cutting-edge conferences, such as Adobe’s 99U and the Facebook Developer Conference. Take a look at how they are presenting program information and then see how you might be able to scale the execution to fit your audience.

Your conference booklet can—and should—do more than simply provide logistical information. By incorporating a more inspirational design you can help shape the attendee experience well before the opening session begins.

Use SEO to Increase the ROI of Your Online Conference Materials

 

Perhaps the most valuable asset an association provides to its members is the educational content shared at a conference. In an effort to make that content more accessible, many organizations post their conference materials online. However, often times the content posted is limited to conference attendees who are looking for papers, presentations and handouts from sessions they already attended. While your current conference attendees certainly appreciate this, this limited approach does little to reach new audiences. By incorporating some simple SEO (search engine optimization) tips into your online conference content strategy, associations can drastically increase the role, value and ROI of your conference.

Why SEO for Online Conference Materials Matters

As associations look to increase their relevancy in a world that is changing faster than ever, many are thinking about how to attract and engage younger members. Capitalizing on the younger generation’s tendency to turn to search engines for answers to their most common questions is one logical place to start.

In 2012, the Pew Research Center conducted an online survey of middle and high school teachers to understand which tools were most often used for research projects. 94% of respondents indicated that their students were very likely to use Google as their primary source of research.  Today, these students are the very same Millennials and Gen Z-ers your organization is looking to attract. They are conditioned to turn to search engines like Google for the information and knowledge your association already provides. Learning how to optimize your online conference content so it shows up at the top of search results will help increase your content’s reach and influence, and ultimately your association’s thought leadership and industry influence.

How to Optimize Your Conference Materials for Search: 3 Simple Steps

SEO can often be a daunting task for associations who already have limited internal resources. After all, some large companies dedicate entire teams to the discipline. But, according to Casey Emanuel, Search Optimization Manager at Rocket Clicks, a specialized SEO agency and Premier Google Partner based in Milwaukee, WI, most associations would benefit drastically from adding just a few, simple tasks to their annual conference to-do list.

1. Add Metadata to Your PDFs

Most conference materials—from speaker presentations to handouts—are posted online as PDFs. Emanuel points out that, “just like web pages, you can, and should, optimize PDFs for searchability.” If done correctly, Google will crawl your PDFs for content, and can even display them as organic search results. These steps should only take a few minutes per PDF. To avoid doing all the work yourself, make it a required part of your final submission process.

  • Save the PDF to your website with a descriptive, SEO-friendly filename
  • In Acrobat Reader, go to File > Document Properties and fill in the Title and Subject fields with descriptive text and keywords
  • Optimize the file size by compressing any large images, if necessary

2. Build Quality Backlinks to Your Conference Materials

Backlinks, or references from third-party websites to your own, can serve as a signal of quality and authority to Google. However, Emanuel is quick to point out that, “These links need to be real and authentic, otherwise you could actually be penalized by search engines.”

One fairly easy way to build backlinks to your conference content is to encourage your speakers to reference and link to the material within their own online properties. Not only does this boost SEO for your organization, it also helps the speaker increase their own authority and visibility.

3. Build Internal Links to Your Conference Materials

Oftentimes, the only place you’ll find reference to online conference materials is within the Agenda or Schedule page of the conference website. Emanuel recommends creating follow-up articles or blog posts on popular session topics and incorporating links to the conference materials as part of the article. “These internal links work to build link authority just like backlinks do, helping your PDF files appear in search results for relevant keywords.” To help mitigate additional work, ask your speakers and session leaders to craft the article. They will love the additional exposure, and you’ll have one less post-conference task to complete.

Posting your conference materials online does more than just provide increased choice and accessibility for current attendees. If these materials are search engine optimized, they can deliver valuable answers to new audiences, increasing both the reach and ROI of your conference.

Conference Planners: Take Our State of the Conference Industry Survey

 

Our annual State of the Conference Industry survey is now open, and we need your input!

Each year for the past five years, Omnipress collects data from conference planners and association professionals to better understand trends surrounding conference content, including how attendees want to receive content, how associations provide it, and what changes lie ahead as demographics and preferences change. We use the survey data collected to publish our annual State of the Conference Industry Report, which will be released in January 2019.

Our goal with this report is to provide peer-to-peer benchmarking, as well as ideas and trends you can use in your planning sessions.

Omnipress Annual State of The Conference Industry Report

For instance, in the 2018 State of the Conference Industry Report, we saw a notable increase in the percentage of associations that are re-using their content beyond the conference. Associations are not only using content to promote their events, but they are also reusing it in order to reinforce learning after the event and to attract prospective members to the organization.

Additionally, meeting planners face an increasing challenge of trying to balance the diverse needs and preferences of a multi-generational audience, particularly as many organizations have not yet defined their plans to address the needs of younger members.

2019 Conference Industry Trends and Insights

What insights will we gain in 2019? We need you to help us determine that, and would love to have your voice included in this year’s results! The survey takes just 5-10 minutes to complete. All responses remain confidential for the report. As a thank you for your time, you can choose to be entered into a drawing to receive a $100 Visa Gift Card.

Please take a moment to complete the survey and to pass it along to your colleagues as well. We look forward to sharing the results with you in early 2019.

Pro Tips: Call For Papers and Abstract Management

 

As a follow-up to our newest whitepaper, Best Practices for High-Quality Content, which outlines simple changes organizations can make to streamline call for papers processes and mitigate problems, we asked our abstract management project managers to weigh in even further. Our panel of five field experts each work on hundreds of conference every year. While every conference is different, they often find themselves providing the same advice to new customers—advice that can save a tremendous amount of time and frustration.

Call For Papers and Abstract Management Expert Q&A

Q: One of the whitepaper tips is to “prepare your forms to collect all necessary data.” What does this mean, and why is it so important?

Erin: People spend a lot of time unnecessarily chasing down data from submitters at the eleventh hour because either they didn’t think to collect it, or they didn’t think they would need it. It’s really important to first understand where all of the collected data is ultimately going to live and how it’s going to be used, so we can help our customers get exactly what they need.

John: If the planner has a sample of what their final conferences materials will be, possibly from a previous conference, we try and get that early on in the abstract management process. The customer doesn’t think of the data the same way we do, and they shouldn’t have to. That’s our job. We look at the conference materials and make the connection between what’s actually being published versus what’s being included on the collection form.  

Paul: Here’s a real customer example of why collecting all necessary data on your form is so important; I noticed that one customer published the city, state, and country for each of their authors, but they weren’t asking us to collect it on the form. We had time to change that before the call for papers opened, which ultimately saved them a lot of time!

Ashley: Best practice tip: If you know you’re going to need specific information, make it required in the first round of your call for papers, so you’re asking people to come into the abstract management system as infrequently as possible – they’ll really appreciate it!

Erin: At the same time, we do want to be mindful of how much people are asked to provide early on. We push our customers to really think about whether they really need some information, and if they are really going to use it. It’s a fine balance that we help customers maintain.

Q: Are there other ways that data is sometimes used that customers don’t always think of?

Dave: Reports! Sometimes a customer will need to have certain data sets for internal reporting purposes, but they may not have collected it because they weren’t thinking of reports at the time. But the reality is, even though the conference site is still being built and they won’t to access reporting for several months, providing all data sets upfront helps streamline the process.

Q: What about data quality? How can we ensure an author provides a completed, high-quality submission?

John: It’s all about the fields you use on your submission form. You have to break up data into smaller pieces. Otherwise five people will fill out the same field five different ways.

Erin: This is a huge culprit! For instance, don’t just include a “Name” field. Break out “First Name” and “Last Name” into two separate fields.

Paul: And, think of everything your authors are going to want to provide, like credentials and designations. If you don’t have a specific space for it, they’ll find a place to put it anyway, and that causes a lot of unnecessary data cleanup on the back end.

Dave: Co-authors can be tricky too. If the submitter is the only person that has access to that submission, they’re going to have a hard time completing it if they don’t know all of their co-authors’ information. So, on your instructions, tell your authors to gather all of their co-author information ahead of time, and it will be a much easier process for them.

Q: Speaking of instructions, how do they factor into the submission and review process?

Ashley: Instructions are incredibly important! Having clearly-written instructions that are easily accessible at the right points during the submission and review process will increase compliance and quality substantially.

John: Keep your instructions very simple, and break them out into smaller, more digestible pieces. Some customers have a tendency to try and over-explain, and this actually causes more confusion and misinterpretation.

Erin: Be sure to have a brief overview of basic qualifiers on your conference website, where the call for papers is being advertised. This allows authors to determine whether their topic is a good fit before they get into the system and start a submission.

Paul: And don’t forget about you reviewers. Be sure you write instructions for them as well.

Q: If you could share just one piece of abstract management wisdom with all meeting planners, what would it be?

Erin:  Finalize the big decisions about how you want the process to go at the very beginning, so you don’t find yourself having to change anything while you’re already in the middle of collection. I’ve seen this happen with some large committees, and the customer then had to go back and ask hundreds of authors to come back into the system and update information.

Ashely: I’m going to add to that and say that it’s also important to determine early on who will be the designated point of contact for everything, and funnel all communication and decisions through this person. It simplifies the process tremendously, and you won’t have multiple committee members inadvertently providing conflicting information.

Paul: Provide a designated contact to field questions from submitters—particularly new submitters. Some customers don’t think they want to do this for a variety of reasons. Not having this available and accessible creates frustration for a potentially high-quality speaker.

Dave: Consider reducing the number of reviewers you recruit. I’ve had customers that wanted to assign a single reviewer to a single submission. With fewer reviewers, you actually get better data because they are seeing a bigger pool of submissions and have more context on quality.

John: I think the biggest thing for meeting planners or program chairs to know is they don’t have to be tied to legacy processes just because that’s the way it’s always been done. There may be an easier way to achieve the same outcome, so let us help you explore that option. That’s what we’re here for.

Do you have a question about your current submission and review process that you’d like to run by an abstract management expert? We’d love to help!

Omnipress Forges Industry Partnerships to Help More Meeting Planners

 

In an earlier post, I mentioned that this was going to be a big year for our CATALYST online abstract management system, as we maintain a strong focus on ongoing product development, industry partnerships and third-party integrations. We have been doing a lot of work behind-the-scenes that I’m very happy to share with all of you.

Partnerships and Integrations

Omnipress has secured several industry partnerships that help to make CATALYST even more accessible to meeting planners who are looking to simplify their next call for abstracts, including:

  • Community Brands – Tech Partner
  • Conference Direct – Preferred Supplier
  • ACGI/Association Anywhere – Resource Partner
  • Fuzion — Network Member

We are also actively integrating CATALYST with other event tech and association platforms, including many of the leading AMS providers to provide a more seamless user experience.

Product Updates

Over the past several months, we have launched dozens of new features and updates that further increase data integrity, provide even more flexibility for meeting planners, and provide an even better experience for end users. Just a few of the highlights include:

  • More advanced review assignment rules so meeting planners can easily implement a variety of options within the same collection
  • Even greater flexibility filtering data and configuring reports to fit your needs, reducing or eliminating the need to spend time manually re-working spreadsheets
  • More robust schedule conflict detection
  • Ability to collect payments in CATALYST, with 100% of the collected revenue going directly to your organization’s account
  • Integration with iThenticate/CrossCheck Plagiarism Detection Software to help uphold the integrity of your submissions

Future Product Roadmap

Even with all of these advancements, we continue to work toward our goal of ensuring CATALYST sets the industry standard for online abstract and speaker management. Today, we’re currently working on strengthening the integration from CATALYST to your conference material outputs so it’s even easier for you to get that content into your attendees’ hands. Watch for more information on that to be released later this year.

For over 40 years, our single focus has been to help associations and other organizations simplify the process of collecting, producing and distributing educational content. The investments we continue to make are with the sole purpose to continue this mission.

Now Available: Best Practices Guide for High-Quality Conference Content

 

By far the #1 reason individuals choose to attend a conference is the quality of the educational programming. Sourcing that content is consistently reported to be a top challenge for meeting planners—from setting up and advertising the open call for abstract submissions, to chasing down submitters and reviewers, to manually re-working and cleaning-up back-end data and reports. These barriers not only take up a disproportionate amount of time for meeting planners, but they can also affect the quantity and quality of submissions. Making seemingly small changes to your abstract management and review process can help you mitigate problems, save time and simplify the development of your conference materials.

Download the guide to learn:

  • How to collect the right amount of data, at the right time
  • How to test your system to avoid unforeseen technical issues
  • Why you should consider including steps to authenticate each submitter’s content
  • Why it’s important to create a “database of record”

Featured Recommendation: Collect data in small pieces

The information you collect from submitters will eventually be pushed to a variety of conference materials, from a printed program book, to online conference materials and perhaps even a conference app—each of which has different formatting requirements. To give you the greatest amount of flexibility without having to manually cleanup and re-format data, set up your submission fields to collect data in the smallest pieces possible. For instance, break out the Name field into First Name, Last Name, Suffix and Credentials.

Read the full guide for more tips on how to better collect and manage high-quality content.

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.

5 Reasons to Offer Online Conference Materials (Even If You Already Have an App)

 

Your attendees are living in a mobile world, with nearly 80% of all Americans owning a smartphone. Of course, it would make sense for your conference to be mobile as well. Increasingly, attendees are becoming conditioned to using an app to access content and information while on-site. But does an app alone provide the greatest value? Not always.

Conference apps bring many benefits to the table, including a personal itinerary for the annual meeting and tools for engagement, but an app might fall short when meeting all the digital needs of your attendees. In addition to a conference app, consider hosting your conference materials on a dedicated website that can be accessed by smartphones, laptops and other devices.

Here are five reasons to pair your mobile app with online conference materials for your event.

1. Superior Search

Online conference materials let your attendees utilize advanced search tools superior to those available on a mobile app. Having options like full-text and faceted search makes a big difference when attendees must search through numerous technical papers and presentations.

2. Marketing and Promotion

To access content in the app, an attendee has to already be registered for the conference. But what about those that haven’t registered yet? Providing access to search engine-accessible online conference materials ahead of the meeting allows prospective attendees to gain a better understanding of the value of the event, ultimately driving registration for those who may still be “on the fence.”

3. Post-Meeting Access

Mobile apps provide the most value during the conference. Many attendees won’t use it at all after they plane home, although the content is still relevant and worth a second look. Having the ability to revisit materials on a computer when back in the office is often easier and preferred, and helps increase retention of the material.

4. Better Reading Experience

Close reading and deep comprehension are challenging when using a small screen. This is why many attendees choose to pore over new research on a full screen, rather than using an app, and where online conference materials have an advantage.

5. Non-Dues Revenue

As you build your association’s online conference content archive, you can plan to charge access for past years, generating non-dues revenue for your organization. This option is made even easier with the ability to restrict access to some or all of your online content. You can select who gets to see what content from recent or past events.

Even if you have a mobile app, supplement it through online conference materials. Having more avenues to deliver quality conference content to your attendees is far better than having too few. Each content format provides its own unique set of benefits to both attendees and your association, so it’s worth investing additional time and effort to select the ones that work best for your event.

Improve Conference Performance: Harnessing Data from Your Abstract Management System

 

Over the past several years, the event technology landscape has continued to expand and become more complex. Meeting planners are using this to their advantage, opting for separate tools that meet their specialized needs rather than trying to shoehorn their organization into a larger, all-in-one solution that may not do everything as well as they need it to. The downside, however, is that as their event technology stack grows, so does the need for integration.

Meeting planners are increasingly looking to technology providers that can connect their event planning tools to help simplify the planning process, reduce data errors and provide a better user experience. For instance, by providing single sign-on (SSO) between the abstract management system and the association management system, a user does not have to re-enter their data. This saves time for the submitter while helping to ensure the data entered into the abstract management system is correct and clean. It also allows the meeting planner to enforce any specific requirements for submitters such as membership or registration status.

Abstract Management: Consolidating Data Into One Central Location

The advantages of system connectivity go beyond workflow and process, however. As we learned at ASAE’s MM&C Conference this past May, integration is also about bringing key data points together that associations may not be fully leveraging.  In particular, the abstract management system holds a tremendous amount of under-utilized data that can provide important insights:

  • Member engagement information: If you are tracking member engagement levels or scores in your AMS, then whether or not they submit an abstract or proposal to a particular conference can serve as a contributor to this score.
  • Early conference performance: Abstract and speaker submissions to a conference can serve as one of the leading indicators of conference performance; specifically, how well current marketing and promotional activities are performing, and how much interest is being generated in the industry.
  • Program progress: Your submission data can also provide insight into how strong your program will be, giving you ample time to make adjustments early on. For instance, are the number of submissions up or down versus the same time period last year? Are you receiving the diversity of content you need to create a well-rounded, high-quality program? If not, how can you use your member data to pinpoint and invite specific thought-leaders to fill those gaps?

As you evaluate the KPIs of your association and your conference, don’t forget to look to your abstract management system as a key source of data. If you can connect it to other data points within your association through integration, you’ll be able to better leverage this data to improve conference performance and direct organizational strategy.

Abstract Management Doesn’t Have to be a Pain

 

If there was one thing I wish everyone knew, it’s that abstract management doesn’t have to be a pain point for meeting planners.

We conducted market research to understand how meeting planners are managing their call for papers, and where some of the biggest pain points are coming from.  Most are not happy with their current solution, but are more afraid to switch than to deal with the known pain. As a result, they maintain status quo simply because it seems easier. In actuality, it often results in more (and unnecessary) work for the meeting planner.

Many organizations have legacy collection and review processes in place, and continue to maintain them because that’s how they’ve always done it. Or, they simply don’t realize there is a better way. When we start working with a new customer, the first thing we do is understand your current process, your ultimate goals and objectives, and then provide recommendations that deliver even better results.

Here are just a few examples of how we help improve your abstract management workflow:

  • Reverse-engineer your collection process so that you’re collecting exactly what you’ll need, in the way you’ll need it for your eventual conference materials. This ensures you are getting the cleanest data possible, saving a tremendous amount of time on the back-end.
  • Build your forms to collect your data in the smallest pieces possible, making it flexible enough to meet the requirements of all your outputs: mobile app, online, print, etc.
  • Conduct the appropriate abstract management system testing (including a thorough review of your instructions) to minimize submitter questions and issues
  • Have processes to validate and authenticate content before it passes on to the peer review stage
  • Maintain a database of record after your collection is complete so everyone knows which data is correct and current

We are lucky enough to have worked on thousands of conferences, and use that perspective to your advantage. We can configure CATALYST® in a way that facilitates cleaner, better and more complete submissions and reviews, while reducing your workload so you can focus on other aspects of your conference.

As you start thinking ahead to your next call for papers, know that abstract management doesn’t have to be your biggest pain. If you’re interested in exploring whether there are opportunities to simplify your collection and review process, we’d love to share some of our own experiences, as well as what others are doing. Making just a few, simple changes could make a world of difference for your next conference.

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.