Virtual Events: Practical Advice from an Attendee

Over the past few weeks, the conversation among meeting planners has shifted from whether to go virtual to how to go virtual with their conference.

  • How do you schedule your event?
  • How do you deliver the content?
  • How do you connect attendees?

These questions have meeting planners considering whether to design their virtual conference as a live (livestream) event, or to provide attendees with on-demand access to content. Or, a little of both.

Ultimately, we’re all trying to figure out how to replicate the best parts of an in-person event within a virtual environment. Hint: you can’t replicate it, but you can reinvent it.

Reinventing your in-person conference as a virtual event

To have a successful virtual conference, you need to truly understand what the life of a virtual participant looks like right now so you know what you can—and can’t—expect of them.

Normally, we don’t make our blog posts quite so personal. But this time, I’m going to get a little personal and share the first-hand wisdom I’ve gathered over the past week while my husband attended a three-day, all-day virtual event. Spoiler alert: while he absolutely loved the content and discussions with his peers, some of the logistics were both painful and funny (after the fact, of course).

A personal account of a virtual event experience

Typically at a conference, we’re more focused on the professional backgrounds of our attendees. But with so much of the population working from home, we must take into consideration their personal lives as well. Here’s what happened in my situation.

Both my husband and I work full time and have both been working from home since mid-March. We are lucky that we have the tools and tech that allow us to work effectively: multiple monitors, great bandwidth, dedicated working spaces. We also have two tween/teen children who, although self-sufficient, are starting to become emotionally spent from the new limitations that have been placed on their lives. We also have two large dogs who are continually confused by why we are all home and why we are not paying more attention to them.

So what did attending a 3-day live virtual event look like in our household?

First, technology was not kind to us

Do you have any idea what having one person participate in a live video event all day does to the bandwidth in the house? The effects were immediate and dramatic. I had to take my Microsoft Teams meetings from the app on my phone, not my computer, with the wi-fi turned off. The kids were booted out of their online schoolwork and from their Facetime sessions with friends. Admittedly, much cursing occurred.

My husband, who was both an attendee and a speaker at this event, was in the middle of his presentation when one of the primary internet service providers in our area had two routers fail. He wasn’t prepped for any backup plan ahead of time, so he was scrambling to get the live streaming app downloaded to his phone. 30 minutes later he was back online, with just enough time to give an abrupt wrap-up. Things happen. They really do. To prove this point further, this is the same week that, back at the Omnipress offices where only a small staff remains on-site, a squirrel took out the power and internet for several hours. No joke. And while this had no effect on my husband, it only illustrates that technology will fail at some point, for someone. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

Tuning in (and tuning out) from a busy household

When you attend an in-person conference you’re away from the office, away from home, and away from the usual daily distractions, minus an urgent email here and there. With a virtual event, however, there is no mental or physical separation from work and home. You can’t delegate your spouse to deal with a vomiting dog, a kiddo who is frustrated with their math exercise, an impromptu 8th-grade graduation parade through the neighborhood (horns blazing, of course), or the UPS driver making his third delivery to your house that day, because she’s also on an important call!

The bottom line: it’s unrealistic to think that your attendees can dedicate significant amounts of focused, uninterrupted time to your event. As hard as they may try, life gets in the way.

A virtual group conversation is harder to navigate

Networking can sometimes be awkward, at best. Recently I’ve done several virtual happy hours with close friends and I find those to be more difficult and challenging than meeting up in person. Screens freeze up intermittently or people accidentally talk over each other which affects how naturally the conversation flows. But we manage because we know each other so well.

Now try doing the same thing with a group of strangers, especially if you’re more of an introvert, like my husband. Oh, he can fake his way through “forced” social events with the best of them, but he certainly doesn’t prefer it.

His event had several different networking opportunities built into the agenda. Some were unstructured happy hours and some were scheduled in-between sessions (ouch!). Others consisted of smaller collaboration groups, which he felt were the most beneficial and effective to establish a genuine connection with a group of people who rallied around a common set of challenges. It also helped when the virtual networking events were scheduled earlier in the day when his brain was fresh and he could absorb more of the educational content.

What did we take away from this experience?

I’ve lived in the association event space for more than a decade, so when I heard my husband was going to be participating in a three-day virtual event, I watched more closely than most spouses probably would. Putting on both my event planner and attendee hat, here’s the most important thing I learned:

An event that combines both live and pre-recorded content provides the best attendee experienceand the most room to get creative!

1. Making your content available on-demand is crucial

Give your attendees a way to access session content anytime. This not only helps to reinforce learning, but it also serves as a safety net if technology fails or life happens. Make sure all your presentations—even the live ones—are recorded and available in a way that is easy to search for and navigate, along with all related session materials. This also takes some of the pressure off your speakers and their tech.

2. If you’re going to livestream, be selective

While presenting sessions live creates a sense of excitement and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), it doesn’t work for all attendees, especially those in different time zones. And it’s definitely difficult to manage as an  all-day event. Save the live streaming for the most popular portions of your conference, such as a keynote session.

3. There are many effective ways to craft a successful live/recorded blended event

As one example, you can “fake” a live experience by releasing pre-recorded content on a timed basis and hyping up the countdown on your event marketing channels. Follow this release with live, small-group discussion sessions around that content to create a sense of urgency for participants to view the content.

This also helps to create those more structured and deliberate networking conversations among attendees that tend to be more meaningful. This blended approach also makes it easier to program natural breaks in the agenda for your attendees to address everything else that’s currently happening in the background of their lives.

How Should You Serve-Up Your On-Demand Event Content?

Join us for a live, 30-minute webinar on Thursday, May 28th, where we’ll take a tour of the Omnipress Virtual Conference & Event Platform. It’s a simple and cost-effective way to serve-up on-demand content for your conference. And yes, it will be recorded and available on-demand in case you can’t join us!

Turn Virtual Events into a Year-Round Learning and Engagement Strategy

With the cancellation of spring conferences and the fate of summer and fall events still up in the air, we’re tasked with figuring out how to turn in-person conferences into successful virtual events—whether that means live-streaming sessions, providing on-demand access to pre-recorded sessions, or a mix of both.

Whatever strategy you choose, we believe there is a broader consideration to make: how can you use this new opportunity to utilize the virtual event content you and your speakers create to turn your online conference in a year-round learning and engagement opportunity?

Event Content Must Serve a Higher Purpose For Attendees and the Organization

Our 2020 State of the Conference Industry Report, which was developed and released before COVID-19 became a major disruptor, indicates that to achieve growth and success in 2020 and beyond, the content sourced and shared at a conference will need to serve a purpose beyond simply marketing next year’s event.

There is a significant opportunity to re-purpose and re-package this content not just to reach new audiences, but to reinforce key learning concepts, facilitate ongoing peer connections, and provide more value to members.

At the time that respondents were surveyed in late 2019, more meeting planners indicated they were starting to re-use conference session content to promote learning retention. But they also stated this was one of their top challenges because many did not have the tools, platforms, or processes in place to fully support this strategy.

Reworking Your Conference Strategy for Virtual Events

While the sudden need to go virtual with conferences has created substantial challenges, it has also opened the door to new opportunities. A virtual conference may not carry the same perceived value to attendees, exhibitors, and sponsors. And practically speaking, it doesn’t work well being delivered in the same timeframe of the in-person event.

In order to retain registration fees and sponsor dollars, you already need to rethink how the conference is delivered. Why limit your timeframe to just a few days or a few weeks? Why not use this as a chance to create a must-see event throughout the year.

Here are a few ideas to help get the wheels spinning:

If your event is going fully virtual:

  • Use the initial timeframe of the in-person conference to feature live (virtual) sessions from keynote speakers and plenary sessions
  • Have your session speakers and paper or poster presenters pre-record their sessions, which you can then release on a timed basis over the course of several weeks
  • Create a series of both live (virtual) and on-demand follow-up sessions that attendees pre-register and potentially pay for. These sessions could allow them to dive deeper into a sub-topic, participate in a discussion group with the presenter, or even allow them to share challenges and on-the-job “a-ha” moments with each other as they attempt to put these learnings into practice
  • These sessions can be hosted by an exhibitor or sponsor; or, you can work with your sponsors to develop additional live and on-demand educational content

If your conference is a blended event (both live and virtual options):

  • Much of the same ideas still apply! Use your virtual platforms to deliver follow-up content and provide additional learning, networking, and sharing opportunities throughout the year

We hope this current pandemic will soon be a distant memory. But even when that happens, there is a good chance that the format of conferences will be forever changed, with more organizations creating a virtual component to a live event.

Don’t limit yourself just to the conference itself. Use this as a springboard to deliver year-round learning and peer connections, while creating potential new streams of non-dues revenue.

The Key to Association Growth is…Educational Content

 

Membership growth, program growth, and increasing member engagement are three goals that are commonly shared among associations of all sizes and types. As legacy members age out of the workforce, the membership pipeline needs to be filled with new, prospective members, including young professionals.

While it’s important to offer the programming and benefits that these new members value so they’ll join (and stay), that’s only half the equation.

The Importance of Building Awareness 

Before a new member can even consider joining your organization they first need to: 1. Know you exist; and 2. Understand the value you provide.

In marketing circles, this is known as increasing awareness—something that is generally the responsibility of the marketing team. In reality, everyone in the association—from the conference team to the training and education group—can help build awareness of the organization and start engaging prospective members by leveraging your existing educational content.

Increasing the Reach of Your Association’s Educational Content

Associations have no shortage of valuable content, which is delivered at conferences, in online and in-person training courses, and through member publications.

But, as our two 2019 industry reports highlight, this educational content is being significantly under-utilized. It exists in a closed-loop environment, meaning it only reaches the people who are already attending your events or participating in your programs.

Google is More Important To Association Growth Than You Might Think

Meanwhile, prospective members—in particular, young professionals—are turning to Google to search for ideas, resources, and answers to solve challenges, create opportunities, and connect with peers on both a personal and professional level.

What are they finding? That there are plenty of resources to tap into. Are they finding your association’s content as well? Unfortunately, not as often as they should (or could).

It would appear that associations are being out-resourced and out-marketed by the for-profit organizations in their industries. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. None of these organizations has the volume of quality content that associations do.

But unlike these marketing-driven companies, associations often miss taking just a few simple, but important steps to ensure their content is equally visible across the world wide web.

Learn How to Use Your Content to Grow Your Programs

Omnipress has published a 20-minute on-demand webinar to help association professionals understand why it’s so important that associations take the time to re-package and re-purpose their educational content while providing some extremely practical ideas for how to do this with minimal time and resources, including:

  • How to optimize speaker and course materials for search engines
  • How to re-package existing content into new resources
  • How to promote this content without adding more to your plate

Download and watch the webinar.

Associations are sitting on a goldmine that contains everything you need to engage young professionals and grow your organization. Now, you just use it to your advantage!

Meeting Planners: Weigh in on the Future of Conference Content

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

2020 will mark the sixth year that we will be publishing our State of the Conference Industry Report, based on data we collect from association conference and meeting professionals like yourself.

Our goal with this report is to provide peer-to-peer benchmarking, identify trends and generate ideas you can use in your planning sessions around the educational content provided at the annual conference, including:

  • The role content plays before, during, and after the conference
  • The importance of this educational content to an association’s strategic goals
  • How changes in attendee and member demographics are affecting the delivery and use of this content
  • The current and potential impact on associations

The survey takes just 5-10 minutes to complete. All responses remain confidential. As a thank you for your time, you can choose to be entered into a drawing to receive a $100 Visa Gift Card.  The drawing will take place in December after the survey closes.

We look forward to your feedback this October and November. The survey deadline is November 30, 2019.

Please take a moment to complete the survey and pass it along to your colleagues. We will share the results with you in early 2020 in our annual State of the Conference Industry Report.

If you haven’t yet seen it already, please download the 2019 Report.

To Overcome “The Forgetting Curve,” Re-Use Educational Content

 

For those of you who recently held a conference or training course, your members are about to forget everything you just taught them (if they haven’t already). It stings just a bit to hear that, doesn’t it? But unfortunately, science tells us it’s true. The good news, though, is that associations can (and should) combat The Forgetting Curve phenomenon, at least to some extent, simply by re-packaging and re-purposing this educational content. A little cross-departmental collaboration goes a long way, too.

The Forgetting Curve: Effects of time on learning retention

Educational content is by far the top value your organization provides to your members. But its value is only realized when it can actually be applied in real-life situations. Unfortunately, from the moment a course or conference ends, we find ourselves battling The Forgetting Curve—a term coined by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus to describe the effects of time on learning retention.

Within the first few days after a conference or training course, the forgetting curve is very steep. What Ebbinghaus found through his research is that providing “spaced repetition” of learning material can soften this curve, helping us to retain more information for a longer period of time.

In other words, your educational content needs to have a life after the course or conference.

In both of our annual reports—the 2019 State of the Conference Industry Report and the 2019 Training Trends Report—we asked respondents whether they re-use their educational content from the conference or training course for any purpose, and if so, how. The infographic below illustrates their responses.

forgetting curve association training pros meeting planners reuse educational content infographicMeeting Planners:

• 55% re-use conference content
• 26% use it to reinforce learning after the conference

Training Professionals:

• 77% re-use training materials
• 55% use them to reinforce key learning concepts after the course

While a majority of those surveyed are repurposing their educational content, fewer are using it to help promote learning retention—particularly in the case of conferences. This is not only a disservice to your participants, but it also diminishes the value of your program.

How can associations better leverage their educational content to help make learning stick?

1. Refresher courses and mini-events

Look at your most popular conference sessions and create short “refresher courses” on these topics. Add them to your training course roster or deliver them as a series of smaller, regional conferences. Not only does this increase your portfolio of programming as a member benefit, it can also create additional revenue opportunities for your organization.

2. Peer-to-peer learning sessions

ASAE recently published this article on the importance of peer-to-peer learning opportunities at conferences, recognizing the amount of collective expertise attendees bring to the table. What if you could take this one step further, and provide those peer-to-peer learning sessions after the conference or training course? Participants can have the opportunity to share their experiences and learnings as they apply the knowledge learned in the class or conference. Again, these could be developed as a series of smaller, regional in-person meetings, or as virtual events. Today, there are certainly plenty of tools and technology that can be used to foster face-to-face discussions such as WhatsApp, Facetime, Skype, Google Hangouts, and Houseparty.

3. Develop post-event homework assignments

Looking to help learners apply knowledge in a practical way while also adding to your member resource library? We grew up doing homework in school for this very purpose, so why not add it as a component to your course or conference! Create a series of homework assignments for learners to complete at specific time-based intervals. If there’s an opportunity to have these count for additional CE credits, even better.

4. Create a post-event communications plan

Short, focused and frequent reminders of key points from an educational session or class is one extremely easy way to keep the material top-of-mind. Take a specific topic, session or chapter and break it up into a series of emails, each focusing on a single point or takeaway. This is not only a simple yet effective way to reinforce learning, it helps to keep your organization top-of-mind, which helps to boost retention, too.

Most of us recognize that learning is not a one-time event. It’s an ongoing process. But many organizations still deliver educational content as a one-time event—whether at a conference or in a course. Creating opportunities to provide this same content several times throughout the year will certainly increase the retention and application of the material. But there’s an additional benefit for the organization as well. By increasing your touchpoints with members, you can also increase member engagement and the value of your programs. It may require a little extra work, but it’s definitely a win-win.

The Google Effect on Your Training Program Courses

Once upon a time, associations were the singular source of industry information and knowledge. Today, associations find they are up against an extremely intelligent and almost omnipresent competitor: Google. The behemoth search engine’s complex algorithm delivers answers to questions almost instantaneously and, often, for free. These search results are getting smarter, too—more predictive and conversational, with the focus shifting from targeting keywords to answering questions. What’s more, is that younger learners have been conditioned from a very early age to rely on Google as a primary source of information.  In order to remain relevant and drive program growth, associations need to think about how to make their protected content accessible to search engines without decreasing its inherent value to members.

Young Professionals are the Key to Training Program Growth

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Millennials in the U.S. has eclipsed Baby Boomers. Meanwhile, Bloomberg estimates that Generation Z will surpass Millennials in size. This means the pipeline for prospective learners is substantial, if organizations can connect with them and deliver the value they’re looking for.

Unfortunately, according to our 2019 Training Trends Report, associations are not yet seeing a corresponding rise in the number of Millennial and Generation Z members or learners. According to the report, Baby Boomers, on average, make up about 50-70% of training course attendees.  On the flipside of the equation, Millennials only make up about 20-30% of learners, and Generation Z is about 10% or less. The reason? A significant percentage (49%) of organizations have not yet developed a strategy to address the needs and preferences of younger professionals.

The good news is that early observations note that Generation Z is a more pragmatic generation who are actively seeking out professional development opportunities. This, coupled with their size, make them a prime target for training programs…if these young learners are aware of them, that is.

The Case for Making Training Program Content Searchable Via Google

As organizations think about how to develop educational programs that are relevant to younger learners, the emphasis is often placed on content accessibility and delivery. Much of the discussion in today’s professional development circles centers around themes such as micro-learning, mobile learning, and gamification, for instance. There is significantly less discussion around the discoverability of this content—what questions are young professionals asking, and where and how are they finding the answers?

In 2012, Pew surveyed middle and high school teachers to understand how their students conduct research for a class assignment. Ninety-four percent of participants said their students were very likely to use Google as one of their primary tools, far outweighing any other information source, including Wikipedia, social media, peers or even textbooks. Today, these students from the 2012 survey are Generation Z young professionals. They are conditioned to look to Google for the very information and knowledge that most associations provide.

Many associations “lock down” educational content to protect both the value of that content and the integrity of their training programs on behalf of the industries they serve, and understandably so. Content exclusivity is what drives member value. The negative consequence of this, however, is that it is often done in a way that prevents search engines like Google from crawling that content as well, making it more difficult to attract new learners.  In order to grow training program attendance, associations will need to strike a balance between making educational content searchable by search engines, without giving it entirely away for free.

Use Content Marketing to Strike the Right Balance Between Value and Accessibility

As our 2019 Training Trends Report illustrates, 77% of respondents do re-use the content from their training programs. However, it’s primarily being used to reinforce key learning concepts to those that attended the course. Only 33% of respondents indicated they are using content to market and promote training courses. To get your programs in front of more prospective learners, it’s important to think about how to re-package and re-purpose smaller snippets of your course content as part of a larger content marketing strategy. This will not only help you get in front of search engines, but it will also give prospective members a useful sample of the types of questions your organization can answer and the development opportunities you provide before you convince them to register for a course.

Here is just one example of how to do this.

Finding Relevant Topics

Start by evaluating your most popular training courses and the specific topics covered. Use Google’s “Searches Related to” tool found at the bottom of search results pages to see what types of topics and questions users are searching for that may be related to your educational content. There are also several free and paid tools on the market that find the most popular questions asked across the web on specific topics, like SEMrush and BuzzSumo.

Publishing Content

Turn snippets of your most popular course material or relevant Google search queries into blog articles published on your website. Better yet, ask your instructors or subject matter experts to contribute, if possible.

Promoting Content

Promote your blog article via email, through social media channels like Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and through any industry partners.

Associations don’t need to open their training material to non-members if it doesn’t align with their organizational strategy. But there are ways that organizations can, and should, openly publish samples of their educational subject matter for prospective members to discover.  Like it or not, Google is key to organizational growth.

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!

User Experience and Printed Conference Materials

 

The concept of user experience (UX) is most often associated with online or web-based interactions, not printed conference materials. However, the actual definition is much broader than that, and encompasses all aspects of an end-user’s interaction with a company and any of its products or services—whether online or offline.

As meeting planners and event marketers, we take great care to ensure attendees can easily navigate our online conference tools. From finding relevant schedule and session information on the website, to making online registration as simple as possible, to providing the ability to search and download the appropriate conference materials before, during, and after the event.  We understand that every touchpoint we have with an attendee helps shape their opinion of our conference, and affects whether or not they choose to return. So why limit the focus of UX to just their online interactions? To illustrate this concept even more, we dig into managing the user experience of a large piece of printed conference content that we are all familiar with – the conference program booklet.

User experience and your conference program booklet

Your printed conference program booklet is more than just another way to capture sponsorship revenue. Most attendees use this printed content in tandem with digital tools, such as a mobile conference app, which allows them to access content while also being social with other members.  Just like an app or website, attendees must be able to access the information they’re looking for quickly with your printed program, and use the materials as they were intended.  If this is accomplished, you are on your way to having a good user experience with your program book.

Program booklet graphic design

 When managing a print project like a conference program booklet, it goes without saying that the overall design of the book is a key component to usability and the attendee’s experience with it. Layout and formatting should be done in a way that helps guide readers through the material, provides consistent visual cues, and appropriately reflects your brand. Other key aspects of the conference program book’s design that aren’t always top-of-mind are size, fonts, paper, and binding, which all affect user experience.

Before you start the design and production of your next program booklet and other printed conference materials, here are some questions to take into consideration that will help you incorporate UX into your conference materials:

What is the purpose of the conference program booklet?

If it includes abstracts or other content designed for in-depth reading and ongoing reference, creating a book that is thick enough to have a printed spine will help ensure it becomes “bookshelf material” for the attendee after the conference ends.  At the same time, be sure it’s easy to pack in a suitcase for the return trip.

Conversely, if the program guide is meant to serve as a quick-reference tool while on-site, a smaller thinner, or even a pocket-guide piece may be preferable.

Who is your average conference attendee?

If the demographics of your conference tend to skew older, be sure to use a larger font size that is easily legible, even in dimly lit rooms. Avoid pairing colors that don’t have enough contrast, which also decreases legibility.

Some attendees tend to prefer a booklet that is more portable, keeping it in their pocket rather than a briefcase or bag, which may make smaller booklets a smarter choice.

Are you providing added value with your printed conference materials?

If your attendees love having the program booklet as a place to take notes during the conference, then paper stock and binding type matters. Use an uncoated stock for notes pages, as they are easier to write on. Additionally, ensure your piece lays flat. Coil binding works better than saddle-stitch for this purpose.

If your program is a source of revenue for your conference, then you want to give your sponsors (and exhibitors) a chance to stand out, while providing the information that attendees are looking for.  Advertising space should be large enough to feature a meaningful message and help attendees find them on-site.

How much content do you have?

If yours is a large, multi-day and or multi-track conference with a significant amount of content (sessions, speakers, special events, exhibitors, etc.), you want to make your program booklet as easy for users to navigate as possible. Consider including a table of contents at the front, so users can find relevant information easily.

You can include tabs to break up sections of content. Physical tabs sit out further from the book, making them easy to see. However, sometimes this makes the book harder to store. Bleed tabs provide a graphic reference to each section while remaining in-line with the rest of the book.

User experience applies across all attendee touchpoints of a conference. As you’re reviewing and evaluating your online and digital tools, be sure to apply the same scrutiny to your printed conference materials, such as your program booklet, as well.  Doing so will help ensure that attendees have a positive user experience with all aspects of your conference.