5 Types of Conference Speakers to Improve Your Next Event


Conference speakers are one of the focal points of your annual event. They provide insights, research and, most of all, value to your attendees. Speakers set the tone for the rest of the conference—if you invite a really great speaker, your attendees will be even more excited for the rest of the event.

One major challenge event professionals face is finding speakers who are unique and engaging. You want to think outside of the box for your event presenters and invite people who will provide an interesting perspective to start your conference.

Why are unique conference speakers so important?

Attendees don’t want to see the same presentations over and over. There are two major types of “obvious” speakers who present at conferences. The first are people who are prevalent and well-known in the industry—everyone knows who they are and have likely heard them speak at other industry conferences (or yours) in the past. The second are the tried-and-true speakers who seem to be at every conference, even if they aren’t directly related to your industry. Bringing in these types of people may make members rethink returning to your conference next year.

Instead, inviting unique speakers will engage your attendees. Interesting presentations help people retain more information. The best speakers will have people talking about the presentation long after the event, which helps boost your association’s reputation. Plus, nobody wants to miss out on a great keynote, so members will likely want to come to future events to experience it for themselves.

Here are five types of conference speakers who can help improve your event:

  • The Industry Outsider: Oftentimes, unrelated industries face similar challenges to yours but likely tackle them in different ways. Find a speaker from outside of your industry who can provide insights on how to solve the same problems in new ways. Both the speaker and their knowledge will be new to your members!
  • The Fresh Perspective: Similar to the tip above, people in other industries harness similar skills and can offer a fresh perspective. Invite a speaker from outside your industry who can share important skills and how to best develop them. For example, event planners could learn a new method of time management from nurses, who are experts at prioritizing.
  • The Skilled Pro: Sometimes conference speakers don’t think to speak about their skillsets because they use them every day and forget other people don’t have them. Have a speaker talk about a new skill that could benefit people in your industry.
  • The Creative Presenter: Sometimes it’s not what the speakers say, but how they say it that grabs attendees’ attention. Speakers that give their presentations in a fun and creative way can often help members retain more information and entertain them.
  • The Futurist: It’s important for your attendees to know about current events and what will affect them in the next few months. But, if a speaker has a keen eye for future trends and can give a more long-term perspective, attendees will likely be very interested.
  • BONUS! The Unexpected: Just like this unexpected sixth tip, invite someone your attendees would not expect to speak at your conference or who has a really interesting story or perspective. Including the unexpected will interest your attendees and keep things fresh.

If you invite engaging speakers to your conference, your attendees will be more likely to return year after year. Show your members you provide value by booking presenters with valuable insights and skills to share. Don’t let an “obvious” speaker set a boring tone for your event. Ask yourself, what feeling do we want our conference to give to attendees? Make sure to bring in speakers who are unique and will provide that feeling from the start.

What kinds of conference speakers do you like to invite to your events? Leave us a comment!

6 Tips for Bringing Your Conference Attendees Back


Having a successful conference is a top priority for meeting planners. But what makes a conference successful? As part of our recent industry survey, we asked association professionals what they viewed as their top conference goal. “Increasing conference attendance” was by far the most popular response. (The complete results of the survey are available for download in our 2018 State of the Conference Industry Report.)

“Increasing conference attendance” can’t be done by focusing solely on attracting new attendees. You need to make sure that your previous conference attendees return, as well. Yet, many associations fall into a pattern of repeating the same things they’ve done in the past. This type of “conference rerun” can deter members from returning to your events. Don’t stick with what you know! Here are 6 tips to get your members excited to return to your next conference.

Bring in new speakers with an open call

According to our report, 27% of associations use an “invite only” speaker selection process, as opposed to open calls. Holding an open call for papers doesn’t just help you find new and up-and-coming speakers, it can also help your members stay engaged and active in your association by giving them the chance to play a role in your conference.

Don’t just invite the same people back year after year. Bring in new types of conference speakers with diverse job functions or points of view to keep your presentations fresh.

Provide fresh content and messages

No one wants to return to a conference that covers the same material as the previous year. Industries are always changing, and to stay relevant, your conference content should keep pace with those changes, as well. Choose timely topics that have groundbreaking research or are in the news. Highlight new regulations, trends, best practices, or case studies.

Aim to teach your attendees something brand new each year by dedicating a part of your conference to a new and trending idea.

Give your attendees a voice, too! After your next conference, ask attendees what they would like to learn in the future.

Use different themes for each year’s conference

Having a special focus lets conference attendees get in-depth information on a particular topic. Themed conferences can help differentiate one year’s conference from the previous year and make your event memorable.

To come up with a theme, choose a broad topic that is relevant to your industry and that generates wide interest. For example, a restaurant association may hold an event with a food safety theme.

Offer new ways of delivering your conference content

Changes in technology mean that content formats are always shifting. Association professionals see this shift in the changing preferences of their attendees. What worked in the past is not guaranteed to be the best option in the future.

Take a new approach to how you deliver content at your conference. In addition to traditional printed materials, offer content on a mobile event app, digital content library or USB. This blended approach allows conference attendees to choose the format that best suits their learning style. You may even want to send a survey to your past attendees to see what kinds of formats they prefer or would like to see in the future.

Change up the way you run your sessions

Conferences provide attendees with a lot of information. Sitting and listening can be tiresome. Keep your conference fresh by offering a variety of session formats, such as workshops and roundtables.

While you’re asking your attendees about their content and format preferences, ask what other types of sessions they’d like to see next year. This can add another layer of engagement and may help your attendees feel like a part of the process.

Use your conference content to market for next year’s event

The life of your our content doesn’t have to end with the event. Re-use these educational materials year-round to stay on your attendees’ radars. Ask speakers to help promote your event on social media before and after your conference by providing new content specifically for your marketing purposes.

Only 55% of associations currently re-use content from their conference for any purpose. Don’t miss an opportunity to generate awareness and build excitement for next year’s event.

A quick survey of your previous conference attendees can provide some great insights on how to tailor your event to the most important people in your organization—your members—and increase return attendance from year to year.

Read the full 2018 State of the Conference Industry report to learn other best practices and challenges that conference professionals face before, during, and after their event.

Make the Most of Your Association Events this Summer

The summer wind, came blowin’ in…

The association events I go to in the summer tend to stay true to this easy-breezy summer feeling by taking on a more casual approach. I love the extra focus on networking at these outings because it gives me the chance to connect with colleagues in ways we don’t always get to during the rest of the year. Eventually, the conversation winds its way back to that age old topic: How to find new ways the association can continue to create value.

An interesting take on the topic makes the point that in the summer, this value can come in two forms: creating value for members by providing educational content, and creating value for the association by recruiting new members to take a more active role in events throughout the year.

If your association is looking for ways to make the most of your summer gatherings, here are some creative ways to add value for both your members and your association, while being mindful of a lighter summer schedule:

Education doesn’t need a summer recess

Some associations are able to turn their summer outings into educational sessions without anyone even realizing they are learning during the summer. The trick is to find the right topic for your summer events that can turn them from “can’t make it” to “can’t miss it”. A common recommendation is to choose a broad topic such as professional development to match the casual mood of the event.

It’s a fact, though, that when summer comes, vacations and other commitments make schedules less predictable than any other time of year. If your summer events do tend to have a smaller attendance than other programs, take advantage of the opportunity to let up-and-coming members have center stage as speakers.

Associations also say that to keep members learning during summer programming, they move some educational materials online. This gives members the ability to continue their professional development through the summer months but on their own time.

Reconnect with members

Another common theme is how summer networking events provide an opportunity to reconnect with members. These casual conversations can be the perfect starting point to finding volunteers that are willing to take a more active role in the association.

Think back over the course of the year to conversations you’ve had with members. Which ones have shown an interest in playing a larger part in the association’s activities? Maybe there are some that would be able to address a particular topic or deliver a presentation to the group? A summer networking event is the perfect low-stress way to start those preliminary discussions. Planting the idea in the summer can encourage members to become more active in the association, rather than saying they are too busy later in the year.

Meet new members

Hopefully, you’ve had new members join your organization over the last twelve months. If you are regularly involved in hosting the events throughout the year, other commitments may have kept you from talking with them as much as you would’ve liked. Make a pledge to change that this summer! New members provide new energy for your association, and just as importantly, new ideas. As you speak with them, gauge their interest in being a part of the strategic planning for the year. A good tactic is to ask new members to make small commitments at first. Don’t start by asking them to fill a two-year appointment. Associations report having better luck engaging new members by simply asking them for topic suggestions, or to help out in other limited ways.


If your association is like the others I talk with, odds are your summer programming schedule is different than the rest of the year. It’s important to stay front and center in the minds of your members, even if their schedules mean they aren’t able to be physically present as much as other times of the year. Adding in-person or online educational options is a common way for associations to continue delivering value.

We help associations every year assess their educational content and find the best way to make this valuable information available to their members online. Creating a dedicated website that houses all your educational content makes it easy for members to access your professional development resources on their own time.

What ideas has your association used to keep members engaged during the summer months? Have you found any good strategies for recruiting new members to take an active role in the association? Let us know in the comments below. Or, if you are interested in learning more about creating online educational materials, we’d be happy to help review your current resources.

Content Marketing in Disguise: Leverage your Association’s Events

Your association thrives at events, providing a forum for thought leadership in your field and networking among your members. But there’s a way to make your events even more successful: Change the way you think about them. Treat your events like content.


In reading Mykel Nahorniak’s 8 Ways to Transform Events into Powerful Content Marketing, published on the Content Marketing Institute’s site, I was struck by the elegant simplicity of his idea. Nahorniak posited that organizations can optimize an event’s impact by strategizing and leveraging it, as they would any other piece of content. Promote it relentlessly, push it out to social media frequently, send email announcements and reminders periodically, and keep SEO in mind when event listings are written.

People remember in-person events they attended much more than they remember online content they simply skimmed. Once. Two years ago. Transform your events into consumable, memorable content your members will use, retain, and reflect on fondly for years to come.

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