Why Virtual Attendees Need Conference Welcome Kits More Than Ever

Several surveys indicate that most conference attendees still prefer in-person events and look forward to the day they can safely resume. However, a recent report released by PCMA tells us that virtual events—in one form or another—are here to stay for the foreseeable future. As we become more accustomed to doing nearly everything virtually, we’re going to expect more from virtual conferences. It won’t be enough to deliver great content through easily accessible technology. We also need to think about how we deliver a more human event experience in this now-virtual world.

Virtual Event Welcome Kits & Swag Bags

Cue the conference welcome packet. Or welcome kit. Or swag bag. Whichever you prefer. We once felt they were an important part of an in-person conference—important enough to spend the wee hours of the morning stuffing tote bags! Why? They set the tone of the meeting, made our attendees feel important, created sponsorship opportunities, and provided key information for navigating the event.

A welcome kit mailed to virtual attendees ahead of the event provides some much-needed return to normalcy.

Common Challenges for Virtual Attendees

It’s possible your attendees are not going to experience the same level of excitement and anticipation leading up to your virtual event as they do for the in-person version simply because there is less to get excited about. No new city to explore. Fewer opportunities to meet and truly connect with old friends and new acquaintances. Fewer of those “surprise and delight” moments that make the meeting fun and memorable.

More attendees run the risk of feeling anonymous and less important at a virtual event—both to the organizers and to other attendees, especially if they are newer to the organization. The perception can be that it’s easier to become lost in a sea of Zoom faces or duck out of a session without anyone really noticing.

Virtual conferences can also be more difficult to navigate. For example, if you have a logistical question or don’t know where the next session is at an in-person conference you simply ask someone—event staff, volunteers, or fellow attendees. But for a virtual conference, you need to understand the schedule, technology requirements, login URLs and credentials, how to use the platform, and any important details and expectations, like how to connect with the speaker. Or, what do I need to know for Happy Hour Trivia again? In the days leading up to and during the conference, it can be too easy for important instructions and information to get lost in the abyss of email.

Welcome Kits Create Anticipation, Build Connections, and Provide Information

A welcome kit can be used to capture the spirit of your event, help facilitate attendee connections, create sponsorship opportunities, and provide important information. It also makes your attendees feel appreciated and part of something important before the first session even begins.

Here are some ideas of what to include in your welcome kit:

  • Branded promotional items that align with your event’s theme
  • Items that make it easier to participate from home, such as snacks, water, coffee, earbuds, a mi-fi, fidget toy, and even a themed “Do Not Disturb” sign to hang on their home office door
  • Items that help create conversation and bring attendees together during a fun social or network event, such as t-shirts, silly sunglasses, an item for a virtual scavenger hunt, etc.
  • Helpful, informative materials such as happy hour drink recipe cards, tips for looking your best on webcam, etc.
  • Sponsor and exhibitor materials that help attendees connect with the products and solutions they need.

Include a Printed Program Book in Virtual Event Welcome Kits

Believe it or not, the printed program book still plays an important role in the virtual event. It serves as a guide to navigating the schedule and provides a centralized place for all participation instructions. It can also be used as a handy place to take notes, which can be harder to do on a computer or other device during a virtual meeting, especially if your attendees don’t have the benefit of multiple monitors. And, of course, it provides an opportunity to showcase your sponsors and exhibitors. Pair the printed book with a digital conference flipbook to give sponsors even more exposure such as embedded videos, virtual callouts, and web links.

When our conferences shifted from in-person to online, we lost the tactile component of the meeting, which is proving to be an important part of a virtual event. Meeting planners should consider a physical mailing to attendees that contain promotional items and printed materials to bridge the gap between the in-person and the virtual event experience.

Need help printing, stuffing, and mailing your attendee welcome packets, swag bags, or other pre-event materials?

Contact us to receive a quote!

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.

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.

Pre-Conference Reading List: Articles to Prep for ASAE Annual

 

For most people, summer means warm days, sunshine, beach time, fireflies and lemonade. For us, it means it’s time to get ready for our favorite event of the year—the ASAE Annual Meeting!

We’ve already started browsing through the conference schedule to plan which sessions we’re going to attend. There are a few that caught our attention because they’re covering topics that we’ve had our eye on this year as well, including:

  • A Method to the Madness: How to Strategically Use and Reuse Your Content
  • The Annual Conference as a Year Long Engagement Tool
  • Don’t Just Learn It, Do It! Developing Microlessons for Practice & Application
  • Reimagining an Innovative and Collaborative Conference
  • Four Steps for Growing, Engaging and Retaining Your Membership

In fact, we’ve written blog articles that address some of these same themes.  So, we went back and re-visited these articles to get the “thinking gears” moving in preparation for the conference. And then it occurred to us—maybe others will find these articles helpful as well.

We’ve prepared a list of suggested reading to kick-start your thought process and help prepare you for an engaging discussion at ASAE Annual.

Six Articles That Will Help Get You Ready for ASAE Annual

 

Are You Wasting Your Most Valuable Resource?

Associations are sitting on a goldmine. Unlike most for-profit organizations, associations are in the business of content. You source it for your conferences. You develop it for your educational programs. And you produce it for your publications. You have no shortage of knowledge and ideas to share. But what many don’t have is a well-defined sharing program, both internally and externally, which prevents associations from using that content to its full potential. Here are some ideas on how to overcome internal obstacles and develop a sustainable content marketing process. READ MORE

Association Growth: Conference and Membership Teams Must Collaborate Better

The 2019 State of the Conference Industry Report results demonstrate that conference attendance trends and membership growth trends are closely linked, making it essential that conference and membership teams work together to leverage this relationship, providing increased member benefit and attracting new audiences. Here are four ideas to achieve association growth. READ MORE

The Future of Continuing Education Can be Found in K-12 Classrooms

The way in which we need to deliver education is fundamentally changing because our understanding of how people learn best is changing. The origins of this shift can be traced all the way back to the K-12 classroom.  The school-aged learners of today will soon be the adult learners of tomorrow, and their current classroom experiences are going to affect professional development programs in the future. This article explores five fundamental shifts in classroom learning and the potential impact on continuing education professionals. READ MORE

Five Ways to Continue the Learning After Your Conference

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

Apply Micro-Learning Concepts to Your Printed Course Materials

The discussion of mico-learning is typically centered around online and mobile-based training programs. Recently, however, some organizations have started looking at ways to redesign existing print content to implement and test micro-learning without the need for additional resources. Here are some ideas to consider for your micro-learning programs. READ MORE

Get Your Training Courses Ready for Generation Z

Today, many associations are thinking about how to remain relevant at a time when access to free knowledge is just a click away. But there’s good news: Gen Z will find tremendous value in the opportunities that associations provide…if you can adapt to their needs and meet them on their terms. Here are some things to consider in your next conference strategy session. READ MORE

We’re very interested to gain additional industry perspectives and learn more about where these themes are headed in the coming year.  And, we look forward to joining our association friends and industry partners for several days of great insights and even better conversations.

Be sure to stop by and visit us at Booth #1423. See you soon!

Big Ideas for Training, Continuing Education Pros from ATD Conference

 

“Every human is looking for the exact same thing—to live out the truest expression of themselves as a human being.” – Oprah Winfrey, ATD 2019, Keynote Address

In her opening keynote speech at the Association for Talent Development’s annual conference and expo, ATD 2019, in Washington D.C., Oprah Winfrey spoke to a packed house of training and continuing education professionals about the idea of living out the truest expression of ourselves, applying it to the crowd of thousands of training and development professionals seated before her. She explained that by applying our talents toward the greater good, a paradigm switch from the conventional business mindset, we can achieve even more benefits from our own talents—an idea that resonated with the education professionals in the audience.

As training professionals and association leaders, you are responsible for fostering the advancement of your industry through education. In essence, you are helping others develop and apply their talents toward the greater good.

As organizations that set the standards for an industry, associations are also catalysts of change. It’s your role to both lead change based on new industry developments and respond to it, as societal norms and expectations change.  Seth Godin, best-selling author, entrepreneur, teacher and ATD 2019 keynote speaker put it eloquently (and bluntly) when he stated at the top of his address, “The essence of your work is that you make change happen – or why bother.”

Adapting Technology for Educational Programming in a Changing World

We know what we do and why, but how do we stay at the top of our game and keep up with the ever-changing needs of learners who are now accustomed to remote work settings, the gig economy, and of course, technological advances in their field? Walking the floors of ATD it was apparent how fast-changing and competitive the education technology landscape really is. So, all we need is new learning technology and all our nuanced challenges as trainers and educators will get better, right? “Crapola!” pronounced an energetic Elliott Masie, education technology expert credited with coining the term “e-learning” and ATD 2019 speaker.

In his speech, Masie focused on first discovering how learners are changing and then deciding how and what technology to apply in order to make their experiences better.

So, how are learners changing? Thanks to the advent of the internet and mobile technology, learners can now search for answers by themselves, without a formal manual or instructor. They are engaging in self-directed, curiosity-based knowledge consumption. And what they find must be highly relevant, bite-sized content for microlearning—education industry jargon Masie sardonically called “learning words”. He suggests that we not pigeonhole ourselves into industry terminology, but rather focus on providing value to learners and their changing needs with the technology we choose to implement or create.

Other adult learners may want to gain the knowledge they need on the job, at the exact time they need it—just-in-time learning. In other words, people don’t want to memorize information and wait a long time before they can actually use it. Masie suggests there is “too much training at the wrong time.” And he’s not just talking about this in reference to millennials, which is often the microcosm for discussion among training pros on such topics.

“I’m not a fan of the millennial conversation. I don’t believe millennials are different. Anyone living in 2019 is different.”

Education professionals have historically relied on developing learning programs and strategies based on demographics. But this isn’t a relevant way to think about education anymore. We have all become equally reliant upon technology and tend to use it fairly similarly. Instead, think about how to use technology more thoughtfully to support the learner experience at any age.

Do Better, Not More

As training professionals walking the floors at an international conference and expo like ATD, it’s easy to not only be inspired by the advances in education tech, but it’s also quite easy to be intimidated—especially for association leaders who many times feel they are already behind the ball of their corporate counterparts. Stay calm, it’s ok to feel overwhelmed or to feel that you or your organization could be doing better when it comes to implementing technology into your programming. Instead, focus on doing better at meeting the needs of your learners with thoughtful curriculum. Start incorporating technology by breaking up and reorganizing your existing training content into bite-sized chunks that your learners can access easily on their mobile phones. Test and experiment with content delivery methods for effectiveness first before jumping into a costly overhaul of your education technology.

After speaking with attendees at ATD, we know that technology updates are top of mind. And according to our annual training trends report, they have been for quite some time.  Across industries, whether association or corporate, be assured that not everyone is there yet. Not everyone needs to be there yet. Be thoughtful in your approach to how you implement technology and your courses and your learners will be better off for it.

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.

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.

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.

Increase The Educational Value Of Your Event With Digital Content

How you deliver conference content to your attendees is changing. Thanks to on-demand services like Netflix, Hulu and YouTube, the idea of omnipresent content—content that is available whenever, wherever, and in the format that is most convenient—is now the expectation. Associations typically offer some form of digital access to event materials, but the idea of providing a single digital format is no longer enough to provide attendees with the user experience they expect.

Feedback from attendees is prompting associations to look for ways to meet these new expectations. Rather than choosing one format, offer your attendees access to a variety of digital content to create a seamless, accessible experience that can heighten the educational value of your event.

Different digital format provide different benefits

It’s common for conference professionals to assume all digital conference products provide the same features, benefits and experiences. In reality, online conference proceedings, mobile apps and USB drives each bring their own unique set of benefits to your conference attendees.

Online Conference Proceedings

Online conference proceedings make conference materials accessible from anywhere with an internet connection. Attendees can easily search by session, track and speaker to select the material that interests them prior to the conference.

With online conference proceedings, you can offer a preview of your event’s sessions. These previews can help people decide whether or not they want to attend your conference based on tangible examples of the information you provide. And, by hosting all of these items in one central location, you create a great online resource for attendees to return to after the conference has ended.

Conference App

A conference app is best for portability and on-site information. Your conference attendees can use your mobile app to navigate around the conference using GPS technology, maps and can build their own personal schedule that fits right into their pocket.

Apps also help drive engagement during your conference. Features like live polling, social timelines and direct messaging between attendees and speakers facilitate one of the main reasons your attendees come to your conference year after year: networking.

USB Drive

Relying on the venue’s WiFi is never a good idea, which is why USB drives are great for storing conference materials. The devices are small and easy to carry, especially when they are stored in unique shapes or useful objects like pens and keychains.

One of the biggest perks of USBs is that they make it convenient to access information. While web addresses might be easily forgotten, a physical keychain or item on your attendee’s desk at work will remind them of your association, conference and the information they learned from you.

Why you need a comprehensive approach

Since each digital format has its own set of unique benefits, using multiple options at your event will give attendees the most flexibility in how they engage with your materials. Don’t think of them as a replacement for each other, but rather think about how each option fills a different role in creating a seamless educational experience.

Here are a few examples to illustrate why your conference should offer a comprehensive mix of digital content formats.

Scenario 1

John is interested in attending your conference and goes online to find example conference materials to get a better idea of what your association offers. When he sees your conference proceeding sneak peeks, he registers and uses the online conference proceedings to figure out which sessions he wants to attend. When the day of the conference arrives, John wants to reference the conference materials, but cannot access the venue’s WiFi. Fortunately, he can still pull up materials using the USB keychain you provided at check-in.

Scenario 2

Mary likes to be able to reference conference materials during break-out sessions, but does not want to be weighed down by her laptop all day during your event. Instead, she accesses the conference materials available through your mobile app. During breaks, she also uses the app to post about her experiences on the social timeline and sends a question to a speaker she didn’t get the opportunity to speak with. After the conference is over, Mary deletes the app to free up space on her phone, but is able to log onto your online conference library to reinforce the information she learned at the event.

Scenario 3

Susan is traveling from out of state to your conference and is uneasy about being in a new city. Fortunately, she has downloaded your mobile app, which provides her with GPS directions to the event location and helps her navigate the city during lunch and breaks. However, she finds it difficult to find the exact conference paper she’s looking for on her small phone screen, so she pulls out her laptop and uses the USB your association provided to access and search the materials to find the paper she is looking for.

Give your attendees the format freedom they desire

Providing content in multiple formats can be a challenge if you don’t have a strategy for managing them. One common pitfall is keeping data updated and consistent in multiple places as your content changes. The best way to avoid a data gap is to create a single source of record that is always up to date.

Updating content in multiple places and coordinating with multiple vendors is another scenario that can make managing multiple formats difficult, so consider working with a single vendor that offers all the formats you need.

By offering digital content in a variety of formats you’ll give your attendees the freedom to access materials whenever and wherever they want. All of the digital formats work together to increase the educational value of your event and create a top-notch conference experience.