3 Must-Have Tools for Conferences

As you may have heard, CareerCast.com named “Event Coordinator” the 6th most stressful job of 2012.

As a person who coordinates meetings and annual conferences for associations, you understand the stress of speakers not hitting their call for final presentations deadline, getting the most current information in the printed conference programs, ensuring those programs arrive on time, making sure your attendees can find their handouts online and offering a website that professionalizes your conference…and all of this is just work-related stress!

While there are a lot of details you need to be concerned about when planning an annual meeting, there are certainly some you SHOULDN’T be worried about. Here are 3 tools you can use to help ease the stress of event planning.

3 Tools to Improve Conferences

  1. Collect, Manage and Review Presentations Using an Online System.
    Stop using email as your tool for collecting your final presentations and start using a system that keeps you organized. Collecting final presentations via email may be better than Fed Ex deliveries, but it certainly doesn’t mean you have a cutting edge collection process. As busy professionals, we understand how easy it is for emails to disappear, sometimes even before we get to see them. (The love/hate relationship with our spam filters is never ending.) Creating one online location for ALL submitters and reviewers streamlines the entire process from your initial call for abstracts to collecting and reviewing speakers’ final presentations.
  2. Provide a Conference Program and Speaker Materials in a Condensed Learning Journal and Flash Drive. More conference materials mean more worry about which conference materials are going to arrive on which day from which vendor at what location. This is completely unnecessary. Instead of having your conference final program, session materials and notepads, try a conference learning journal that includes both your final program and extra note pages in one spiral bound book. Then, attach your flash drive of conference proceedings to the inside cover. And finally, right under that flash drive, include a link or QR code which will lead attendees right to your conference’s online event community where they can download the speaker handouts.
  3. Publishing Your Conference Handouts and Proceedings in a Digital Publishing Platform. Don’t leave it to your presenters to take business cards and send their handouts in a link to session attendees. This is crazy, but it still happens. Start publishing your conference proceedings and session handouts in a consistent online location (better known as a digital publishing platform). Then, keep publishing year after year in this same knowledge center under the same URL… for example, “conferencehandouts.yourassociations.com.” Market this website everywhere (in emails, on the program cover, on session starter slides, etc.). And, if you’re publishing your materials through this digital publishing platform, attendees should just be able to Google it and find it easily.

Spending less time worrying about conference materials will give you more time to focus on more important aspects of planning a meeting or conference.

What are some other resources that would help make your conference planning job less stressful?

Three Conference Materials You Don’t Want to Ditch

During these times where laptops have replaced our desktop computers and iPhones make iPods useless items we once obsessed over, I think we’d all agree that keeping up with technology can be an exhausting, never-ending chase. Maybe this is a good time to stop chasing our shiny, new technologies, and think about what we shouldn’t be so quick to toss in the trash.

In the conference realm, more and more planners are posting their conference materials online creating a place where content is more accessible and findable for attendees. This is fantastic, but before jumping on the bandwagon, don’t forget about these useful conference materials that you may want to keep around. (AND when you’re through, make sure and check out these nine considerations to make before posting your conference materials online.)

Three conference materials you don’t want to ditch:

  1. Learning Journals/Conference Notebooks: Attendees appreciate having one place where they can take their personal and session notes, and find out where their next session is located. In a perfectly green world, we would all have paperless conferences, but let’s be serious, attendees still love these learning journals. Plus, there are definitely ways to spice up the ol’ conference notebook. Check out how ACVS combined their conference final program with a conference notebook (AND increased their ad sales doing it). With a conference notebook those problems involving internet access and battery life are out the window.
  2. Flash Drives: While flash drives are not used much anymore in everyday life, they work very well for conferences and meetings. With CD-ROM drives disappearing from laptops and $50 per user Wi-Fi at convention centers, flash drives are a great way to deliver content and have a little more control over access. By making all your content available on a conference website (even when password protected), people are still able to share passwords with each other. Sure, information on a flash drive can still be copied, but it’s definitely a lot more work than sharing a nine character password.
  3. CD-ROMS: Yes, I prefer to listen to my music via my iPhone versus a CD, but when it comes to conferences, CD-ROMS can be a great way to share a lot of information at a very low cost. Once again, worries regarding the internet and battery life are non-existent.

Ask yourself: What’s the most important part of your conference? Did you say the “The Attendees”? Regardless of your concerns to go green, be online, or cut costs… It’s all about creating the best experience for your attendees. Listen to them, give them what they want. If they want to take notes by hand, give them a learning journal. If they want to be able to access information without having to go on the internet, give it to them.

Your best option as a meeting planner is to give them options. By giving attendees their conference materials in multiple formats, they can choose what works best for them.

What’s your conference material “cocktail”?

The Lighter Weight, Greener Approach to Conference Binders

Feeling the pressure to go green? So was one of our clients when they were looking for a way to convert their three-inch conference binder into more green conference materials. Not only did they end up with “greener” conference materials, but they also impressed their attendees with their new light-weight, versatile materials in multiple formats.

More Bang for their Buck

For the same price, this client was able to convert their three-inch conference binder into three different conference materials:

  1. Conference Notebook. With a conference notebook (or as some call it, a learning journal), they were able to include important information such as the schedule and sponsorship information, as well as evaluations that could be torn out. It also included extra pages for note taking during the meetings, making it less likely that attendees would throw away their notebooks after the conference ended.
  2. USB Drive. All of the content that was once in the heavy binder was now all conveniently placed on a USB drive, including speaker bios, handouts, presentations and sponsor and exhibitor information. The USB also included a note-taking option for attendees who preferred to take notes using their laptops. The USBs were secured to the front cover of the conference notebook.
  3. Hosting Conference Materials Online. By placing content online, attendees had opportunity to view the conference materials online one week prior to the conference and find updated materials after the meeting, allowing them to print their own handouts if they choose. This site was also mobile-friendly, giving attendees quick, convenient, on-site access.

Attendee and Association Reactions

Attendees were very happy with the new products! They loved how there was a place for the flash drive in the notebook so they didn’t have to worry about losing it. This also made the conference materials easier to hand out for the event staff. Additionally, attendees commented on the convenience of having to carry less than a pound of conference material versus the seven-pound binder. Overall, attendees felt like they were receiving more conference materials even though the cost of the new conference materials was the same.

Which methods are your associations using to go green?