How to Improve Your Conference Sessions (and Create Happy Attendees)

“What an educational experience!”

“I enjoyed every session I attended.”

“The speakers did a great job.”

This is the kind of feedback that makes the months of planning worthwhile.

Every conference planner knows how important educational sessions are to your event. Attendees often justify the cost of their trip by citing the new topics they learn about. This means nothing is more welcome than receiving positive feedback on your conference sessions. After all, who is more likely to return next year than satisfied attendees?

But these positive learning experiences don’t just happen.

A big-name speaker for the keynote speech is not enough to ensure a good learning outcome for everyone involved. Successful planners know the work they do before the conference plays a major role in the feedback they receive afterward.

Here are five tips that will help your speakers deliver impactful sessions:

1. Have a system in place

Organization is key to ensuring a smooth-running conference. But coordinating with speakers before the event has been known to derail even the most seasoned planners. The constant back and forth can become an all-consuming experience.

An abstract management system takes the hassle out of coordinating with your submitters. Having the right organizational tool means less time hunting through emails and attachments. Freeing you to focus on finding speakers that resonate with your audience.

2. Inbox hero

Peer review is another organizational challenge that will overwhelm your inbox. A full-featured abstract management system organizes and automates your peer review process. Emailing research paper abstracts to individual reviewers can be a thing of the past! Imagine what other elements of your conference you can work on with these time savings.

Seriously, go ahead and imagine.

Others will notice the improved communications, as well. Your reviewers will delight at the ease of use that allows them to focus on what they do best.

3. Plan for different learning styles

Not all conference attendees learn in the same way. Some prefer the traditional presenter/listener model, but try to offer other formats, as well. A panel discussion allows for different points of view, while a workshop creates an interactive experience. Embrace this variety! Encourage your speakers to re- evaluate event learning models for presenting their educational content.

“Visual” vs. “verbal” learning is another factor to consider when selecting conference session formats. The format of the presentation is best left to the presenter, but as the event organizer, you play an important role. Make sure all the necessary A/V resources are available to handle a dynamic presentation.

Start this dialog with speakers early during your call for abstracts to avoid any surprises during the conference.

4. Make an introduction

Letting your presenters and attendees connect before the event is good for everyone. Speaker bios, preliminary papers and conference schedule give attendees a preview of the sessions. Speakers will appreciate the chance to develop their personal brands online. And this fresh content drives traffic to your website.

Keep a space reserved on your conference website for guest postings. Promoting these posts on social media builds attendees’ excitement in the weeks leading up to your conference.

Presenters can also use this opportunity to provide preliminary information on their topics. This is especially helpful in emerging fields. Attendees will be able to get more out of their conference session by having a baseline education before the event.

5. Give your educational content a life of its own

Over the course of the event, your speakers present more information than any one person could master. In fact, the average attendee forgets 70 percent of what they learn within 24 hours!

(Psst…. Guess what? There’s a way around that.)

An online content library is a great way to create a single location for all your conference content. This digital library lets your attendees know exactly where to go for the information they need, when they need it. And finding material is a breeze whether browsing by topic or searching by keyword.

Online conference materials add depth to your association’s website. This relevant, high-quality content makes your website a destination for those researching industry-specific topics. Exactly the kind of people your association wants as members.

Don’t wait until the conference is over to start gathering materials, though. Avoid confusion by making arrangements with your speakers early in the process.

These discussions should happen as part of the initial call for papers.


Focusing on what’s important to your attendees is critical to hosting a successful conference. Having the proper system in place leading up to the event allows you to spend more time choosing content and less time managing communication.

As a result, your attendees biggest challenge will be deciding which sessions they have to miss. And when the show is over and everyone has gone home, how will it feel to hear that feedback?

Has feedback ever motivated you to change your organizational process? What other ways do you accommodate different learning styles in your sessions? Any good tips to help attendees make the most of what they’ve learned? Let us know in the comments!

Bringing Content to Life: Presentations that Engage


I’m always amazed at the great content associations put together, year after year. Every day, we help them collect the materials that go on to serve as the foundation for their conferences.

But when it comes to a conference, collecting great content can only go so far. After choosing the sessions and printing the program books, it’s time for the content to come to life (literally): it’s presentation time!

A major part of creating a positive attendee experience rests on the quality of the sessions. This puts a lot of responsibility on your presenters to deliver their information in a dynamic and memorable way. But you don’t have to leave it all up to them…

There are steps you can take in the conference planning process to help your presenters. Think back to the presentations at your last conference. How much variation did you see in presentation styles? Did it feel like each presentation could have been part of the same speech? The presenter’s toolbox consists of more than reading from PowerPoint slides these days.

Fast forward to your next selection process.

As you sift through your next batch of submissions, make a point to create a more dynamic event from the start. Keep these tips handy as you plan which presentations to include. These techniques will lead to impactful presentations that engage the audience. Your presenters—and attendees—will thank you!

Create presentations that engage the senses

A presenter standing in the front of the room and speaking at the audience is leaving many options for engagement on the table.

Speakers are typically asked to submit their presentations ahead of time, as part of the selection process. Be on the lookout for slide decks that are heavy on text but light on imagery. As Dave Lutz recently pointed out, we are all visual learners. The combination of images and oral narration result in a significantly higher recall rate. Remind your submitter of this the next time you see a PowerPoint presentation that looks like a Word doc.

Another format that is big on engagement is video. Instead of talking about how something happens, ask your presenter if there is a video that can actually show the process. Video interviews are also perfect for bringing other expert opinions into the presentation. Whether explaining or expanding on an idea, a short video will keep your audience’s interest.

Props can be a fun and illustrative way to engage the audience, too. Having a physical representation of the topic at hand can create an interactive connection with the audience. The result is a way of bringing a concept to life in a style clip art cannot!

Format presentations to encourage participation

There is no best way to present a topic, but there sure is a most common way.

A single presenter in front of a roomful of listeners is a tired and… oops, sorry about that typo, it should be “tried” and true method for conference presentations. But there is an increasing focus on changing the room dynamics to make learning a two-way conversation.

Make a point to incorporate some new learning models into your next conference. Set a goal to have a percentage of your sessions be different than the standard lecturer/listener format. The number of sessions you choose to include should be realistic for your conference, based on your submissions.

Some popular approaches include hosting a moderator-led panel discussion, or an interactive workshop presentation. Both of these presentation styles are well suited for encouraging audience participation.

Dynamic presentations lead to better outcomes

Creating a memorable experience can help attendees remember content

Creating unique in-person learning experiences has long lasting benefits, as well. When attendee’s re-visit your conference’s content on a USB or digital publishing platform later, the material will trigger memories of the experiences they had at the conference. This creates an added value that can’t be replicated through viewing the online materials alone.

Encouraging dynamic presentations is an effective way to help presenters connect with the audience. It can also increase learners’ retention of the presented information. Keep these tips in mind to help your presenters help you create a memorable conference experience!

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