As meeting planners, we are on a continual quest to advance the quality of the conferences we deliver. This is necessary to ensure growth in attendance and program effectiveness. We want our conferences to reach more people and to see new learnings applied in their workplaces. With a strong focus on progressing towards greater achievement, we may tend to look for larger areas for improvement to enact change. We must, however, bear in mind that many small things will compound to make a noticeable difference.
Let’s look at four practices that are often overlooked by conference organizers and planning committees that may help you further engage your participants and increase their satisfaction.
Ask the people – We want our conference programs to be effective. To do so, we need to know where our participants are at and how our conference can help advance them professionally. Take the time to conduct a needs assessment survey before you begin developing your program. Ask your potential participants what they need from your conference and build your program around those needs. It will greatly enhance your ability to market your conference and will increase your participant satisfaction. Do not make the mistake we see too often where conference organizers assess their participant’s needs based upon a consensus within their planning committee. Your committee is not a large enough sample for accuracy. Obtain a sampling size of at least 30 – 40 respondents.
Measure more – Most conferences do great at conducting post-event participant surveys and evaluating respondent feedback. Try measuring further. If you have the resources, consider measuring your conference’s ROI. This will benefit you in helping to prove the value of your conference to its stakeholders. You definitely should be tracking and measuring the progression of your conference. On a weekly basis, track and keep records of your registration numbers, room block pick up, revenues and other relevant data. This data can be overlaid on your marketing plan providing you with invaluable insight for the development of your future conferences.
Take risks with your menu – Menu planning for your conference can be difficult in having to manage the many dietary restrictions and preferences of your participants. Don’t let this challenge push you into serving “safe” menu options. It is important to develop a greater reliance upon the chef and their team. Most culinary teams are quite willing and welcome the opportunity to work beyond their published menus. Think outside the box and provide them with the opportunity to be creative in meeting the expectations of your participants. Being creative doesn’t necessarily mean being extravagant or unique. My company recently received rave reviews serving pizza at a conference.
Keep them wanting more – Most conference organizers understand the value in a strong ending for their conference. Their focus is usually on delivering a highly anticipated final session with a purpose of keeping participants from exiting early. While this is good to minimize a loss in attendance, you need to focus further on designing a final session that keeps your participants wanting more. Your entire program needs to culminate in this final session and leave your participants anticipating your subsequent conferences.
These are just a sample of best practices that can help make a difference to your next conference. Take time to get connected with your local and online communities for meeting and event planners. It is through the sharing of ideas and best practices that we will grow and become a stronger industry.
About the author
Brent Taylor, CMP, CMM is a Managing Partner at Timewise Event Management Inc. based in Edmonton, Alberta. He is very passionate about the meetings industry and believes strongly in education, professional development and setting industry standards. Connect with Brent online at www.twitter.com/brentjtaylor and www.linkedin.com/in/brentjtaylor.