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What’s Behind an Effective Conference Content Strategy?

by MYB, on January 22, 2020


Every good conference planner knows it’s worthwhile to experiment with content format---two or three days of the same lecture format will wear down even the most committed professional. Interactive or hands-on experiences are important, whether you’re asking attendees to work together to answer questions or simply to vote on relevant questions. If you can turn those learning sessions into networking opportunities, all the better.

But change for the sake of change isn’t meaningful for an attendee. So before tinkering with formats, think about your overall content strategy---you want to ensure that the information you’re providing speaks to the different types of people who attend. A good first step for doing that is to gain a better understanding of both your attendee and non-attendee profiles. If you know the personalities and behaviors that define your community, you’ll be better equipped to provide content that serves it.

Case in point: Earlier this year we helped a global medical society re-imagine its annual conference. Through persona research, we were able to identify some crucial audience targets: New attendees, international attendees, students, and advanced-stage professionals. That finding raised a challenge, though: All of those audiences have different needs, and often different learning styles, so how do you serve them?

We recommended breaking up content based on level of experience, so participants could plan their learning paths at the conference without wondering if the meeting was a good fit for their needs. That’s not a cosmetic fix: Like a lot of associations, this one planned its conference content through committees that were often siloed and not used to thinking about the attendee mix and overall goals of the conference. We proposed an upgraded process that was more collaborative, included input from all members and emphasized a content mix that was proportional to the interests of the overall membership.

Understanding content needs helped inform changes to content format. Our research also told us that attendees wanted access to the latest research---and access to experts who could speak about it. So we proposed a broad mix of formats: lectures, debates, roundtables, workshops, and more. That diversity of formats will allow the meeting to speak to the variety of personas we identified.

Modifying the content formats and creating new learning paths was only part of the solution. After all, one reason people attend a conference is for a sense of a broader community, not just to occupy their particular bubbles. To create a community feel, we proposed an “engagement hub” at the exhibit hall that would serve as the conference’s “town square”---a place to network and engage in educational opportunities across the organization.

Concepts like personas, tiered content, and engagement hubs require time and research. But it’s a process worth undertaking in the name of humanizing your event---ensuring that every attendee has an experience that resonates with them both personally and professionally.

Watch: The Power of Personas