15 Key Considerations for 2013 Conferences

We're not particularly trendy here in the Midwest.  Instead we often observe what's happening on both coasts and track how it slowly creeps its way into our culture.

In my involvement in about 40 different conferences this year, I've noticed what once were isolated ideas or innovations beginning to be echoed repeatedly in other meeting designs.  While the degree of replication varies, I think each of the following 15 considerations are worth every conference designer contemplating for their 2013 efforts.

Is every conference-goer asking for each of the 15 items listed below?  Definitely not.  But just as Westin's Heavenly Bed set a new sleep standard that every other hotel brand eventually implemented, so do conference innovations have a way of eventually becoming conference expectations.  

Remember, "It's what you do now when you don't have to do anything that makes you what you want to be when it's too late to do anything about it" Robert Gary, University of Paris professor.

So here is some of what I think we will/should see more of in meeting and conference design in 2013.
  1. Smaller chunks of content in workshops; more expansive time for conversation and application.
  2. Engaging speakers as a part of a faculty who work together to support overall conference goals rather than act as independent operators.
  3. More engaging hybrid experiences through use of a virtual host and remote site hands-on activities.
  4. Intentional strategies to enable participants to share/apply content built into the overall conference design, as well as each individual session within it.
  5. Appropriate integration of more self-directed formats: buzz groups, table topics, learning lounges/labs.
  6. Having session presenters move from merely raising awareness of what needs to be done to facilitating participants co-creating solutions for how they would do so.
  7. Creating conference trailers or previews, as well as reviews/summaries, for marketing, archival, and learning purposes.
  8. Including a conference “weaver,” an emcee/facilitator who helps connect individual elements/learning and is an intentional contributor throughout the meeting.
  9. Optional coaching/content before, during, or after the event for individuals who see more customized or intimate interaction.
  10. Increased attention to participant well-being: healthier food (and right-sized portions), personal development topics, pace of the schedule, etc. 
  11. Honoring learning as a social experience … full integration of social media and appropriate interactive learning formats in all sessions, designing for the differences in how introverts and extroverts prefer to engage.
  12. Using registration as a springboard for the experience/learning, capturing participant information that can shape presenters' efforts and immediately pointing participants to pre-conference learning resources they can explore on their own.
  13. A strategically calibrated mix of depth and breadth in session offerings: deeper dives into a smaller number of core topics and exposure to less critical or emerging topics in shorter formats.
  14. Intentional emphasis and conference design focused on skill-building and building individual and organizational capability and capacity with increased post-conference assessment to measure effectiveness of efforts.
  15. Increased efforts to help people connect with like-minded individuals as quickly as possible in the conference schedule. 
My list is by no means exhaustive, and I'd love your take in the comments on what you think should definitely be added.



I love numbers 2, 4, and 6 in particular. I hope the folks that runt he conferences I attend read this list. It's time to make some progress on elevating the conference attendee's experience.

Bill said...

Gee, I only went to 4 conferences this year, Jeffrey; you win!

I *still* haven't seen #3 implemented effectively. The virtual element usually causes too much distraction, either because it doesn't function or because it is still novel. Do you have any examples you can share?

I'm down with all the rest, though! Collectively, we need to keep honing these - especially #11, which isn't going away.

And a postscript: convention/conference centers and hotels need to take all these into account just as much as planners do. For example, changing technology (and changing attendee behaviors) mean spaces need to adapt, too; try using a tablet under the glare of overhead lights.

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

Don't feel bad, Bill. Most of my 40 are events where I am speaking or facilitating, so it's easier to rack up the conference odometer that way.

The various EventCamp conferences seem to do a much better job than most with the hybrid experience, using a virtual host, having people connect in remote pod locations with their own activities, etc. It's a model worth looking at.

I feel they probably work better because they design for the hybrid from the very beginning as opposed to simply broadcasting a live event to other locations and adding a minor layer of interaction into the experience. As a result, the remote participants are far more engaged and seen closer to full contributors of the in-person component.