Archive for August, 2012


Reimagine signature events to empower self-directed learners

Teacher Directed vs. Learner Directed

On Tuesday, Aug. 14, I’ll have the pleasure of presenting with leadership strategist Cynthia D’Amour at the ASAE Annual Meeting in Dallas. Our session, “Reimagine Signature Events to Empower Self-directed Learners” will run in the first of two learning lab time slots (9 – 10:15 a.m.) in Room D171 (in case you were still undecided about which session to attend).

Now, many of you likely know Cynthia. I’ve had the opportunity to work with her professionally (which will serve as the basis for our session). She was also one of the first people I turned to when launching my consulting business last year. And when Selma and I moved into our new home last fall, both she and James were here to partake in the housewarming festivities.

Nevertheless, I have some pretty big shoes to fill – a thought that’s crossed my mind at least once or twice this week. For those who don’t know, Cynthia presented the highest ranked learning lab at the ASAE Annual Meeting in St. Louis. And although I’ve had the opportunity to give a handful of keynote presentations this year, somehow this feels different.

So, what do we have in store for you? The official session description follows:

Through real-life examples and hands-on exercises, identify opportunities to employ self-directed learning techniques at a future signature event, the planning involved in pulling off a program redesign, and lessons learned. Change your thinking about your next meeting, and gain strategies for engaging your conference attendees, resulting in more thoughtful, enthusiastic, and empowered learners and practitioners.

Um, what? Okay, it’s really not as scary as that might initially lead you to believe. The content is really two-fold. First, we want to talk a bit about what self-directed learning is and why it’s important. Second, we’ll launch into a discussion identifying important planning milestones in a program redesign, as well as obstacles and solutions that should be considered in planning a similar event for your own organization.

So, what is self-directed learning?

That’s simple. As we mature, we naturally develop the need and capacity to be self-directed (vs. teacher-directed). Our experiences become an increasingly rich resource for learning and our natural orientation is task or problem-centered (meaning that learning experiences are best organized as problem-solving learning projects rather than as lectures or reading assignments).

Likewise, we’re motivated more and more by internal incentives (so it’s important to identify a relationship between the learning activity and personal goals/objectives), and we’re increasingly more social and enjoy working collaboratively with others (both people and resources).

But why is self-directed learning important?

This is key. There is growing evidence that those who take initiative in learning ultimately learn more and learn better than those who don’t. The evidence also shows that these individuals learn more deeply and permanently. Furthermore, we develop problem-solving skills, acquire new knowledge and improve our leadership abilities (through practice rather than through textbook examples). Additionally, we become more thoughtful, enthusiastic, and empowered learners and practitioners.

Certainly, there’s more to be said on this topic – but I think you get the idea. With the endless access to information and content available online – not to mention the countless organizations now offering education opportunities at competitive rates (even free!) – there’s a long list of continuing education providers competing for market share.

The question is: How will you edge out the competition, secure member loyalty and become a provider of choice? We think the answer lies in self-directed learning. And not just to demonstrate that your association delivers cutting-edge learning opportunities or that your meetings truly do provide members value, but to meaningful train and educate the workforce – and to better prepare these individuals for the challenges they face each day in the workplace.

I mentioned this learning lab has two parts. The second major task is to identify what it takes to build this type of learning experience when you return home (as opposed to falling back into old habits). Inevitably, the path of least resistance results in the traditional call for presentations approach (that is, canned sessions, the same speakers year in and year out, and an unimaginative conference agenda).

On the other hand, a program redesign requires dedication, enthusiasm and drive, not to mention a bit more legwork. Following are the top three challenges we experienced last summer when planning and facilitating a self-directed conference of our own:

  1. Buy-in;
  2. Organization; and
  3. Facilitator coaching.

In addition to sharing with you the tips, tricks and takeaways that are sure to promote your success in each of these three key areas, this session will end with Q&A, as well as resources for further consideration and application. Specifically, we’ll deliver a copy of the slide deck, an invitation to join a Collaborate group where Cynthia and I will prompt and moderate weekly discussion related to self-directed learning, and a list of our top 10 aha moments and lessons learned.

So, my question to you is this: Has your organization experimented with self-directed learning? What did you learn from this experience? What challenges did you face? What successes did you celebrate? What changes did you see in your members? And, most importantly, what advice do you have for others interested in exploring this format?


Practice what we preach: Breathing life into curated content

On July 26, I had the good fortune of presenting a webinar for Higher Logic. Titled “Curating Conference Content to Promote Member Engagement,” this session delivered five simple, but effective strategies for curating conference content. A link to the presentation – complete with examples and case studies that may be easily adapted for implementation within your own organization – is available here for download.

During the program, a simple poll question was asked: “Does your organization currently curate content in some way following your major annual meeting?” Here, major annual meeting was defined as the meeting with the largest attendance, the meeting that produces the most revenue or the most strategically important meeting. To my surprise, 73% of attendees (65 voters) said their organization currently does curate content in some way following its major annual meeting.

With such a wealth of knowledge and experience to draw upon, you can imagine my delight when so many contributed to discussion in the attendee chat box throughout the program. So, I thought I’d conduct a bit of my own content curation and share with you highlights from the webinar chat transcript as yet another example of how organizations can curate content (and, subsequently, add value).

Organized by topic, following are lightly edited participant insights:


  • We have individuals in each room provide input and then develop a blog post or update in a newsletter of what takes place.
  • We offered the 2-3 guest bloggers a comp registration to the conference and require at least 1 post a day. It seemed to work really well and we got a ton of interest for just 2-3 positions. The content that was provided was incredibly meaningful.


  • Reframe the PowerPoint in other ways and post them in our knowledge center.
  • Sharing PowerPoints as PDFs after the conference and executive briefs from concurrent sessions.
  • We also offer speaker handouts for download to attendees (before and after the conference).
  • We send out an e-survey after the conference and offer materials on our website from the conference.

Online community

  • We ask presenters to upload their own session materials to our Connected Community.
  • Offering content from our conference in our e-prof development portal.
  • We are working on goals and measures for our online community.


  • We offer for sale audio and video of conference sessions.
  • Podcasts, videos, meeting materials online.
  • We’re just starting plans to video.
  • We capture synched voice and PowerPoint presentations from sessions, but want to expand to the informal aspects of the conference.
  • We capture audio, video and presentations, and sell them to those who are unable to attend the conference.
  • We also share the videos from our plenary sessions with attendees and our members (when presenter contracts don’t prohibit it).
  • We have materials printed beforehand, and sell videos/materials after, but that is just the packaged product.


  • We’ve been asked by members to begin archiving all tweets related to the convention.
  • We have experience using Twitter Fountain.
  • One conference displayed the Twitter feed during the plenary session.
  • We do live Twitter feeds on large LCD screens spread throughout the conference venue (screens also include housekeeping items like room changes and a general schedule for the day).
  • We add Twitter handles to badges.
  • Have a tweet up with special prizes.
  • We do have a good population that uses Twitter and our conference planning team specifically appoints members before the event to be active on Twitter.


  • We currently offer sessions as webinars after our major events.
  • Have offered concurrent sessions as live webinars;  have the sessions archived for sale afterward.
  • We select key presenters from the conference and have them re-present as webinars post-conference. Our chapters will also ask presenters to come in and re-present.
  • Online learning, recordings of sessions, continuing education opportunities.
  • We’ve actually started working on the marketing campaign for our new on-demand product.

Other insights

  • Because many organizations are steering away from snail mail [see slide 18 in the PowerPoint presentation], your mailing piece is more likely to stand out a little more. It’s easier to delete an electronic piece.
  • Idea swaps would be a terrific idea for our association’s conference… and would lend well to post-conference learning.
  • We’ve been capturing content for some time. We have flyers ready and launch them the day of the seminar.
  • After one chapter event that featured speakers from the conference, we heard from several people they would make attending a conference a priority.
  • I am interested in capturing content that happened live at the event, whether it is during live presentations or conversations/interactions that happen during the live event.


  • It’s always a challenge at my organization to capture takeaways and continue programming after the program ends.
  • We actually started capturing content last year. We did well with repackaging, but the number of sales was lower than we expected.  We’re trying it again this year.
  • We have recorded a session and then used it as a webinar for those who did not attend the conference. It didn’t work well, but it was our first attempt.
  • We plan to have some extra staff members at our conferences to capture content. We need extra people since the organizing staff member is often so busy administering the logistics of the conference!

Among the numerous ideas shared during this webinar, there were also a handful of questions that went unanswered during the Q&A portion of the program. Following are those questions and my responses:

  • How do you measure increase in engagement for events? What are you measuring? [The answer will be different for every organization, and is based upon the goals that you and your leadership team set. It may be higher attendance at the conference overall, it may be a higher percentage of attendees participating in a particular session/event onsite, it may be increased attendee satisfaction or it may be something altogether different – and less measurable or concrete.]
  • What type of feedback is received from non-participants when they get feed from the event? Are they more willing to participate the following year? [Whether they’re willing to participate the following year in-person or not is really of little consequence. If they’re participating at all – live or via the conference feed – they are engaging with your organization. This is a win-win all around. Remember, quality experiences yield loyalty and loyalty yields engagement. Once you’ve secured engagement, you can expect continued membership, as well as other subsequent purchasing decisions.]
  • How do you encourage attendees to participate in tweeting, posting to Facebook and writing a blog? [I think these are three separate questions – and should be handled differently based upon the characteristics of your target audience. If your audience isn’t active on Twitter, your conference incentives likely won’t be enough to get them engaged. Facebook, on the other hand, is a different story. Die-hard Facebook posters only need a bit of encouragement to share their favorite conference moments. With regard to blogging, see the ideas provided earlier in this post.]
  • Does he suggest having a dedicated person to execute some of these strategies? [If by “he” you are referring to me, then the answer is an emphatic “Yes!” No conference organizer has the time to dedicate to conference curation – at least not onsite. The right number will be different for each organization, though, depending on the breadth and depth of the curation you’d like to facilitate both onsite and post-conference. In addition to curation, you should also consider communication and marketing. It’s not just an “education” responsibility.]
  • We currently have paper evaluations – all electronic evaluations would be disastrous, but can you give me a few concrete actions to take to drive engagement and feedback? [Both the webinar and this blog post speak to concrete engagement examples, so I’ll tackle feedback here. Get testimonials from attendees while you’re at the conference. Record and share these testimonials following the event and when marketing the following year’s conference. Pictures and videos are especially effective. Following the event, hold a focus group to glean additional insights about the attendee experience. Above all else, be sure to actually do something with the information you gather.]

So, my question to you is this: Which of these ideas resonates most with you and your organization? How will you curate conference content during or after your next major annual meeting to promote member engagement? What challenges still exist in effectively sharing (e.g., communicating, marketing, leveraging) curated content with your members?

meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, running, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Digital content manager. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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