04
Nov
14

Call for Presentations: Dead or Alive?

call-for-presentations-openA colleague recently posted this question to a professional development discussion board I enjoy reading:

In the past few years, we have been receiving fewer responses to our call for papers. Has anyone had any success with any incentives to increase the number of submissions received?

Following are two lightly edited responses I posted in follow-up:

Response 1

You’re experiencing a trend, I believe, that most other associations are experiencing, as well. That is, fewer responses to your call for papers and even fewer, likely, quality responses. And by “quality” I mean different, leading-edge, innovative and engaging presentations.

“The new normal” is shifting to a process whereby a cross section of the association’s membership comes together as a conference task force or education committee and:

  1. Brainstorms what topics the members should be hearing at XYZ meeting (based upon the anticipated audience and conference goals/objectives).
  1. Identifies the most qualified and diverse individuals to present those sessions.
  1. Works with those individuals to co-create an experience with both quality content and quality instructional design (e.g., visuals, handouts, activities).

I hope this helps spark some ideas of how you might tweak the process within your own organization to ensure the “right” content at your next event.

Response 2

I’ve also used a more crowdsourced approach. It looked something like this:

  1. Send out mass survey to anyone and everyone our association had a relationship with. The survey generally maxed out at five questions. We posed questions focused less on what people have seen or heard before and instead asked questions that attempted to identify needs (vs. wants). The most popular questions were always: “What keeps you up at night?” or some similar iteration asking people what workplace challenges they’re currently facing. Questions seeking recommendations (e.g., speakers and topics) were phrased to encourage new, leading-edge, innovative, different speakers and topics that maybe we hadn’t featured before.
  1. I would boil down all of that data into an executive summary matching like recommendations, topics, speakers, etc.
  1. We would pull together a diverse cross section of key stakeholders asking them to help us interpret and prioritize the responses (e.g., What does this mean? Is this really a big need? Does this warrant an hour-long session at our annual conference or a full-day retreat?).
  1. With that information in hand and summarized, we engaged our education committee to “address” these needs in terms of placement throughout the annual education calendar. With their help, we would then secure speakers and share with them the actual needs/learning objectives identified throughout this process.

crowdsourceUtilizing this approach, however, I have a few cautionary tales:

  1. Attendees often can’t distinguish what they want vs. what they need. It’s our responsibility as educators to find and provide the balance.
  1. Attendees, when asked to recommend topics and speakers, are often recommending what they’ve seen/heard before. In my experience, education committee members may be participating in and attending multiple conferences a year – in which case we may be getting referrals that we’ve not seen/heard before. Additionally, if these are truly education or professional development folks, they likely know a quality speaker/presentation when they see one – which is good for us. On the flip side, attendees with little knowledge in this area may not be suggesting the right balance between quality content, quality speaker and quality presentation style. Likewise, their total experience with speakers/presentations may be limited (meaning the recommendations are simply a recycling of our own past conferences or those of our competitors).
  1. Finally, I always caution voting on topics or content leaders when it comes to education. It often becomes a popularity contest vs. a well-constructed and well-balanced education event with the right and diverse mix of speakers and content.

Anyway, thanks for sharing. Best of luck as you dig into this crowdsourcing process. You’ll have to let us know how it turns out.

Just the Facts

According to a study conducted by Event Garde in collaboration with the Michigan Society of Association Executives (MSAE) in 2012, when asked how many months before their 2011 major meeting associations closed their call for presentations, a majority of respondents (54%) indicated they did not issue one for this meeting. An additional 17% reported Four to five months; 11% reported Eight to nine months.

So what process are you adopting in 2015: a call for presentations, curation, crowdsourcing or some combination of the three? If you’re approaching content development in a new or unique way, we’d love to interview you for a future blog post or newsletter feature.


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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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