Three Tips for a Successful Continuing Education Conference
As personal technology improves, CE conference planners will have to put more thought into ensuring they’re providing tools that allow attendees to engage in new and modern ways.
In this day and age, individuals have the ability to customize almost anything. People regularly tailor their digital calendars, online shopping preferences and social media outputs — all in the palm of their hand. Significant advances in communicative technologies have cultivated a culture of customization.

In order to stay relevant, continuing education (CE) conference planners must use strategies that allow attendees to meaningfully connect to and participate in professional learning experiences. The following are some of the most important factors to consider when planning an attendee-centered CE conference.

1. Predict the Unpredictable

Conferences, large or small, can be hectic; room assignments can change on a whim, conference housing may have technical issues and presenters may have lengthy travel delays. Accordingly, a printed program is useful, but it won’t account for the inevitable schedule deviations that occur in real-time. It’s therefore necessary to implement plans to keep your attendees in the loop at all times. In order to update your attendees on the latest conference happenings, pre-programmed mobile applications can be used to connect your audience to a live schedule. CE conference planners can efficiently send instant notifications directly to an attendee’s smart phone or email when the schedule changes. Additionally, a well-programmed mobile application can also provide opportunities for attendees to customize their own schedules based on their personal preferences for concurrent sessions, keynotes and workshops. It’s important to note that not all conference goers will have advanced technologies such as smartphones or laptops. It’s therefore essential to maintain a white board at the registration desk that serves as an analog addendum. These strategies would help your attendees see the latest news at the event.

2. Use Big Data

Collecting and analyzing conference data is becoming increasingly important when it comes to understanding your audience’s individual needs. It’s vital to know information about who your audience is; these facts influence approaches to planning. A conference management system (CMS) can be programmed to track an array of pertinent statistics that can help organizations make valuable decisions. An accumulation of data on individual needs can be relayed to organization stakeholders in order to generate the most appropriate programs specific to a professional learning meeting. Sophisticated CMS software can also track an attendant’s food preferences, what region of the country he or she comes from and which particular conference topics attract the most interest. For instance, if first-timers have historically comprised a noteworthy percentage of your overall audience, it’s important to cater to that demographic. Leaders could organize events that specifically aim to pair new attendees with tenured professionals throughout the conference. This type of effort would promote colleagueship and keep your new attendees involved and informed.

3. Connect with the Audience

To make your CE event more attendee-centered, it’s crucial for your audience to be actively engaged in as many aspects of the meeting as possible. Use a comprehensive social media strategy that would allow your audience to dynamically connect to the conference. Audience members can be encouraged to blog, tweet and post pictures of their conference experiences on preferred social media outlets. As audience members interact online, they intimately link to the intellectual, social and cultural aspects of the conference.  A variety of rich, captured moments can help spread the word about your event and also catalogue interesting artifacts from the conference. Conference planners can also scan social media chatter in order to gain valuable feedback from the audience. Markedly, your attendees will use a range of social media outlets. Therefore, plan to involve your audience through a variety of channels.

Conclusion

Attendee-centered CE conferences aim to engage and understand audience members, rather than passively lecture to them. In order to stay relevant and competitive, CE conference planners must employ detailed strategies that aim to satisfy the individual needs of audience members. As communication technologies evolve, it’s necessary for CE planners to provide means for attendees to become keenly engaged and involved in the overall conference experience.

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Readers Comments

Sarah Rarier 2014/08/06 at 4:16 pm

Interesting piece on how to enhance the conference experience in this digital age. The one comment I have is that there are many pieces like this that explore how to use social media for conference engagement, but few that look at whether this engagement is effective or valued by participants. Being able to collect some data on this could help to inform strategies to better use social media in conferences.

Linda Bars 2014/08/07 at 9:29 am

I’ve been on my CE unit’s organizing committee for our bi-annual conferences for a number of years, and the shift to thinking about how an in-person conference will play out online or on personal devices is indeed radical. I’ll share an anecdote. Two years ago, we planned our first conference that was broadcast live online and used a hashtag that we encouraged attendees to use. What we didn’t realize, this being our first experience, was that the hashtag was also remarkably similar to teen slang for a rather vulgar topic. Thus, when capturing key tweets from the conference, a few of those slipped into the mix. Lesson learned.

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