Think Like Your Attendees

Dave Lutz, over at the Midcourse Corrections blog, lays out six really good ways to improve your conference committee.

Here at ProposalSpace, we always try to see things through the eyes of our users, so we especially liked his recommendation to “Walk in the attendee’s shoes”:

Many conference committees evaluate potential sessions and speakers using more information than the attendees will see. Attendees make the decision to attend based on session title, session description, and learning objectives. Embrace a blind review process. It will help eliminate personal agendas and challenge the committee to evaluate the program as a paying attendee would.

Crowdsource, Curate, or Combo?

The most common model for selecting presenters for educational conferences is pretty straightforward:

  1. Announce a call for proposals (or call for papers, call for abstracts, call for speakers, etc.)
  2. Collect proposals
  3. Have a committee of volunteers review the proposals
  4. Select presentations based on the reviews
  5. Build a session program that accommodates the selections

Although the process works for the vast majority of meetings, it’s hard to argue that it can’t be improved.

One suggestion we’ve noticed recently is to open the process up to crowdsourcing. Basically, the idea is to leverage the power of social media by turning over the selection (and possibly scheduling) tasks to attendees. For a more detailed explanation, see Michelle Bruno’s post at TSNN.

Another suggestion, seemingly at odds with crowdsourcing, is to have a curator manage the selection and scheduling tasks. The idea here is that conferences, like museum exhibits or other curated collections, are far more effective if the content is carefully selected and organized to “tell a story” to attendees. For more information, see Jeff Hurt’s post on Velvet Chainsaw’s Midcourse Corrections blog.

So which is it? Crowdsourcing obviously works for larger conferences, like SXSW, but does it also work for smaller meetings with more focused content? And how about curating? Does it work for every type of conference or only for those that can be organized around a clear theme? How about a hybrid? Is it possible (or even desirable) to combine the two into a single model?