Increase Conference AttendanceFor associations, conferences represent a major source of potential revenue. To best realize that revenue, your conference not only has to attract attendees but also retain them year after year. In the simplest terms, you do this by providing value in the form of networking opportunities, vendor availability, keynote speakers and, of course, smaller learning sessions. I want to talk about that last one today and discuss how better sessions can lead to higher attendance.

You’ve probably already got a good idea of the basics. Bring in relevant, inspiration keynote speakers, attract vendors for the expo floor, and allow experts in your industry to lead smaller sessions. Unfortunately, merely being an expert in an industry does not necessarily mean you are qualified to teach the subject. As learning professionals, we understand this better than most. Subject matter experts (or SMEs as we call them) have not necessarily studied teaching techniques and more often than not default to a “stand and lecture” style. No matter how knowledgeable your SMEs are, if they are not presenting their information in engaging, effective ways, it won’t have the maximum possible impact. Bored people who aren’t learning anything will feel they’ve wasted their money and will be less likely to attend again next year.

So what can you do about it? I don’t have enough time or space here to go over everything needed to create effective learning situations. Nor do you have the time to create or monitor every session you’ll be offering. The best way to maintain consistency amongst your offerings and to ensure they provide value to your attendees is through clear and direct standard operating procedures. You’ll want to consult learning professionals for the specific nuances of your industry’s material, but here are two of what I consider to be the most important pieces of advice.

  1. Insist on a good ratio of presentation to engagement.

Active engagement trumps passive absorption nearly every time. Instead of standing in front of a room and talking at people for the entire session, have your SMEs spend time interacting with their learners through dialogue, Questions and Answers, etc.

2.  Beware of cognitive overload.

While trying to teach your attendees as much as possible, don’t forget that they are living people. There is only so much a human brain can process and retain at once. There is a reason that traditional school is spread out over a year. When too much information is presented in too short a time frame, learners experience what we call “cognitive overload.” Instructional designers strive to avoid this, lest their learners curl up in the fetal position and give up. To make this work for you, carefully examine any learning sessions you intend to present and make sure the content can be fully digested in the time allotted. In this situation especially: Less is more!

There is so much more to presenting sound instruction at conferences, but these tips should put you ahead of the game. Extra effort here will pay off in the long run. Well-crafted sessions will let your attendees learn and retain more information and inspire them to keep coming back to your conference year after year. It’s really a win-win.

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