It is not uncommon for session topics to be chosen by a group of very well-meaning educated people sitting around a conference table pretending they think they have all of the answers. In fact, it is so common that it is probably going on in hundreds of conference rooms around the world as I type.
If you want your conference or event to survive, you need to change the way you do business and how you choose session topics.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there is still a place for those conference room session meetings, your Monday bagel-fest still has some meaning, the meetings should just be a lot shorter because there are more effective ways to get this job done. One of those ways is crowd-sourcing.
Simply put, it is the act of asking your audience what they want to hear, learn or be engaged with.
Ask your audience via email, facebook, your website or twitter (text message, etc, etc). Ask them what is most important to them and then plan sessions based on their feedback. Your audience is not shy. They will tell you what their hot button issues are and you can use this information to produce events that will capture their attention and get them involved and excited about attending your next event.
Imagine, if you planned an event where most of your sessions hit on hot-button industry issues, which way do you think your attendance numbers would go? Down? Would your audience not attend because the content is exactly what they want?……Not likely.
In fact, I would say that you should even take it a step further and be fluid with a few session times and allow for last minute changes so that you can include “breaking news” sessions. How many conferences would make it to “rock star” status if attendees knew they were not only learning the latest and greatest, they were getting information that could help them today….literally.
Besides allowing for the most current and relevant content, crowd-sourcing allows you to eliminate the “over saturation” factor. This happens when multiple industry associations and groups are producing events with the same exact content.
The meetings and events industry faced this problem last year when everyone and their brother was doing a session on how to plan a green meeting. We were green all right, green around the gills because we were sick of hearing what we already knew and still all of our associations and groups kept feeding us the same diet of green meetings 101 rather than what wanted to dine on, which was the nuts and bolts of greening a meeting, not the basics.
So, keep the conference room sessions, and order more bagels because if you use crowd-sourcing to choose topics, you will need those meetings to sort through all of the great ideas you will be receiving.