This is the first in a series on writing better conference session descriptions. This overview article was written (well, ghostwritten by me in collaboration with Dave Lutz) for Dave’s People & Processes column in PCMA’s March edition of Convene. In subsequent posts, we’ll explore conference sessions titles, descriptions and learner objectives in more detail.
Why Conference Session Descriptions Matter
Meeting professionals spend countless hours on the room setup, F&B, hotel negotiations, speaker selection, AV and other conference logistics. Yet little time is spent on crafting the best session titles, descriptions and learner objectives.
A lot rests on conference session descriptions. How well you convey what — and how — content will be available to attendees may be the deciding factor in whether they register in the first place. We can do better.
Four Conference Session Practices That Matter
Here are four simple best practices to get you started.
1. Come up with a good, intriguing session title.
It’s the first and perhaps only impression you’ll make on a potential attendee. The primary purpose of a title is to get the attendee to read the first sentence of the description. Which of the following two session titles makes you want to read more?
Plenary Session — The State of the [fill in the blank] Industry
What Everyone Ought to Know About the Macro Trends Affecting the [fill in the blank] Industry.
The second title does a better job of piquing the reader’s interest.
2. Liven up your session description.
Most conference session descriptions are dull, leading attendees to believe that the presentation will be the same. A session description should get the reader to say, “Hmm, that sounds interesting. What do the Learner Objectives [LOs] look like?”
Focus on the reader. Make a promise and address the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) benefits of the presentation. The word limits imposed on most session descriptions is not the challenge. It’s choosing the right words to accurately describe the session, pull readers in and get them to commit to attending the session.
3. Craft strong Learner Objectives.
These statements that follow the session description describe what the participant is expected to achieve (outcomes) as result of attending. To move attendees up the pyramid of cognitive skills, Bloom’s Taxonomy should be factored into session development and description.
Strong LOs have three distinguishing characteristics: They are
- measurable (you can evaluate them immediately upon leaving the session) and
- actively done by the participant.
Which of these two LOs do you think is better?
After attending the session, participants will be able to:
- Increase their sales by 50 percent and maintain critical partnerships.
- Identify seven ways to improve their sales and maintain critical partnerships.
The first LO has sex appeal, but it is misleading and not measurable. Have you ever walked out of a conference session and automatically improved your skills by 50 percent? Of course not. The second meets all three LO characteristics.
Including two or three LOs with session descriptions will help participants choose the presentation that’s right for them.
4. Spell out who should attend both by group and experience level.
This is a critical component that should be included in conference marketing materials. Many attendees have walked out of a session and said, “That workshop was not for me. I wish the session description had been more specific.”
Event professionals should also label the appropriate audience for each session in terms of experience level — novice, intermediate, veteran — and niche area (as well as other categories specific to each industry). This simple addition won’t take much space and can reap great attendee benefits.
The primary purpose of a session title is to get the reader to read the first sentence of the session description. The primary purpose of the first sentence is to get the reader to the second sentence. And so on, through to the learner objectives.
By the time the reader has read the title, description, and learner objectives, the goal is to get the reader to attend the session. Ultimately, the goal of the conference organizer is for the session titles, descriptions and learner objectives to accurately match the presentation that is delivered.
On the Web: Learn more about writing solid Learner Objectives from the American Association of Law Libraries.
This post was reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. © 2010 www.pcma.org
So what do you look for in conference event descriptions? What whet’s your appetite in conference session descriptions and makes you want to attend a session?
Midori Connolly says
I want it to sound fun and like I might get a smile out of listening to the speaker…or that the speaker is truly an expert who will encourage higher order thinking and interaction.
I also don’t want it to sound too catchy and fluffy – with no meat. Which ties right back to your focus on learner objectives.
Thanks Jeff, great tips for writing my speaker proposals 🙂
Midori Connolly, Chief AVGirl
I agree the content must be robust and live with passion and audience participation. If the conference is intended to confer then ensure that there is a variety of meeting techniques and fluid engagement. In order for audience to participate the planning and pre meeting outline must also be clear and content alive with anticipation. The first part of the agendas at meeting must embrace audience expectation and establish theme for the conference approach. Fantastic article and again one that actually encourages thinking and exploration not just status quo.