Most organizations receive hundreds of emails and phone calls asking about their speaker call for proposals.
In one of my past jobs, we received 30-50 inquiries a month from professional speakers trying to land a speaking gig. And we were flooded with industry speaker requests as well.
We hated those inquires. They were like speaker spam to us! And rarely did we hire someone who interrupted our work day with a cold call!
Developing A Conference Content Strategy
The challenge for conference organizers is developing the right conference content strategy that appeals to the conference participants and potential customers.
When it comes to a content strategy, we rely on volunteer committees and a call for speaker proposals. We expect volunteers, each with different opinions and ideas, to create our content strategy from our list of speaker proposals. We demote content strategy to happenstance in the name of member participation.
Too often conference organizers bow to industry speaker-squeaky-wheels. We defer to our speakers above the conference participants’ needs because those speakers are members. Who suffers in the process? The majority of our members, the audience, the learners.
Many try to appease all of their customers and allow anyone to present. They go for quantity, offering a smorgasbord buffet of sessions. They just add to the noise. They diminish quality and importance. Who suffers in the process? The majority of our members, the audience, the learners.
Despite all our talk about customer-driven, learner-centric, participant-centered design, we rarely consider the attendee’s experience as the guiding principle.
We should be thinking, “Is this content in the best interest of my conference participant? Is this the best speaker for my participants?”
Seldom do we consider if the proposals that came in are the right ones or the best ones.
From Schedulers Of Speakers To Content-Curator-Strategists
We need Conference Content-Curator-Strategist.
This requires a different set of tools than being a scheduler of speakers and presentations. This is more than assigning speakers to time slots and rooms. It’s more than securing room layouts and AV.
It’s about creating semantic themes and threaded content. It’s about intentionally creating a learning experience.
It’s about the act of finding, grouping, organizing and securing the best and most relevant speakers and content on specific industry/profession issues. Then strategically placing that content into a conference schedule to create a narrative, evoke emotions and spur discussion.
We need Conference Content-Curator-Strategists that design a conference content strategy first. They create a conference education schedule based on participants’ issues before securing speakers. Then they curate crowdsourced speaker proposals and identify the best that align with the content strategy. Often it means finding speakers that may not have submitted a proposal.
This is a different set of skills than managing the call for proposals. This requires research, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. And if the right content does not come in through the call for proposals, conference organizers need to find the right speakers with the best information.
The Problem: Tools Aren’t The Silver Bullet
Trying to fix a conference’s content problems by securing a speaker management system is like trying to save a marriage by having a kid.
Speaker management systems and call for proposals are not designed to create content strategy. We need something more than just managing the details about speakers, room assignments, room sets and AV.
Our conferences need a content strategy. And they need professionals that act as Content-Curator-Strategists.
What roles do volunteer committees play in creating conference content strategy? Why do we assume that assigning rooms to speakers is creating a valuable conference experience for participants?
kare anderson says
Seems like an apt use of a crowdsourcing company such as spigit or Brightidea to cull ideas on conference speakers, topics and formats. For associations this is an opportunity to curate / design the criteria by which “best” ideas would enable it to tap the wisdom of the crowd. A vendor or another company that seeks to reach that demographic but which is not a current exhibitor or sponsor might be tapped to offer ecoupons to the contributors of the best ideas, as voted by the crowd.
Heather Mason says
We have put together a system called the 10 essentials to address just this issue. We start with success metrics and audience mix, and then move to a content grid which draws on objectives, themes, and creates a content thread which can cover the conference as well as pre- and post messaging. We couldn’t agree more that these type of ‘ad-hoc’ systems need to mature into professional practice. Creating a conference is rarely going to be successful without a methodology.
Fantastic post! This goes against how many organisations think that a programme should be put together and you are totally right.
I am designing my events as a conference architect, placing learning and enjoyment at the very heart of my programme and making sure I meet and totally brief all of my speakers. We offer free speaker training and expect a high level of engagement from speaker, delegate and chair. We decide on content and speaker.
Jeff Hurt says
Great suggestion to use a idea generating/crowdsourcing company like spigit or Brightidea. I suspect that both of those companies are new to many nonprofit associations and meeting professionals.Thanks for adding that suggestion to the discussion. And thanks for reading Kare.
Your 10 Essentials System sounds very intriguing and right on the mark. You’ve added great value to why organizations should outsource their conference to a company like yours. You’ve obviously become the experts in this field. I love your company name too and the meaning behind it. I would love to learn more about your process and suspect the many others would as well.
Thanks for reading and commenting too!
I really like your analogy of being a conference architect. So often when others use the term conference architect to refer to the planning of the logistics and details. You are using that term in a very different manner that is a much more wholistic approach to the conference. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Jeff Molander says
I’m a professional speaker who is investing in creating discoverable, multi-format (ie. video, blogs, white papers) content. But I’m interested in hearing your “next steps” for planners. What (specifically) can the start doing differently?
Candidly, I do well with getting my content discovered. But I know there’s far more untapped demand out there for me… as a result of what you describe. Tapping into it won’t just line my pockets… it will also help me meet planners that need my specific “scratch to relieve their itch.”
I’m demonstrating how a problem can get solved in everything I write/speak about… for very specific niche groups of planners. For instance, I’m exclusively focused on how to make tools like Facebook, blogs and video produce business leads, sales and subscribers. Point being: I’m very focused on my approach to generating content — and sharing it with others who need to get their products/services discovered. What might planners do, specifically… that I could somehow support in a mutually beneficial way?
Thanks for considering.
Mitchell Beer says
What a great post, Jeff! You’ve put a spotlight on one of the biggest challenges facing the meetings profession: while content is often the most important factor that brings participants to meetings (and convinces their bosses to pay their registration), managing and curating content falls outside most meeting professionals’ training, experience, and jo descriptions.
It’s a problem we run into in a couple of different ways. When we talk to planners about methods of capturing and repackaging their content, they often defer to staff colleagues (communications, marketing, professional development) or a volunteer committee. We also see the absence of proper content strategy when a promising meeting on an important, timely topic falls flat once the sessions start.
It’s frustrating professionally, because I *know* these organizations could do better. And I find it frustrating as an advocate for meetings and events, because it means planners are separating themselves from one of the areas of expertise that will give them the greatest impact, profile, and influence within their organizations.