Establishing A New Model To Select Conference Content And Programming

The right way

Is it time to end the speaker call for proposals?

Does the traditional open call for topics and speakers actually meet the conference audience’s needs?

The traditional call for volunteer and professional speakers is a roll of the dice that the submissions meet the needs of the conference attendees. Too often staff and committees rely on the call for proposals to fill their conference education programming. There is little to no attention given to ensuring that the content is the right content for their target audience.

The Context Of Our Needs

One thing is certain, people learn best within the context of their needs!

Our needs drive our personal agendas. Our needs determine how we prioritize our time. Our needs steer our actions.

Yet rarely do attendees’ needs drive the conference content and programming selection process. Usually, it’s the other way around. We allow our speaking proposal submissions to drive our conference education process.

Typically, we depend upon a conference committee to dictate what attendees should learn at the conference. That very method “…continues to disseminate the myth that knowledge is bureaucratic, aided and abetted by a goal for efficiency and control,” says education expert Marcia Conner.

The call for proposal process does not provide learning opportunities within the context of our core conference customers’ needs.

The New Learning ARC Content Selection Model

Educator researchers and authors Marcia Conner, Dan Pontefract and Kerry Brown have been calling for an end to the traditional corporate and association models of selecting content and providing education. They say that the old model for selecting learning opportunities for employees and members does not align with our basic learning foundation: the context of our needs.

Conference organizers, education directors and learning managers, “…must establish a new ARC if they want to remain relevant for the next decade and beyond,” state Conner, Pontefract and Brown.

These authors say we should aim for a new learning nouveau: a new artistic movement aimed at learning in education. This learning nouveau aligns well with how we should select content using their recommended learning ARC: Access, Recommend and Curate.

1. Access

Conference hosts should work vigilantly to keep their organization from becoming a learning gatekeeper. Instead the organization should amplify information people need to learn to have accelerated innovation and responsive performance at work, regardless of the format or origin. The focus should be on analyzing which learning methods at conferences create the best work improvements and performance increases instead of measuring the amount of instruction provided through formal lecture-based education sessions. It’s not about the amount of time a person sat in a chair and listened. It’s about performance improvement.

2. Recommend

Our conference content should focus on the human drivers of business results. The education programming should assist people to develop strategies to improve their performance which ultimately results in greater engagement.

When conference organizers and marketers change their procedures and recommend opportunities for people to learn, they can offer choices that map to individual needs. They develop programs and software that recommends specific offerings to customers, customized to their interests, past history and experience. The focus shifts from offering a smorgasbord buffet to one of specific interests.

3. Curate

Conference organizers can no longer afford to take 60% or more of the proposals, (as identified in the 2013 Speaker Report from Tagoras and VCC) submitted in the call for proposal process. We have to be more selective ensuring that content is advanced and meets our target markets’ needs.

We need to create curated collections of learning experiences that align with our customers’ needs. Instead of the conference content appearing as a smattering of puzzle pieces, we need to select curated content that can create a clearer picture of how to solve big issues. Curated collections of conference content can amplify new patterns and new approaches to work.

What do conference organizers need in order to secure presenters and collaborative curated content that directly connects with executable work of the attendee? What type of systems do we need to be able to keep our ear to our customers’ needs and challenges?

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  1. Ton Soons says:

    You describe call-for-papers procedures. But commercial conference developers (like Informa) already do for 40 years start each conference production with researching by interviewing the needs of the primary target group before inviting speakers.

  2. […] For too long, organizations have depended upon a call for speaker proposals and a committee to fill their conference programming. Here's a better way.  […]

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