Education Committee: More Advising and Curating, Less Slotting

Most meeting organizers invest a significant amount of time creating the educational programming for their annual conference. Models vary, but most include a 15- to 20-person conference committee (slotters) and army of reviewers (graders).

Progressive organizers are shifting to a blended model, where conference committees act more like content curators and advisors and less like graders and slotters. Session and abstract submissions are still an important part of the process, but a greater reliance is being placed on curated sessions. Program assembly of submission-only sessions will never yield the best the industry has to offer.

Faculty as an Asset

More organizations are looking to differentiate and stack their deck by having presenters who they know will bring their A-game each and every year. Instead of asking them to go through the submission process, these presenters are hand-picked to create or facilitate curated learning experiences. They are often uber-connected in your industry and can be influential in having attendees show up at sessions. Help this group become even better by investing in speaker coaching/training.

Shift in Committee Responsibilities

Conference program committee responsibilities are shifting. They’re being tasked to identify the greatest problems to solve, or opportunities to seize, for experienced participants. This learner-centric approach is front-end loaded. Organizers are using the advice of the committee to better communicate the learning tracks and outcomes in order for submitters to better align their session proposals.

Committees are having fewer conference calls and preset meetings. Some are dividing the work up and having committee members serve as track advisors to staff and presenters.

How to Better Keep Score

As part of continuous improvement efforts for an education program, organizations are looking for ways to improve quality filters and overall fairness to all who participate in the submission process. Some of the areas being addressed include:

  1. Single blind reviews — It’s good practice to have an initial round of reviews where the submitter’s name and organization is not known to the grader, who grades the session with similar filters that an attendee would use when deciding whether or not to attend the event.
  2. Embrace micro-volunteering — Each submission should have at least three individuals review/grade. Set a limit of 10 or 20 sessions max for each grader to review.
  3. Transparency — Clearly communicate the process and scoring methodology to the submitters. Include fields so that reviewers can add comments that can be shared with the committee, staff and submitter.
  4. Submission Restrictions — Put rules like these into practice: Submitter must be a member in good standing; no more than two submissions per person, so that submitters bring their best ideas only; and the submission must be completed by the presenter, not the presenter’s marketing team.
  5. Use a 21st-century rubric — Be more strategic by adopting a four-point scale so graders are less likely to rank down the middle; lose grading elements that are about following the rules, grammar, and spelling to emphasize learner-centric elements like business outcomes, active vs. passive learning, and the potential to lead to changes back in the workplace.

Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2019.

What quality filters have you introduced in your submissions process? What shifts have you made in your committee’s responsibilities?

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