Get More Out of Your Conference Planning Sessions

Written by Heather Leventry on June 18, 2019

Do you start your conference planning sessions by asking a big group sitting at a U-shaped boardroom table, “So what kind of content would you like on the program this year?” Do you proceed to repeat that same question all day long? Then you likely already know that this approach doesn’t spark new ideas or help you find solutions to make your conference more engaging. And it gets kind of boring for the people in that meeting, and it gets kind of boring for you too. You know it and they know it.

Then how do you make a change to create a more effective agenda that enables you to gain valuable insight at your conference planning sessions?

The first item that should be on the agenda is, of course, the introductions. And I don’t mean the introductions that are just your name, rank and serial number. That would be as dull as it sounds. Don’t be shy to ask them to share a few more items. Ask about their passions!

What are they passionate about personally, and what are they passionate about for the conference being planned? Why do they go to this conference?

You also want to ask about their hobbies. Not only will you get to know them better and potentially find more common ground with the people surrounding you, but asking about their hobbies can help connect them with other people in the room too. Maybe they like fly fishing or skiing, or maybe they’re passionate about something you’ve never heard of. Whatever it is, it might strike conversations and engage others, and they’ll feel they’ve gotten more out of the day than typical surface conversations and the regular brain-drain of conference topic planning.

Once you have finished with introductions, there are three elements you should include in your agenda:

  1. Ask about their goals. What are their personal and professional goals for the next 12 to 36 months? What are the skills and knowledge they need to attain those goals? This will allow you to connect the dots back to the conference.
  2. Try to relieve their pain. What keeps them up at night? How can you help them figure these things out? This will help you market the conference, as you are making an emotional connection to the event and placing importance in helping solve for common and current nagging problems.
  3. Know their learning goals. Of course, don’t straight-out ask what they are. You want to ask them what types of content or topics needs to be at the conference. Then you want to find out what are the confusing or problem elements about it. You’ll also want to know what’s interesting about it, so that you can see both sides of the coin.

Maybe something needs to be in the conference because they have little knowledge on the topic, or maybe it needs to be in it simply because people find it quite fascinating. Either way, it is content you’ll want to include.