Congratulations! You have successfully sourced, secured and scheduled all the session content for your upcoming conference. And from the looks of things, this conference is going to be one of the strongest yet. With one challenge behind you, it’s time to focus on another important decision: finding the best way to get this content into the hands of your attendees. As we’ve seen in our 2017 State of the Conference Industry Report, for many conference planners, this is not as easy as it sounds.
Content Mix Uncertainties
Fifty-percent of respondents surveyed in the report listed “Offering a mix of formats to meet the needs of all members,” among their top content-related challenges. Digging further into the data, the reason for this seems pretty clear: Meeting planners must juggle the expectations of legacy attendees with the perceived preferences of newer (and sometimes younger) attendees. All while keeping their conference budgets in line, of course.
Unfortunately, having more options for distributing conference materials creates a new question in the minds of planners: Are we offering the right mix? For instance, 85% of respondents currently offer printed conference materials today, but only 42% plan to continue to offer them in the future. Meanwhile, 69% admit that their attendees still want printed content.
And the issue isn’t just limited to print. The report also indicates that planners intend to replace web-based digital content with content delivered via mobile apps. Is this the right decision for the 66% of respondents who report that their attendees want content made available on a website?
Complicating matters even more, attendees themselves aren’t always the best at telling you what they actually want. We have seen many of our customers remove an option from their content mix, believing it to have a low perceived value because of feedback received from attendees, only to face a surprising amount of backlash after the event. So how do you know what is truly most relevant to your attendees?
Capturing better, behavior-based data
Some of the associations we work with have developed some simple yet effective ways to gauge attendees’ conference materials preference based on observed behaviors. Here are just a few examples that we found worth sharing:
Opt-in to print. Rather than printing program books or proceedings for every attendee, require them to indicate their print preference during registration. Plan to have a handful of extras on-site for those that will inevitably request them after-the-fact. Between the two, you will have a more accurate measure of the true value of your printed materials. Some associations even go so far as to charge a small fee for the printed piece to help offset the production cost.
Set up analytics and conversion tracking for your online materials. You’ll be able to see how many people access content online and when (before, during or after the conference). You can also see how many attendees download session presentations, handouts and other support materials.
Observe attendee behavior in real-time. As any researcher will tell you, the distance between “stated preferences” and “actual behaviors” can be a mile wide. If you can, recruit volunteers or junior staff to observe and record how members interact with content throughout the duration of the conference.
If you’re like most associations, you are catering to the needs of a diverse membership. Which means there may be no single, magic formula to create the conference content mix that appeals to every attendee. But, there are steps you can take to better measure the true value of your conference materials. Doing so can help you make even better decisions moving forward.