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4 Tips for Crowd Sourcing Conference Content

By James Morgan
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The post baby boomer generation - GenerationBuzz (X, Y and Millennials) - are living in a world where experiences have to be relevant to their world-view construct.
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Consuming experiences in an experience based economy demands new approaches. The notion of broadcast style keynotes and panel discussions, where pre-determined content is ‘pushed’ to conference audiences still has some relevance (as long as the keynote or panel discussion is on point). However GenerationBuzz is looking for something more than engagement – participation!

Event planners need to provide opportunities for potential attendees to be the ‘makers’ of immersive learning experiences. This article provides 4 tips on how event planners can motivate potential attendees to be part of a deeper learning experience through their ‘buy-in’ to an innovation process where behaviour is changed voluntarily.

1. The Conference Theme

Every conference has a theme. This is derived from client objectives on how to get their central message across to affect behaviour change. The process starts well before pre-event production planning. If you’re looking beyond simple engagement to creating deeper ‘change’ experiences, this is the stage where you should be thinking about the conference theme. Think about how the theme could be used as the framework, within which topic strands relevant to the theme can be created.

Through the framework you can crowd-source ideas from many of the potential attendees. Broadcast messages – keynotes and panel discussions - can be programmed as topic strands within the thematic framework but you can be an innovator and also include a method to develop other topic strands still relevant to the theme but created by a much larger gene pool of interested talent.

2. Pre-Event Content Creation

Once the framework for the conference has been created, the next step is to start the co-creation process. Event planners should strive to provide elements within the conference programme that audiences ‘pull’ themselves toward. This can be done in various ways. As the planner you can ask your client if they have specific ‘broadcast’ keynotes they want to include or you can go out to potential attendees and ask them what topic strands they want to see discussed within the thematic framework.

The conservative approach is a hybrid based on keynotes and panel discussions being pre-programmed whilst extra slots exist in the schedule for co-created content. The adventurous approach is about crowd-sourcing all the content. Low cost tools exist for crowd sourcing content via a survey, questionnaires, social media or blogs to illicit suggestions on topic strands that potential attendees want to explore within the conference theme.

You could also provide topic strands within the framework and get feedback from co-creators too. Exploring the feedback will give you a better idea of what is in demand and not what you think is in demand – a perfect marketing storm. You could even suggest speakers for each of the keynote strands and get feedback on them. What is important is to start the co-creation process that can be put into an outline conference schedule. The next step is refining that schedule.

3. The Conference Schedule

By being motivated by the general theme of a conference and the fact that they are active protagonists in co-creating the conference content will provide the ‘pull’ factor. The conservative approach will be to programme a schedule where you have a mix of broadcast keynote experiences and other opportunities where people can come together and co-create a deep learning experience.

If you feel you want more control over the output, the hybrid approach will work better for you and key broadcasted messages will be delivered. If you are more adventurous, using the feedback will inform you about which topics are most in demand and a schedule can be built around these.

The added value of the co-creation approach is it will aid in the marketing of your conference. The personal data you have collected from the pre-conference research can be used to build a group of social influencers that can be mobilised to affect greater attendance at the conference.

4. At the Conference

This is where all your hard work comes together. Whether you have decided on the hybrid approach or whether you have decided to go down the adventurous route, this is the point where your research is going to pay off. You may have crowd sourced your keynotes as well as your topic stands and may be getting nervous about who is going to participate in the sessions you have scheduled. The news is that you have already provided the ‘pull’ factor for people who want to contribute to particular topics. So get them more involved. For example, if someone suggested a keynote speaker, ask them to introduce them onstage.

Another involvement technique is getting a group of people who suggested a particular topic strand to chair that session and crowd source the agenda in the beginning of the session. Once people start discussing topics they have already bought into, they will be more than keen to participate in exchanging knowledge to create an immersive learning experience. Remember that for each session some sort of moderation is required. This could be one of your co-creators or a professional moderator who will sum up with the learning key points from the session and can incorporate the main conference messages into the session conclusions to take-away.

In Conclusion

Crowd sourcing and co-creation of conference content is a strategy to establish a conversation with GenerationBuzz at all stages of a conference. At the planning stage you can facilitate co-creation of the topic strands of the conference theme and crowd-source keynote topics by establishing the right thematic framework. By crowd-sourcing topic strands framed by a general theme, success is achieved because co-creators have already bought into the conference theme. As co-creators they are also motivated through co-ownership of the topic strands. The democratisation of content sourcing provides potential attendees with a new way in which they can project themselves as ‘makers’ or ‘content producers’. The conversations created by potential attendees will continue through the co-creation process at the conference and those conversations can be extended post-event too.

As an event planner, creating the right environment to facilitate what is important to potential attendees is pivotal in creating a successful conference. Exploring their world-view constructs through their ‘buy-in’ to co-create content is going to make your conference more relevant and behaviour change then becomes an organic process rather than a process that is contrived, creating a greater ROI for your client.

about the author

James Morgan
James Morgan is Co-Founder of Event Tech Lab and a lecturer at the University of Westminster. He has been producing events and brand strategies since 1989 and is passionate about educating the event professionals of the future.
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