Should Attendees Have Access to Some Content Before a Meeting?

Sharing information, starting conversations, or giving your attendees some optional homework to do ahead of time could actually create better learning, discussion, and community onsite.

 This week I came across a new whitepaper from Freeman XP, “Unleashing the Power of Community.”  In it, the Freeman XP team discusses the importance of creating a better sense of community at meetings and events.

Allowing your audience to consume content early means they aren’t hearing it for the first time at the event, so they are ready to act on it.

“Communities thrive when you facilitate communication and foster connections,” the paper says. “No longer about sitting back, listening, and leaving, the event platform is a dynamic, participatory format that drives engagement and solidifies the future of a community.”

The whitepaper offers up a number of tips on how to foster that community, including extending your event beyond its end date and creating a physical space to encourage connection and engagement.

But the point made about “flipping the classroom” stuck out to me. While I’ve blogged before about the need for associations to flip the traditional education model and move toward a participant-driven one, the whitepaper discusses the benefits of giving attendees access to content online before the event.

“Allowing your audience to consume content early means they aren’t hearing it for the first time at the event, so they are ready to act on it. They can ask questions, put the learning in action,” the paper says. “The results are engaging, personal, lean-forward experiences, and information that truly sticks.”

Here are three ways I came up with for how associations could use content and conversation to build community and attendee buy-in before the first education session kicks off:

Offer them advance reading. Session speakers may provide an article or two that they think is relevant to the presentation they will give in the upcoming weeks. (Just be sure you don’t overwhelm attendees and make it feel like homework.) Doing this will give attendees a better idea of what to expect at the session, and they may come in with a few questions they’d like the speaker to answer or perhaps use what they read as a conversation starter with their tablemates, further developing that sense of community.

Ask attendees what they want to learn. Perhaps your association can create a place online where speakers can interact with people planning to attend their sessions. They can get the conversation started in advance of the meeting, helping to build buzz, and also get to know each other. For instance, if a speaker discovers that a lot of attendees are from large organizations, he or she could be sure to incorporate content for that audience into the session. In addition, speakers could ask attendees what questions they’d like answered or what topics they’re more interested in learning about. Creating this type of environment empowers attendees, so that they feel more invested in the session.

Share one or two discussion points. If speakers are looking to deliver a presentation that includes a lot of insights from and conversation with the audience, it may make sense to share one or two discussion points or scenarios with them. Some attendees may feel more comfortable sharing with the group if they can give some thought to these topics in advance. Also, if a speaker finds that these points aren’t generating much interest, he or she can switch them up ahead of time—and avoid having disappointed attendees at the session.

While some out there may think any type of pre-meeting assignment would aggravate or annoy the majority of attendees, I think back to meetings I’ve attended and how some of the most successful and worthwhile ones have required some advance thinking from me, whether in the form of reading or pondering discussion questions ahead of time. I find that it helps give me a point of commonality with the other attendees and helps to formulate the meeting in my head a little bit.

Do you think having speakers ask your attendees for their input or to do some work before a meeting would benefit their learning onsite? Please share in the comments.


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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