Rock the Vote: Give Attendees a Say in the Meeting Planning Process

Want to get your attendees’ input as you put together your next conference? Asking them to cast a vote is one way to do it---and it may lead to happier and more engaged attendees.

This Sunday marks one year until the 2016 presidential election. And no matter party allegiance, many Americans will be eager to cast a ballot next November.

But, luckily, the voting and polling fun doesn’t need to be kept to the political space. In fact, many associations are finding ways to get members and attendees to cast votes related to content and other details before and during conferences.

Preconference Voting

Sometimes it’s hard to know if your attendees will be satisfied with the education you have planned. While you may be confident based on reviewing past evaluations, having members sit on your conference selection panel, or whatever else you may do to solicit input, it never hurts to get additional feedback.

For the 2015 American Library Association Annual Conference that took place earlier this year, this meant reaching out to the public and asking them to determine which 36 talks in two formats—Conversation Starters and Ignite Sessions—would be added to the program.

The public votes were weighted for 30 percent of the selection process, staff votes accounted for another 30 percent, and the remaining 40 percent were decided by an advisory group of ALA members.

Meanwhile, the Sustainable Farming Association is currently seeking session topic ideas and votes for its upcoming annual conference. The message on the website: “A founding concept of SFA is that there is wisdom in the community, so you will help to determine and lead the sessions.” SFA will create the schedule around its members’ wishes.

In addition, the American Society for Nutrition is currently asking for member feedback for its new annual meeting that is set to begin in 2018. Members can vote for their preferred meeting location, as well as what elements of a meeting rank highest for them.

Besides session selection, attendees could also get involved in other decisions before a conference. Perhaps an association could do a short poll asking attendees which conference logo or conference bag (backpack or tote) they prefer.

Onsite Elections

Once attendees arrive onsite, there’s no need for the voting to be over. One way to go about it is to ask attendees to vote on their favorite session from the first day or two of a conference using a simple Twitter or other online poll.

Then, on the final day of the meeting, use the last session block to have top-rated presenters give “reruns” of their sessions. This will give attendees who may have missed those sessions a chance to check them out.

If this seems like an awfully tight turnaround, instead of having reruns on the last day, offer them as webinars three or six months later to build hype for next year’s event. Or, you can bring them back as part of “Best Of” track the following year.

Presenters and speakers can even get in on the action by asking their audience to vote on what topics they’d like covered in the session or the order in which they’d like to see items presented. It helps to personalize the experience for attendees and adds a bit of “choose your own adventure.”

Have you ever asked your attendees to vote on something related to a conference? Tell us how it went.


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

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

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!