Membership Hack: Conference Suggestion Box

Does your conference need an overhaul? At the Online News Association, a digital suggestion box gives members an easy way to provide input into content planning for ONA’s annual meeting.

How to hack it? Instead of relying solely on a committee review process to select conference speakers from a set of formal proposals, the Online News Association has added an online suggestion box to gather conference ideas and topics for its annual meeting.

“We felt there was a risk of overlooking an important topic or speaker if we left the process strictly to a planning committee,” says Trevor Knoblich, ONA’s head of programs and events. “Plus, we have a lot of smart people in our community and love to hear their creative input.” Submitting a suggestion is quick and easy, he says, and members can look at past submissions as well as an FAQ page to guide pitching.

Why does it work? The box works in two ways, Knoblich says. “First, people may take the name literally and send in ideas for topics or speakers they think we should host at our annual meeting,” he says. “Second, it serves as a mechanism for members to pitch ideas they would like to take the lead on.” ONA gives instruction on specific types of proposals to pitch, which has helped the team produce sessions in a variety of formats, including hands-on trainings, inspiring talks, and panel discussions.

What’s the bonus? The open suggestion box helps to avoid groupthink on the ONA conference-planning committee. “Instead, we look at trending issues and make sure to include those topics, and we even get a few far-out ideas we never would have thought to include,” Knoblich says. It’s also become a marketing benefit for the conference, letting people know that the meeting is coming soon and that topics discussed there will be timely and relevant to the journalism profession.

(z_wei/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Tim Ebner

By Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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