A lot of thought and time go into curating speakers and sessions for association conferences. But would curating your audience also have a benefit? A look at some possibilities.
A few days ago I came across post on Forbes.com titled “5 Radical Ideas to Re-Imagine Conferences.” All five ideas provided food for thought, but it was the first one that got me thinking.
V R Ferose, senior vice president and head of SAP Engineering Academy, suggested that conference organizers “curate the audience and not just the speakers.”
“Make it a little difficult for people to attend the conference. Make it aspirational. This is one way to create demand,” he wrote. “Have a simple questionnaire; ask why people want to attend the conference in the first place. The response would indicate how serious the participant is.”
He offered the example of The Human Gathering, a three-day conference that brings together the top minds in business, technology, philanthropy, and the arts. People who are interested in attending the 150-person event are required to apply, and according to The Human Gathering’s website, attendees are selected with the goal of having a completely immersive experience where people get to “know each other and participate in various activities that spur a deep human connection.”
From my experience attending conferences and writing about them, it does often feel like more time is spent on recruiting the right speakers and even session topics than on curating or considering the attendee list. For example, it’s likely your association is working to ensure that its speakers come from different demographics and backgrounds and that the same people aren’t being selected year after year. But is that same emphasis put on your attendees?
And focusing on audience curation doesn’t necessarily only mean selecting people based on an application process, which could become burdensome or even inadvertently leave people out.
One initial step to take is to review your attendee demographics from your previous year’s meeting and determine where there are gaps. For instance, are the bulk of your attendees men, even though women make up the majority of your industry? Understand what is keeping women away and consider what you can do to make it easier for them to attend.
However, if you are going to go the application route, your large annual conference probably isn’t the right event for that approach. Instead, follow the example of The Human Gathering and start small. That will be more manageable, and you can scale up if you find it successful.
Even if you’re not going to actively take steps to curate your audience, I could see some value in requiring people to answer this question during the registration process: Why do you want to attend?
With those answers in hand, you may be able to send personalized schedules to attendees based on their responses. Or if you have a lot of attendees responding with “I want to increase my data analytics skills,” but you have few sessions scheduled on that topic, you may be able to add them and meet a previously unknown attendee need.
What strategies has your association used to curate the audience at your conferences or other events? Tell us about it in the comments.