Are Microconferences on the Rise?

As vaccination rates increase and people get more comfortable with the idea of attending meetings again, some associations are taking baby steps by hosting microconferences in several cities instead of having one large meeting. A look at the format and its benefits.

In 2018, we wrote about the rise of tiny conferences, as well as small-scale meetings. But microconferences are definitely having a moment again as organizations consider the best ways to safely bring people together.

For example, the Technology Association of Grantmakers announced last month that it would replace its larger, in-person annual conference—planned for November 2021—with “a series of hyper-local microconferences held in communities across the continental U.S.”

Called #TAGreconnect, the series will take place from August through early October in five or six different cities, which will be “selected based on their proximity to member organizations.” According to TAG, no more than 30 people will meet at each hosted location.

Then there’s the Flexible Learning Association of New Zealand (FLANZ). Last month, it held its 2021 conference at one principal venue—Victoria University of Wellington—and four satellite venues, which were other universities. The number of guests allowed at each venue ranged from 20 to 80 people.

“The principal venue enabled great face-to-face networking and fantastic spaces to both engage with presentations and to present from,” FLANZ said in a press release. “Satellite venues provided a vibrant space at key moments for attendees and for keynotes and presentations delivered from the satellite. Feedback on the satellite experience was very positive: it will remain a feature of future FLANZ conferences.”

What I like about these microconferences is that they allow people who may be more anxious about attending meetings post-pandemic to dip their toes in the water and build comfort around seeing people face-to-face again. On top of that, this format is likely to help attendees build deeper connections with each other, as well as other speakers, exhibitors, and partners who may also be onsite.

If your association is looking to develop microconferences, you may want to take advice from your peers who have successfully held these type of events. Back in June 2020, I spoke to the Society of Women Engineers about its popular WE Local events—which have been around since 2017—and why the microconference model might grow in popularity post-pandemic.

“More people may want to stay closer to home and limit who they are around, so a meeting like this could be more appealing,” said SWE Executive Director and CEO Karen Horting, CAE.

What other benefits do you think microconferences could offer associations and participants? Please share in the comments.

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Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

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

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