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Conference Success Series: How to Win Attendees and Influence Researchers

If you can’t organize 1000 conference details to perfectly suit 1000 attendees, why not simply organize them to suit me! So, from someone who has never had to struggle with the minutiae of organizing a conference, here is the path to my heart.

successful events


Editor’s Note: We’re ramping up into conference season in market research, and there are more and more choices for speakers, sponsors, exhibitors and attendees to pick from (although why anyone would attend any other event but IIeX, I just don’t know!). We decided to ask Annie Pettit, who arguably attends more industry events than anyone else in the industry (and who always provides useful critiques of them) to distill what she has learned about making conferences a success into a series of posts. We’ll be sharing one each for the next four weeks, and here is the first one. Enjoy!


By Annie Pettit

If you can’t organize 1000 conference details to perfectly suit 1000 attendees, why not simply organize them to suit me! So, from someone who has never had to struggle with the minutiae of organizing a conference, here is the path to my heart.

Hours: Longer is better (gulp!). Companies pay registration fees so their employees will learn, not go on holidays. Give us every opportunity to recoup those costs in education. Start at 8am with sponsored, optional breakfast talks and demonstrations, and finish at 6pm. Learners will learn. Skippic 1pers will skip.

Session Lengths: Talks that are designed to make attendees aware of a new technology or methodology can be short – 15 minutes is sufficient for an attendee to determine whether they want personalized information from the speaker. Talks that are truly educational can be 30 minutes. Have one concurrent session full of 15 minutes talks and the other full of 30 minute talks. And then be thankful you’re not at AAPOR which often has EIGHT concurrent sessions!

Keynotes: Find keynote speakers who have fascinating market research stories. Instead of engaging a TED talk speaker whom we can watch any time we like, why not use those funds to bring in a field worker from Afghanistan, Cuba, Morocco, or Sudan? I would love to listen to an hour of stories about conducting door to door interviews in the favelas of a poor country, a world of market research I will never be able to experience. Research stories can be keynotes.pic 2

Disrespectful Speakers:  Keep your promises. Immediately shut down speakers who go over time. You aren’t being rude. They are. And, when you say you won’t tolerate sales pitches, beware the cartoons of Tom Ewing. Walk the talk in one of two ways: 1) Have a designated sales pitch track where companies are invited to overtly pitch truly innovative methods and technologies; 2) Create and manage an industry wide Do-Not-Speak list. Sales pitch once, shame on the speaker. Sales pitch twice, shame on the conference organizers.

Students: I love market research conferences that have poster sessions. pic 3Students benefit from a slow introduction to sharing their research with professionals. And, every attendee, from the most junior to the most senior, has the chance to share their work even if they don’t to win an on-stage positions. Let’s help everyone inspire others.

Diversity: Because it’s 2016. Before finalizing any speaker decisions, check the diversity of your speakers. Keep in mind that when you choose speakers based on written abstracts and speaking styles, you are unconsciously favoring the communication style you like and the demographics that go with it. Read the abstracts and choose the best, but be aware that different voices communicate differently. Then, if you can brag about it, let the world know about the diversity of your submissions and selections. If half of submissions were from women and half of your speakers will be women, be loud and proud!  Otherwise, beware the name and shame list or the live tweets.

Activities: Many people love the networking opportunities provpic 4ided between sessions, during breaks and meals, and at the end of the day. But, a good chunk of people are desperate for quiet or organized activities. Provide a quiet room with work tables and wifi, where cell-phones and talking are prohibited. And, on the other end of the spectrum, schedule break-time activities for people who want to network but are socially incompetent (stop looking at me!). Things like a soap box corner, a ping pong table, a poster session, or a research meme competition complete with all the requisite art supplies.

Refreshments: In my perfect world, there is a table in the main hall that is permanently stocked with hot and cold beverages – coffee, tea, soda, juice, water, locally brewed rootbeer (everyone has been asking for rootbeer).

Bloggers: Prolific bloggers will be delighted to cover your event without being asked if you provide: 1) Tables so they can set up all their tablets, phones, cameras, cords, notebooks, etc.; 2) non-trip-hazard and nearby electrical outlets; and 3) wifi.

Hashtags: Make it easy for everyone in market research to monitor your event even if they don’t know you’re hosting an event. Dump the event specific hashtags like #CASROmanage, #ISC, #esoCONG, #AMSRS2015, and #NetGain10, and use hashtags that everyone is already using: #IIeX, #AMSRS, #CASRO, #ESOMAR, #MRAmrx, #MRIA.

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5 responses to “Conference Success Series: How to Win Attendees and Influence Researchers

  1. #wwqual is the new perma-tag for the worldwide Qual conference that happens every two years on the evens. This year in Vienna. One of my pet peeves, building on what Annie said, is having a list of Twitter handles as well as hashtags, so I can easily acknowledge the speaker on Twitter. So we will be providing that in this year’s program.
    This conference has used poster sessions as a way of expanding content opportunities without shifting to concurrent sessions. So we offer poster spots to senior researchers, where we think the content will work as a poster. There will be 8 this year! Many of these folks are used to the podium, and I know they will bring serious creativity to their poster. Jim Bryson and Jay Zaltzman are two of this year’s poster presenters.
    Wifi is tricky for events, because the venues make it so costly. So I’m sympathetic on that point, and we should all push the venues to make wifi included just like pitchers of water, as a basic. Because hey, it’s 2016!
    Three cheers for conference season!

  2. Annie, I want to be first to sign up to your conference. I particularly like the activities and the students / posters comments.

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