Skills needed for a conference producer

Back in 2012 I wrote a post focusing on the standard industry job title: the conference producer. I looked at how over the coming years their role and their job title was likely to change. Well I think the time has come. The future is here. There are a new set of skills needed for a conference producer.

Conference Producer to Content Manager

It’s been great to see a lot of organisations move away from the conference production line approach, to concentrate on a more creative and tailored approach to their conferences. At the heart of these innovative conferences you will find the Content Manager; the new and updated version of the Conference Producer. Along with a title they need a whole new set of skills.

Skills needed for a conference producer

The rules of engagement between speakers and attendees and between the conference manager and their stakeholders have shifted significantly over the last few years. For those thousands of individuals who manage conferences they are now playing a similar game but with very different rules. They now work on a field where:

– content has to be more dynamic and

– the audience and the speakers have to be more engaged.

Slowly but surely the barriers between speakers and participants are crumbling, as engagement starts before the conference and never really ends as attendees sign up to Twitter feeds and Blogs.

Internally the demarcated lines between content and marketing are becoming increasingly blurred. Conference Producers skills are developing and becoming the managers of content, with their event at the very heart of a community being built around that content.

Many organisations and organisers are struggling to adapt to the new world where conferences must now live. Our Reclaiming the Conference post we wrote earlier this year explains in detail this new environment. In summary we’ve all come off the production line and moved in with the creative people and all without much guidance or support from the conference industry.

The fundamentals of how the role has changed

I’ve highlighted areas which are significantly different for those who put conference content together, in essence they are the new skills needed for a conference producer.

1. From programme development to meeting design

Content Managers must keep up to date with developments in Meeting Design. How their conferences are structured is as important as the content being covered or the speakers delivering that content. Traditionally we had only a few varieties of formats with the panel sessions or small breakout sessions being used to break up lecture style talks. A Content Manager now sits with a vast number of formats at their disposal. These range from one presenter shortened 6 min sessions to mass formats engaging the whole audience and lasting hours.

2. From content collection to content creation

The vast majority of conference programmes would be research led in very traditional ways. The Conference Producer would have a committee to support or would have the phone as her best friend working through a list of “experts” and pounding on it until they had enough ideas for the programme. Our Content Manager:

– hits the street attending other shows

– they search Haiku Deck and Slideshare

– they browse YouTube

– they follow blogs, twitter feeds and

– they regularly check groups on LinkedIn, searching for innovative and dynamic content.

The net is cast so much wider and the role is so much more proactive than it was.

3. Delivering content through the whole event timeline

Oh it used to be so simple! Our Conference Producer would find a speaker sign them up and hope for their powerpoint presentation to arrive a few days before the show. This would be the only “content” they would need. However content has bled all over the event timeline. Our Content Manager has to find content to market their event. They have to engage with speakers before the event. They have to ask:

– for a blog post

– or maybe ask them to host a twitter chat

– to record an introductory video

– to highlight their past speeches or research.

From every speaker we are looking for a lot more content and it is down to our Content Manager to collect or at least to oversee this collection.

4. Social media and community engagement

Our Content Manager has to understand and use social media to release this content. They have to engage with the event community building up around the event in a meaningly way. That engagement has to be personal and professional. How they communicate with attendees has changed dramatically. Gone are the days of one Joining Instruction email. Now they communicate regularly by email keeping their attendees up to date and crucially listening to their feedback.

5. From a remote mouse to remote attendees

A Content Manager can not be detached from event technology; they have to be hard wired into mobile apps, webcasting and touch screens: no longer can they simple manage the clicker or the pointer. As well as hardware they have to be on top of platforms which tell them more about the engagement of their audience before during and after their conference.


New rules of engagement for a conference producer – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

6. Making a date with data

A Content Manager is nimble and they use data to help point their content search in the right direction. Rather than relying on a tip off for a hot topic they can search the data collected on their attendees to really be sure that the tip off has merit. It’s less guess work being a Content Manager.

7. Attendee objectives

The role of the Conference Producer has evolved. Rather than simply filling the slots with speakers willing to speak, a Content Manager spends more time selecting speakers and ensuring that they deliver the relevant content which makes an impact on delegates personal or professional life in an engaging way. Content Managers have new objectives and a totally new approach is needed to delivery these new objectives.

8. Content engagement

The Content Manger is closer to the content. They feel that they are curating that content and they want to ensure that quality is delivered. They take more time briefing their speakers; only securing them when they know they will deliver the content in an engaging way. They work with their speakers advising them on their slides (while encouraging some not to use them) and they focus on creating key messages.

9. Experiences and not just events

A Content Manager will take into account the environment and layout of the room as well as timings and the texturising of the learning taking place. They will consider the impact of all of the touch points their participants will have with their event. They will have a holistic approach to the conference with their content at the heart. They will ensure that everything else supports the most crucial part of the conference.

10. The bottom line……

Unlike a traditional Programme Developer, where the total focus is on maximum income generation for the organisation, a Content Manager’s focus is on maximum deliverable benefit to delegates and all others involved in the event process. They will of course ensure the conference is designed to ensure a good return for the organisation but that income will come from returning delegates who have been engaged and enthused by their content. And the bottom line is the bottom line should be bigger. That’s the significant difference: creating and tailoring adds the value that producing simply can’t.