The five keys to great conference content

At the end of February we supported Practically Perfect PA to run their second “Assist Conference”. They reached their target of 100 PAs just a few days before the date of the conference, and everyone was delighted to have sold out the event. And the key to 100s PAs and one sell out event? Content.

Content is key, I know you know this, but it REALLY is!

Now you will of course have all heard this line numerous times before. This is the case for any conference, but I believe it is especially true and important for any conference owned by a publication. And the reason? Attendees who are also subscribers or regular readers of a publication have high expectations; much higher than your normal conference attendee.

Just imagine if subscribers of a fantastic contend led blog like Practically Perfect PA turned up to a conference and the content was anything less than inspiring! It would be a disaster for the blog as it would for any other type of publication. So in order to help #EventProfs avoid that scenario……here are the five keys to great conference content!

Packed, literally to the rafters

Packed, literally to the rafters

The five keys to great conference content

No. 1 Ask the content expert!

Practically Perfect PA’s Editor is an expert on the issues affecting PAs. Nicky oversees and creates much of the content on the UK’s biggest blog for PAs. It would have been crazy to not have someone with so much knowledge at the heart of the conference programme. This might sound like a no brainer, but in some of the organisations I’ve worked in, and consulted for, the person with the content knowledge wasn’t always involved in the conference programme. If you know the content, no matter your position, you should be involved in the content.

Nicky Christmas the Editor and Content Expert

Nicky Christmas the Editor and Content Expert

No. 2 Use an expert to help construct the programme

Even the greatest topic expert will not be able to structure learning as well as an experienced programme developer. This is something that too many organisations fail to realise. It’s unfortunately too common for organisaitons to leave the conference programme to a committee of content experts. And when this has happened I’ve seen some great conference content structured in a shambolic fashion.

Putting a conference programme together is one of the most difficult parts of running a conference. To deliver great content you need to be able to call on someone with the skills and knowledge to structure the content to best support learning. This was one of the roles that Gallus Events played for Practically Perfect PA.

No. 3 Use meeting design to create the framework for great content

With these first two steps covered: bringing together the content expert and the programme expert, the next step was to add some meeting design. In the most simple terms meeting design ensures that your audience doesn’t sit all day, in the same room, listening to various people lecture them. And here’s a few examples of meeting design from the conference:

  • The three early sessions all had elements where the audience got involved. This included speaking to each other 1.2.1 and in small groups. (Across the three morning speakers 90% of attendees responded that they remembered the speaker’s key messages!)
  • We had round table sessions which took place in the informal areas of the venue.
  • We had interactive breakout sessions with a variety of formats.
The opportunity to speak about content helps it stick! Meeting Design.

The opportunity to speak about content helps it stick! That’s Meeting Design.

No. 4 Ask speakers to construct their content around key themes

So with the structure of the programme in place the next important step is to ensure that you get your key points across. Each conference programme should be used to reinforce the key messages that you want your attendees to take away. To do this you have to avoid the “suitcase” speaker. You know the one that turns up and delivers the same presentation at EVERY event they speak. Instead, engage with your speakers and ask them to tailor their messages for the audience. To give you an idea, here’s the key themes from the Assist Conference this year:

“For the Assist Conference we have identified four main themes that we would like our speakers and our participants to continually refer back to and reflect upon:

1 Benchmarking: During the course of the conference attendees will benchmark their current work environment, tasks and work-life balance.
2 Preparing for the future: We will give practical tips on how attendees can future proof their role and we will look specifically at the fundamental skills assistants will require in the next five years.
3 Dealing with change: The role is changing, there is no doubt about it. All of our sessions will give you the tools to deal with the evolution of the modern assistant and how you can ensure your Executive takes the journey with you.
4 Adding value: How attendees can deliver more value to their organisations.”

No. 5 Ensure the message / content is well delivered

Bad speakers can ruin great content. Putting the wrong person on stage can waste all the time and effort you’ve put in place. If you do this, those four previous steps have still taken you down the wrong path! We used a mix of professional / experienced and even a few speakers who had not spoken before (a few PAs in this case) on the programme, and all did exceptionally well.

We even paid a few of our speakers! And there is no better way to ensure the content is what you want. Nicky also offered her blog – and the access to 40,000 monthly visitors – as a way to promote the services of some of the speakers. We both felt Nicky had to leverage the blog to enable the speakers to make it worth their while speaking at the Conference. I am often disappointed to see how little effort some organisations – those with publications especially – put into offering their speakers reciprocal value.

Great content is content that people want to share.

Great content is content that people want to share.

Is this worth it?

The best way to answer that is to leave it to the attendees. 70% of our attendees rated the content “Better or much better” than a similar conference they had attended. And 90% said they would “likely or definitely” attend next year. Content is clearly the key.

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