Make Your Conference the Centerpiece for a Tight-Knit Community

It happened just before I was to go on stage to deliver a keynote. I was so moved to tears by the prior program, that mascara dripped on my lavender blouse. And I didn’t care. I wasn’t alone. For the first time in the conference, many of the 3,000 nurse executives in the audience were up on their feet cheering and hugging each other.

The serious looking nurse  I’d sat down next was now blowing kisses to the diminutive, elderly woman standing on stage who was being honored by the conference president. Our honoree looked like the proverbial deer caught in headlights.

Tap the Collective Conscious to Show What “We” Most Cherish

What had happened? Two months before the conference, at my suggestion, every member received an email that read, “If you send us the name of the book that has most influenced your work as a nurse, and the author by September 30th you will get a peek preview, by email, of the Top Ten list from the collective submissions from you and your colleagues. In that peek preview you will also find two lists, in alphabetical order of all submissions, one by book title (followed by the names of the members who submitted it) and another list according to the last name of the members who contributed submissions. In that email you will also get the entire list of submissions in order of popularity.

Boost Conviviality so Conversations Start at a More Meaningful Place of Shared Interest

It turns out that the woman on stage was the long admired, surviving co-author of a required textbook for nurses training.  Only when the members received their peek preview email of results did they realize how many of their peers felt as strongly as they did about the usefulness of that book in their career. Thus, they were primed to cheer when the author appeared on stage to be honored.

Sadly, too often we get more value of the hallway networking than the conferences sessions.  Yet several trends are converging to make face-to face meetings matter more. Increasingly more Americans are working and living on their own, tethered to their screens, and craving convivial in-person conversations with those who share their interests, especially related to their livelihood.

Support Swifter Shared Learning Via Interactive Session Formats 

As well, in a connected, increasingly technology-reliant world, we need to keep honing our skills more and faster, and track innovations that hamper or help our profession or industry. The conferences that best leverage shared learning and relationship-building will thrive whilst others will wilt away or losing their attendees to competition. That’s why I’m experimenting with participatory conference formats as co-host, with Mark Fidelman, for BusinessNext. As a conference host or attendee, you too, may want to know about ways to make conferences more meaningful and memorable, such as by storyboarding them.

Here are some specific ways your membership-based group can generate more conference-related value and visibility for all stakeholders:

Members Bond Through Sharing Favorite Books

Consider adapting the favorite books survey I cited from the nurse executive’s story for your conference.  What if:

• Your association sponsored a similar contest?

• The contest became a small, new profit center for your association by inviting two or three firms to sponsor the contest in exchange for being listed as such in the emails, on the web site and on banners citing the Top Ten at the conference?

• Publishers of the top 50 most popular titles were invited to send display copies that would be given away as awards? During the conference they would be shown on plexiglass stands in a room and/or several gathering areas. Next to each book would a sign with the names of the members who submitted that title as their favorite.

• Your association hosted a conference bookstore to for selling the top titles, with an agreement from the publishers that they could return remainders?

• Since many favorite books, cited by members, do not directly relate to their work, the contest winners provide a window into the wider world of what most matters to the membership. Your association could invite the most popular authors to write a short article or blog post for the membership and/or speak at the next conference or be “in conversation” with a members on stage.

Turn Your Conference into a Live TV Show With “Re-runs” on Your Site … see the rest of the ideas in my column at Forbes.  

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with Kare Anderson

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