PCMA’s Catalyst community offers members a platform to ask each other questions, share ideas, or, as the website says, “communicate and collaborate.” Each month Convene features some of the most popular topics in the forum. Here’s a sampling from a recent Catalyst discussion.
Staying Until the End
“Our attendance always drops off on the last day of our four-day conference,” Krista Raovan, manager, education and events, for the Humane Society of the United States, wrote to the PCMA Catalyst community. “There are three sessions on the last day with the conference ending at 1 p.m. Have you done anything specifically to entice attendees to stick around? Did it work? Speakers are also generally not happy about being put on the schedule for the last day. Looking for any ideas that have been tried and that worked. Thank you!”
The only thing that has worked for us is to require attendance until the end (or 15 minutes prior to the end) of the last day. This is tied directly to education contact hours which is the motivating factor behind it making a difference. However, it’s not perfect and I haven’t found anything that is.
— Shawna Schaeffer, CMP, Conference Services Specialist, St. Luke’s Health System
I’ve seen prize drawings effectively keep attendees from leaving a one-day meeting early. I wasn’t the planner so I don’t know how successful it was, but they continued to do it year after year.
— Anne Carey, Meeting and Event Professional
I usually try to close with an enticing speaker or session. Doesn’t always help, because people like to catch flights, but it has helped in the past.
— Robin Troutman, Deputy Director, National Association of Council on Development Disabilities
We’ve started ending sessions with a general session for the whole group on an enticing topic. We still have attrition on that offering, but it “looks better” since it’s a larger group vs. several sessions with smaller audiences, and then it’s also fewer speakers to manage in that last slot.
— Mariellen Morris, Director of Conferences, Public
A few random ideas for you to consider:
We basically decided, “Why are we trying to force/encourage our attendees to do something they don’t want to do?” So we cut the last half-day of sessions. I have also been to conferences where the last day was very specialized training/certificate-oriented types of sessions that people signed up and sometimes paid for. We knew they were engaged and wanted to be there and eliminated the disgruntled speakers problem.
I’ve also had success with making the last day much less speaker-oriented and way more peer-learning-oriented. More hands-on, discussion, problem-solving experiences that get them talking — things like open source, hackathons, etc., [as well as] doing “Learning Excursions” where you go into the community to visit places that could help them learn.
And one other thought: If you have both buyers and sellers at your conference, use the last day as “Buyers Only” exclusive learning and conversations. The size of your audience will go down, but with a dedicated focus on your buyers you can tailor your sessions to really appeal to a niche audience that will stay.
Sharon Fisher, IdeaSparker and CEO, Play With a Purpose