The knowledge and information that participants share during a conference should be the “golden thread” that keeps them in touch and working together after they go home, The Conference Publishers President Mitchell Beer (@mitchellbeer) told a breakout session on repackaging conference content.
But far too often, the session content that organizers spend weeks, months, or years bringing together is left behind when the meeting ends, or posted online in a format that makes it less convenient for participants to use, repackage, and redistribute.
“When I first got into this business 25 years ago, I thought the content was the most important part of a meeting,” Beer said. “Silly me.” But at a time when participants and their decision-makers are demanding a higher, more tangible return on their onsite investment, he said it’s critical for event planners to treat session content as a valuable strategic resource.
The process of capturing and repackaging conference content has been transformed in the last several years, driven mostly by opportunities for better integration:
• Between the user-generated opinion distributed through social media and the semi-journalistic reports that organizers can provide by capturing and distributing content as it happens
• Between text and video formats
• From before to during to after the event.
Beer said the most appropriate mode of capture for onsite content depends on the objectives behind a meeting, the profile of the audience, and the uses to which the content will be put. If a group of medical trainees has been brought together to learn a new surgical technique, their ability to perform a safe, successful procedure may depend on them viewing and paying close attention to verbatim video from a continuing medical education session. For most other uses, however, most participants have no time to spend 30 to 60 minutes or more watching word-for-word content when a summary will give them the same information.
Beer said commercial news sites that combine photos or video with text summaries hold the future of conference content. For a conference, the ideal content site would integrate multiple formats for a single session on the same web page. Depending on the event, the elements on the page could include video synced to PowerPoint slides, a short, tightly-written news capsule, a longer session summary, a scientific paper or abstract, an audience discussion forum, or a Twitter feed with a hashtag for the specific session or topic.
Different participants will gravitate to different formats when they visit the site, since they will be visiting for different reasons. A reader might already know that the content of a specific session is critical to their work, in which case they’ll pick the formal paper, a longer text summary, or video synced to PowerPoint. While they’re online, they might read a 200-word news capsule for a session that is interesting to them, but urgent for a colleague, who they might then send to the site.
Once conference content is online and “nested” in different formats and levels of detail, it becomes truly accessible to at least three audiences, Beer said. It’s more useful to participants. It reaches the far larger audience of prospective participants who could have attended the conference but didn’t, giving them a reason to engage with the host organization, realize what they missed when they stayed home, and consider going onsite next year. And the content becomes a reference point for the secondary target audiences with which participants need to communicate.
For sponsors, he said a content capture site offers the best of both worlds: in addition to the intensity of interacting with participants face to face during a two- or three-day event, they can associate their brand with a site that reaches a wider audience over a period of several weeks or months.
Beer said EventCamp Twin Cities showed how to use an existing online community to keep content alive after an event (and, conversely, how to use content to keep an online community fresh and vibrant). After The Conference Publishers produced a half-page news capsule and a somewhat longer summary for each session, organizers distributed one story per week over the engage365 social network. Anyone who received the news capsule in the body of an email could click through to the website for a longer summary and other material. The strategy generated continuing interest and thousands of web hits for months after the meeting.
Participants discussed some of the content challenges and controversies that have accompanied the introduction of onsite social media. At one recent conference, some audience members gave a keynote speaker high marks for presenting strong, provocative ideas, while others panned him for a flat speaking style and boring slides. A couple of participants said they would never accept a speaker who couldn’t entertain and engage, but Beer said that judgement would depend on the topic of the meeting and the profile of the audience: if the subject matter is lung cancer treatment and the participants are oncologists, they won’t care if a world-class researcher who takes the stage at 7:00 AM speaks too quickly, and in a soft monotone.
But that doesn’t make it any less important for meeting and event planners to make their formats more audience-friendly whenever they can. Beer recalled breakout sessions where the speakers did what they were supposed to onsite, cutting off the prepared presentations after 15 or 20 minutes to allow for table discussion or audience questions. More often than not, when those sessions are broadcast to a virtual audience, the camera stays fixed on the speaker, the online audience is left out, and the stream of complaints over Twitter begins about 45 seconds later.
Here, too, he said EventCamp Twin Cities excelled by continually sharing comments from a live Twitter feed and bringing in an online moderator who kept virtual participants engaged throughout the day.
Session summaries produced by The Conference Publishers, the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repackaging conference content.