Tips to Increase Engagement at Conferences


By Judy Erickson, SAGE Publishing

We all know the annual meeting is one of the top opportunities a scholarly society has to bring its members together to educate, network, and discuss key issues in their field. But knowing that and pulling off a successful event requires some thoughtfulness, and to help boost engagement at meetings, we’re offering some tips.

Engage members on social media throughout your event

With social media, one of the simplest and most effective ways to engage conference attendees, don’t forget obvious fundamental steps like creating an event hashtag. Hashtags not only allow you visibility into conference engagement, but they promote online peer interaction as well. You can remind the audience of various events throughout the meeting and also encourage live online conversation and feedback to these events. You can also extend the conversation online past the event to draw in discussion from the broader community.

One way to promote hashtag engagement is to post screens with the running conference conversation – identified by that hashtag – throughout the conference space so people can see the digital chatter. You can also consider asking questions from your own Twitter channel using the hashtag such as “What was your favorite session of the day?” or “What’s one thing from the previous session you attended you want to share?” to get people talking. And consider taking questions from the audience via Twitter using a specific session hashtag.

Another idea for social media engagement is to promote photos that can be shared with friends and demonstrate how attendees are enjoying your meeting. For example, you can create fun photo stations and cutout photo frames with the conference hashtag. You can also create a custom Snapchat filter that is geo-tagged to your conference location.

Use video to build excitement and engagement

Video is a great way to spur attendance ahead of a conference and then to engage with attendees throughout your meeting. A recent post on Event Manager Blog using video to “give your guests an insider look at what they can expect to see on the day,” which can help them see the relevance of the conference content to their own work. This can be done in a few ways. For example, you can put together highlights from the previous year’s conference (see an example here) to give a flavor for what’s to come. Or you can “try promoting the guest speakers or presenters that are being featured by asking them to submit video clips or photos to include in your promotional video.” As an extra incentive for travel, videos can highlight the city or even the venue where the conference takes place.

At the event, consider video booth recordings or recording attendees from the conference floor. This can be a unique way to hear from members and attendees as they experience the conference, creating buzz in the current year and providing content to promote the next year’s conference. These people-oriented videos will allow you to draw in those who are unable to attend the conference altogether, or who want to attend a particular session, but can’t because of a competitive concurrent schedule, extending the life of your conference.

Offer networking opportunities, particularly for early researchers

Networking events help researchers decide whether or not to attend. From informative sessions, mixers, or larger events, there are lots of options. Below are just a few.

  1. ‘How to Get Published’ sessions – a good way to engage the early career researcher (who are after all the future of your society) and connect them with the editors of your journal.
  2. ‘How to Get Involved with Your Society’ – this is a great opportunity to offer new members a chance to get to know the organization and its prominent members. Showcase the benefits of membership and opportunities available to them both at the conference and through the society. It can also serve to bring in potential members. Be sure to have some of your key leadership available to interact and allow for some personal connections to be made.
  3. ‘Power Hours’ – try setting aside specific times for members and attendees to engage with key professionals in the industry. This could be the editors of your journals, society board members, or a more informal Q&A session with some of your keynote speakers. Allowing a personal touch can make for a more memorable meeting.

 As you can see, all these ideas build on the interests of the attendees – for connections, advancement, or even enjoyment – and demonstrate how your conference offers all these in abundance.

Judy Erickson is the Executive Marketing Manager at SAGE.

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