Forward Thinking

Engaging Current and Future Audiences With Design

Aligning passion and creating innovative learning- and user-experience design are important in attracting and engaging future audiences.

Last month, we identified four ways associations are reimagining their conference programs for future audiences: engagement and community strategy, learning-experience design (LXD), user-experience design (UXD), and purpose and passion. We’ve previously covered what works for engagement and community; here’s what to consider for the next three areas.


Novice or basic content You want to keep content new and advanced. Early-career professionals may need the basics, but most often they’ll attend the advanced sessions. It’s rare to see a survey response that says, “Content was over my head.” Consider a preconference workshop for 101 content.

Put the kids in the show For STEM and health-care conferences, encouraging students to present posters or oral abstracts is typically the only way that they’ll earn the chance to attend. Most conferences accept nearly every submission. With this model, the best science is difficult to find and student loyalty is rarely widespread. Education curation needs filters with higher standards — based on quality, not quantity.

Bite-sized education Brain science proves that all of us learn better in short chunks — but we must also have time
to connect the content to our previous knowledge and discuss how we can apply it back to the workplace.


Gamification While in-app gamification is well intended and targets the Millennial mindset, it won’t have a lasting impact unless it’s coupled with ideation and improved problem-solving.

Innovative room sets Vary room sets to help communicate to your participants that the learning/sharing experience will be different. Setting rooms for increased interaction will leverage the intellectual equity in the room.

Share-worthy experiences Across generations, we’re all collectors and sharers of our experiences. Digital tools have made it easier to capture, archive, and amplify those moments privately or publicly. Consider experiences that surprise, entertain, or provide learnings or “aha!” moments worth capturing and sharing via camera or video.

Young-professionals-only events

Most early-career professionals are interested in meeting others who can help them get ahead. If you organize meet-ups or networking events for this segment, you’ll want to include veteran attendees to help them get connected.


Diversity, social responsibility, and wellness Twenty-first-century conference participants are attracted to events that model these sustainable traits. All-white, male panels will be unacceptable; lack of recycling or over-programmed conference schedules will be frowned upon; and opportunities to leave the host community better off will be valued.

Dave Lutz, CMP

Dave Lutz, CMP, is managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.