Planner’s Notebook

Great Expectations

Convening Leaders gets bigger and more complex every year. So we’re prioritizing attendee orientation before and during our 2015 program.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how we at PCMA prepare our attendees for their Convening Leaders experience. In the past, the most we would do is hold  a typical first-time-attendee’s orientation program on site prior to ourwelcome reception. Over the last few years, we’ve added live pre-con orientation webinars that address the basics for first-timers — how to navigate the event, what to pack, etc. And while I’m sure some of that information was useful, I don’t think it was very effective in preparing attendees for the best experience possible. It’s time to change that.

If we want our attendees to find value in our events and return year after year, then we need to have some honest conversations about what people can expect from them.

Specifically, if you’ve been to our rapidly growing and evolving Convening Leaders program, you may have witnessed the challenges in connecting with fellow attendees on site. Add to that the complexity of a big annual meeting with no trade show and a penchant for taking experiential risks that could ostensibly fail, and you have an event that can confuse or overwhelm anyone, let alone a first-timer.

At a recent planning meeting, our team created a journey map for two fictitious attendees. We started their “experience” from the moment they landed in Chicago and followed them through several weeks post-event. The most important outcome of this exercise was that it helped us develop a new strategy to communicate in advance what attendees are likely to experience at Convening Leaders 2015, explain the what and why behind the event’s on-site elements, and offer ways to stay engaged and keep learning post-event. Our team will focus on a three-phased approach:

1. We’re creating a short video this fall — to be shared on our website and via e-blasts and social-media channels — on the educational experience in Chicago. In an effort to showcase various ways adults can learn at conferences, we’re making some changes to Convening Leaders’ format and structure. Change can often mean confusion, and we hope this video will mitigate some of that and help attendees understand the content that’s best for them.

2. A second short video, debuting in early December, will focus on the practical side of Convening Leaders in a fun yet informative manner, covering everything from transportation to F&B to what to pack. We’ll distribute this video through all the same channels as the first video, as well as through our popular “What to Know Before You Go” email.

3. Our attendee preparation culminates in our on-site orientation session on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 11. I hope to see you there!

Kelly Peacy, CAE, CMP

Kelly Peacy, CAE, is CAE, CMP, is senior vice president of education and events at PCMA.