Pre Con

Member-Driven Education at NCA

The National Communication Association (NCA) will hold its 99th Annual Convention at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C, on Nov. 21-24.

A gathering of scholars, practitioners, and teachers, the meeting is an attendee-driven event that focuses on research and education in the field of communication. After a dip in attendance at last year’s convention in Orlando, Michelle Randall, CMM, CMP, NCA’s director of convention and meetings, expects attendance to be up to its normal level of about 5,000 participants this year.

NCA holds more than 1,200 individual sessions over the four-day show, which means that every hour and 15 minutes, there are 60 to 70 separate breakouts going on. Session content comes directly from members (and occasionally nonmembers), who submit proposals through NCAs website that are reviewed and accepted or rejected by other members.


As an association that is made up primarily of college and university educators, as well as some K-12 teachers, NCA has found that the cost of attending its conference is an increasing challenge. Recession-related budget cuts in many states have meant that “most, if not all, state university systems were cut back in terms of their funding,” Randall said. Those cuts have trickled down to universities’ discretionary funding, which includes things “like association memberships for its faculty and travel assistance.”

NCA has responded by actively trying to find value for attendees and presenting information differently “We haven’t necessarily shifted things programmatically,” Randall said, “but we’ve certainly looked at things like asking the hotel to throw in free Internet service.” The association also tries to find discounts that it can provide to attendees in the host city, as well as negotiating travel deals with airlines and Amtrak to try to ease some of the burden. “Our challenge,” Randall said, “is trying to find value for our attendees — not just in conference registration, but in airfare, hotel, and all the associated fees.”


“Being that our members are academics, they are very married to their books,” Randall said. But a few years ago, NCA rolled out a mobile app and software for attendees to do their convention planning online. The motivation was not just to reduce the environmental impact of a large number of printed programs, but also to give organizers “the ability to keep the information updated and current at all times and to open a more immediate channel of communication with members online,” Randall said. She calls the convention a traditionally “pen-and-paper system,” but has found the app and website are gaining traction each year as members are becoming accustomed to the technology.

After the opportunity to present their research to peers, NCA attendees list networking as the biggest draw of the convention, owing to “the academic environment,” Randall said. “People go to grad school with other people, so they come up in the ranks with each other and then they go to different universities to become faculty members, and this is really their opportunity for everybody to get together.”

So NCA organizes several networking events, including a general session on the first full day of the convention. Over the next two evenings, NCA provides space at the venue for private networking events put on by specific universities and schools for alumni and current or former faculty members. Randall has found these receptions to be especially popular among attendees, many of whom stay on site in the evening to attend them.

Convene’s Pre-Con/Post-Con series asks meeting planners about their challenges and how they intend to address them (Pre-Con), and then circles back around after the meeting has occurred (Post-Con) to see how well they worked out.

Katie Kervin

Katie Kervin was formerly assistant editor of Convene.