Turbocharge Learning and Networking Opportunities by Bridging the Gap
Provide meaningful opportunities for optional participant learning and community-building between event registration and attendance
This post is part of my May 2023 series on time privilege and its implications for meeting and workshop design and facilitation.
Other posts in this series:
Approximate time for an initial skim reading: five minutes
How might we accelerate participants’ learning and community between the time they register for a workshop or conference and when the event is actually held?
I wish conference planners, workshop presenters, and facilitators spent more time exploring this question. Why? Because this time gap represents massive unrealized potential to deliver value to learners.
Let’s consider how you might design this time to provide value to participants before the official event begins.
What typically happens after registering for an event
For the last major conference I attended, I registered about three months in advance. Here are the email communications I received after doing so:
Immediately: an automatic registration confirmation providing hotel and travel information.
About six weeks out: a link to the complete program and an invitation to build my schedule in the conference app.
Four weeks out: a reminder about hotel cut-off dates and an invitation to start engaging with the conference hashtag/accounts on social channels.
Two weeks out: final reminders and a two-minute welcome video from the conference chair.
Four communications. Other than inviting me to build my own schedule or connect on social, none were about community/networking or learning, two of the primary value propositions that organizations usually tout for their events. Twelve weeks of missed opportunity.
Don’t get me wrong. Many people are probably just fine with this sequence of communications. Some may have little time before the event to begin learning or networking. Others may never have experienced a conference or workshop that provides strategic pre- and post-event opportunities to increase the overall ROI attendees experience. As a result, they don’t know what they are missing.
How to better bridge the gap between event registration and attendance
People register for events to acquire value, including
learning new information or developing their skills
increasing their awareness and understanding of critical issues and trends
expanding their network of knowledgeable colleagues and resources
(re)connecting with like-minded individuals
learning about business partner products and solutions
Limiting value acquisition to the event itself essentially forces participants to binge their networking and learning. While often exhausting for most everyone, this can be especially challenging for more introverted participants or those who cannot attend the entire event.
Taking into account my earlier post about the realities of time privilege, here are some design principles for learning or community opportunities you might include before or after you event. These opportunities should be:
aligned with overall conference or workshop desired outcomes and what is known about participants’ needs or preferences.
edited, designed, and streamlined to maximize value received in minimal time.
asynchronous so people can engage with them as their time and interests allow.
“snack size” content, consumable in small bursts of available time. Think five minutes or less for most of them often called micro-learning.
easy to search so little time is spent trying to find something of value.
provided in both visual and audio formats if possible to accommodate different needs or preferences.
optional or value-added. If any are required as pre-work, they should require no more than 10-15 minutes to review or complete and ideally be provided several weeks in advance.
human and personal … in tone, style, presentation, and any images included.
Customize communications to leverage time and attention
Once you create your gap-bridging opportunities, you have to let people know about them. We show respect for participants when we customize communication to align with their interests and needs. Information gathered from one registration question can help you do so. You can adapt the options this question includes to reflect the information most relevant to your efforts.
To the extent that your technology and available time allow, use responses to send slightly different confirmations to registrants stressing the pre-event opportunities related to their primary reason(s) for attending the conference.
Don’t let this overwhelm you so that you do nothing. For example, a simple doable step is to provide the same info in various emails, but just reorder the content to reflect the expressed priorities to whom you send them.
Side note: The information you glean from this simple registration question has implications for your other programs, products, and publications. Be sure to share it appropriately so others can use it to inform their efforts.
Rethink your communication schedule
Think back to the earlier sequence of emails I received for the conference I was attending. It followed the common “drip approach,” dividing information into several timed releases.
Makes sense, right? Sure, but not necessarily for everyone. Some people prefer to take a deep dive into their conference prep all in one sitting. Others simply may not have the bandwidth to attend multiple times to different emails. You might experiment with letting people opt in during registration to which communication approach they prefer:
One immediate comprehensive communication plus one logistics reminder closer to the event or
Several shorter emails released every couple of weeks (the traditional drip approach).
This is similar to how donors often are asked if they’d like their gift charged in one payment or spread out quarterly or monthly.
Finally, don’t forget that some people may register rather close to the event date. As such, they have less time to get immersed in these additional advance opportunities. I would acknowledge this in their registration confirmation and note that they can always return to them after the event for additional learning and community connections.
Providing opportunities for people to begin learning and connecting once they’ve registered for your event makes much better use of their time and expands the value they can receive. Think of your initial efforts to do so as experiments. Try some things to learn what resonates and with which attendees. Ask for feedback and how you can improve in the future. Use these insights to refine and expand your efforts so that over time, your actual workshop or event is part of a longer and intentional bundle of value.
© Facilitate Better and Jeffrey Cufaude, 2023. All rights reserved.
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I'm curious to know your experiences with associations and those who "act" on these when presented with the opportunity. Years ago, when I fairly often attended the Intl. Assn. of Facilitators annual meeting, I loved that we had pre-reading that was recommended. Any opportunity to learn and prepare. And as a strong social networker online (since AOL chat rooms in the early '90s) I've found it so easy to connect with others - to learn from and about them. When I've tried some of these techniques even for smaller classes I'm teaching or at which I'm speaking - PCMA and the bookclub sessions Will Host and I conducted come to mind - I've found that too few people bother.
Now, with so much virtual activity, what is the reaction to requesting more?
I'm up for it! Oh and post-learning too - each class I've taught for a university meetings certificate program for the last 12 or more years, I've found few of the students will engage after. I'm an Introvert and, on StrengthsFinders, "Connectedness" is my number 1 strength. Hmmm...perhaps it's the silent networking that appeals most. And since "Learner" is in my top 5 Strengths, it's clear why I want more and more. Like what you write.
Thank you. Again.