Rethink Your Event Programming, Increase Your Impact

At Collaborative, I manage and consult on events ranging from small, 50-person conversations to national conferences, such as the National Charter Schools Conference, with nearly 5,000 attendees.

It can be challenging to bring new ideas and innovation into an annual event in particular, but rethinking your event programming can have a huge (positive) impact on your participants’ experience – and increase your registration numbers!

Rethinking Your Content

The first step in rethinking your programming is reconsidering the kind of content you’re going to offer. Outside of the usual conference schedule of plenaries and workshops, you can offer:

  • Ignite Sessions – 5-minute presentations where up to 20 speakers present back-to-back in a high-energy one-hour presentation. Asking your presenters to focus on 5 minutes worth of content forces them to get to the big points and takeaways.
  • Coffee Talks –Host morning coffee talks before your first event on any given day and you’ll be amazed with how many people show up. Ask a few presenters or sponsors to take their presentation further by hosting a coffee talk. Just make sure you provide coffee – it’s expected!
  • Invite-Only Sessions – Ask your keynote speaker to stay for a panel, you can invite VIPs, staff or other important audience members to this special session. Make it a lunch panel and knock out two things at once!
  • Mini-Plenaries – Host sessions that dive deep into a particular subject or training and allow for a lot of audience engagement. Ask your partner organizations to host a mini-plenary or provide hands-on training on something your audience needs, such as how to engage with the public.
  • Poster Presentations – If you’re able to add an hour for your attendees to view poster presentations, you’d be surprised with the amount of information they’ll get out of it.

The National AfterSchool Association’s 2014 Convention, held in New York City February 28-March 3 offered ignite sessions, mini-plenaries and posters. We saw record registration numbers and extremely positive feedback from attendees and presenters.

Maximize Networking

Networking time is a great way to let your participants wind down, but also gives them time to make key connections in their field. When you ask your participants why they attend your event, networking is likely at the top of their list, so make sure to give them plenty of opportunities – you can consider using lunch, breaks or other “unplanned” time slots for these opportunities.

Consider ending each day with formal or informal networking opportunities. These can be informal, where you just give people a room and let them get to know each other; slightly more formal, such as a reception or event in the exhibit hall; or planned events focused on one particular subject.

Increase Your Impact

With innovative programming and scheduling plenty of networking opportunities, you’ll see a big payoff. Your participants will get access to more content, make more connections in their field and enjoy their time – they’ll come back next year, and recommend it to their colleagues, increasing your impact.

Have questions or ideas? Maybe you’ve tried a new kind of programming and have insight to share? I’d love to talk to you about this, please contact me at: or at 202-266-4717.