Should You Crowdsource the Session Topics at Your Next Conference?

Teri Carden, Founder of ReviewMyAMS, has a unique take on conference sessions. She crowdsources several of the sessions at AMS Fest. AMS Fest is an event that brings together AMS (association management software) vendors with association executives looking for a new AMS. It’s basically corporate speed dating.

Teri held AMS Fest events in Chicago and in Washington, DC last year. She accepted proposals to speak at AMS Fest. But she didn’t choose who got to speak and she didn’t pull together a committee to review and vote. Here’s what she did instead:

  • At registration, each attendee got 5 star stickers.
  • The session descriptions and titles of prospective sessions were posted on a long wall without the name of the presenter or presenter’s organization (no popularity contest here!).
  • Each attendee voted with their stickers. Attendees could cast one star vote for the top session of choice, or they could cast up to five votes for the session they really, really wanted to see.
  • The top vote-getters got to present.

Yup, it meant that some folks who prepared sessions didn’t get to speak BUT it also meant that conference attendees got to hear speakers on topics they really wanted to hear about.

What if a session was a bust or it got really sales-y? After one particularly sales-y presentation, Teri introduced a sales-o-meter, which allowed her to gauge the audience’s preferences and yank a speaker off the stage. As Teri put it, “My event, my rules, and it’s all about giving the attendees quality, content heavy, sessions. Vendors need to know that there is a time and a place for selling and the crowdsourced sessions aren’t it.”

Crowdsourcing is not a new concept to associations. Want to start with something simple? You could ask members to recommend and vote on topics. You can ask attendees about their most pressing challenges on your registration form and then source speakers for those topics.

You might be surprised at what you learn and you’d be gaining valuable insight into what’s keeping members up at night.