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Six Steps to Attract and Retain Academic Attendees

Through a deliberate approach, academic conferences can serve and engage attendees all year, and every year.

Running a successful conference is not just about having the most up-to-date research presentations and exciting keynote speeches. It is critical to consider both the people behind the research and the audience that will be in attendance. How do you ensure that you are attracting the best talent to your academic conference, using them judiciously, and making attendees want to come back the next year?

Focus on the Why, Not Just the How
When putting together the program, go over the reasons why people want to attend your conference. In the lead-up to your event, highlight opportunities such as research indexing or publication, networking opportunities, and chances for collaboration and discussion. This will encourage the potential participants with the most to offer, and benefit from, the event to submit their abstracts and sign up for your conference.

Turn Attendees into Marketers
Leverage your previous attendees by sharing an event hashtag when you send out your invitations. Encourage them to use the hashtag to mention their participation and spread the word to followers. Additionally, include a prompt on your website for attendees to tweet and post whenever they upload research such as a poster or abstract.

Keep Attendees’ Attention Throughout the Day
A tired participant is more likely to leave mid-conference or skip sessions. Provide quiet spaces, with amenities like open Wi-Fi and snacks and drinks, so they can relax between sessions and make notes while a topic is fresh or simply catch up on work.

Many conference-goers will be first-timers to the destination, so organize an off-site excursion during a planned break in the schedule so you don’t lose attendees who decide to explore during important sessions.  A sightseeing tour is both an attraction for attendees and a sponsorship opportunity.

Also, plan end-of-day activities to discourage attendees from leaving early. For example, exhibitor scavenger hunts will encourage attendees to explore the show floor after their last sessions, and hosting mini-award ceremonies for Twitter or Instagram post competitions with prize giveaways will encourage participants to get the word out on social media and hang around to see if they’ve won.

Make Your Website an Extension of Your Conference
The abstract and poster submission process should be seamless, and registered attendees should be able to browse both before the conference in order to efficiently plan their schedule of events and sessions. Leaving research online after the event will also increase the longevity of the event and allow attendees to continue exploring topics of interest and refer the event to others.

Use Feedback
Acting on attendee feedback is the best way to ensure that your conference continues to improve and that it will draw an even larger crowd next year. Make staff easily visible on site and provide a well-publicized text or email contact so that all attendees at the conference feel listened to. Lastly, adopt changes suggested through these avenues or on post-event surveys and promote the changes during the registration period so that new attendees know you are responsive, and previous attendees feel they are signing up for a refreshed event.

End on a High Note
Take advantage of your current audience to announce the dates and, when possible, the theme for next year’s conference. Remind attendees of the highlights from this year’s conference with slides of keynote speakers and popular activities so they will look forward to next year, and put the dates for next year’s conference on every post-event communication. If possible, announce a new hashtag for the next conference along with the location to drum up excitement early.

By making sure that you take into account the needs and desires of your attendees before, during, and after your conference, you can ensure that your event will be a priority on the calendars of academics, researchers, and scientists year after year.

Sami Benchekroun is the cofounder and CEO of early-stage research platform and conference management software company Morressier

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