September 23, 2019

How to Help Conference Attendees Retain and Apply What They Learn

How to Help Conference Attendees Retain and Apply What They Learn

During a conference, attendees take notes about new ideas, exchange business cards, and maybe even purchase a new book. And then what happens?

They get back to the office and spend the day going through emails and trying to catch up on work. All those new ideas and contacts? They fall victim to merciless to-do lists and the forgetting curve: people forget 70% of what they hear within 24 hours unless they make an effort to retain it.

What if you could help attendees retain and apply what they’ve learned? What if you could help them stay in touch with conference acquaintances? Your conference would be the talk of the industry if attendees continue to receive value when they return to the office. Instead of offering just a few days of conference brain food and fun, you can provide a long-lasting learning experience for your attendees.

Set Conference Attendees up for Success

Savvy conference attendees arrive on site with questions they want to answer and goals they hope to achieve, but they’re the exception, not the rule. Give every attendee the necessary resources to make the most of their limited time at the conference. For example, provide a tool they can use to:

  • Reflect upon work challenges.
  • Document conference goals.
  • Write down their questions.
  • Capture new ideas.
  • Collect contact information.

An attendee event app, or workbook, can serve this purpose. In your pre-conference emails, encourage attendees to start thinking about their challenges, goals, and questions.

Once they’re on site, invite them to visit strategically placed kiosks—perhaps near registration or the opening session ballroom—where they can scan their badge and receive content that helps them capture ideas, organize their thoughts, and plan next steps.

Revamp session agendas. Instruct all speakers to schedule time at the end of each session for attendees to think about next steps for applying new information, identifying unanswered questions, and exchanging contact information with tablemates. Remind attendees to capture their ideas and plans in the attendee event app.

During the closing session, give attendees time to reflect and map out next steps, in case they haven’t done so already. Let them know the type of content you will share post-show to help them maximize their event experience. For example, with the right event technology, you could send them a Digital Memory Bank - a personalized microsite that include a summary of all their digital interactions during the event (i.e. photos taken, content downloads, calls to action, exhibitors they visited, etc.)

Help Attendees Turn Intentions into Action

Attendees have good intentions, but they need a little motivation and inspiration to transform those intentions into action. Your event will have a reputation like no other if you can help attendees implement the great ideas and plans they came up with during the conference.

Invite attendees to opt-in to accountability reminders and notifications about resources related to the sessions they attended. Develop and schedule an email campaign that encourages attendees to revisit their conference notes, attendee event app, or microsite.

Remind them about session slides, handouts, and recordings. Encourage them to make connections (on LinkedIn and your online community) with the people they met at the conference.

Provide prompts to help them reflect on what they learned and how that information can help them at work. Ask about their plans to take action based on something they learned at the conference. Check in with them after a few months to see if their experience would make a good testimonial for next year’s marketing.

Encourage Attendees to Share Their New Knowledge

Suggest ways that attendees can share new information and ideas with their co-workers. For example, provide a guide for leading a lunch-and-learn or coffee break briefing. Remind them that their company will receive more ROI from their attendance if they spread this “wealth” around.

Review your registration reports and identify member companies that are sending multiple employees to the conference. Would they be interested in reserving a complimentary meeting room during the event where they can discuss takeaways at the end of each day? Think of ways you can help the company get the most of the conference so they’ll see it’s worth their time and money to send even more employees next year.

Leverage Your Event Data

Review attendance reports based on data from your scanning technology or head counts to find out which sessions were the most popular. Ask volunteers to lead online community discussions on some of those popular session topics.

Schedule follow-up education, such as recap webinars, deeper dive webinars, virtual roundtables, and virtual book club meetings on books related to keynotes and sessions.

Invite attendees to form accountability groups with those they met at their sessions. If they express interest, you could get their permission to share the session attendance list—another scenario where scanning technology plays a useful role.

If you use tracking or scanning technology, like badges with QR codes or Near Field Communication (NFC) powered chips, you’ll know which sessions each person attended. After the conference, you can market relevant programs to attendees: “Since you attended session X, you might also be interested in online learning program Y.”

Ask for Post-Conference Feedback

Review the tracking data for show floor traffic to identify the most popular exhibitors. Schedule a call or online meeting with these exhibitors to find out why they attracted so many attendees. Did they give away free cocktails or offer an alluring raffle gift? Or, hopefully, were attendees especially interested in one of their products or services? If their products or services were the main attraction, discuss options for leveraging that interest, for example, hosting a sponsored webinar or online demonstration.

Traditionally, attendees are asked to fill out evaluations either on site or immediately after the event. But the test of whether a conference provided a real ROI for them is several months after the event.

  • Are attendees applying what they learned?
  • Have they expanded their network?
  • What do they still need assistance with?
  • What would have helped them get more out of the conference?

Few organizations follow up months after the event. If you do, attendees will see that you understand the challenges they face after a conference.

By providing post-conference learning and networking opportunities, you help attendees have a better chance of retaining and applying new information, and expanding their professional network. Learn how MemberSuite’s event marketing and engagement technology can help you enhance and extend your organization’s conference experience.