Make It Stick: Post-Conference Activities

Blog

December 14, 2018

Make It Stick: Post-Conference Activities

By Nancy Bacon

Associate Director Washington Nonprofits

By Mark Nilles

Director, Learning and Impact InsideNGO

This is the fourth blog in this week's series to help you deepen your thinking and practices related to conferences, particularly those that run on a tight budget. These four blogs are condensed versions of four chapters of a new ebook written by Nancy Bacon and Mark Nilles called: Conferences That Make a Difference. Read to the end for a special offer!

The conference is over! Congratulations! By all accounts, it was successful—the sessions were full of happy participants, the logistics were seamless, and new connections were created. The conference was a rich learning experience, but in many ways the end of the conference is really the beginning of the journey. It’s only after the conference that participants will be able to apply new knowledge, skills, tools, and practices in the workplace. And it’s only after the conference that you can reflect on what went well, what could have gone better, and how to prepare for an even better conference next time!

There are two main categories of post-conference activities for you to consider.

 

1. Activities that reinforce participant learning and encourage action in the workplace

Think back to the last conference you attended. You likely left the conference with enthusiasm and intentions to integrate new concepts from the conference, but that likely washed away within a few days, just as your ability to recall the finer points of learning also drifted away. But what if there were ways to maintain that enthusiasm and reinforce the points you learned? Consider three ways to strengthen post-conference learning:

Implement a booster program that reduces forgetting and encourages action

Since 2017, Humentum has deployed a ‘booster’ program to reinforce learning after a conference.  The booster program consists of a series of emails delivered once or twice each week for 8 weeks following the conference.  The emails encourage ongoing learning and the application of new knowledge, concepts, and tools in the workplace. 

Offer post-conference discussion groups to encourage application of lessons

You could also extend the conference experience and support ongoing learning and the application of new knowledge, concepts, or tools through post-conference discussion groups. Discussion groups can be structured—according to conference session tracks, function areas, or other themes—or they can be unstructured. 

Incentivize blogging to deepen engagement with what people learned

A third way to extend the value of the conference is to incentivize participant and presenter generated blogs.  Presenters can share the essence of their talking points in blog entries.  The depth of information won’t be the same as what they shared in the session, but their blogs can benefit more people in your community than are able to attend the conference.  And participants can synthesize and share important points from the conference experience through blogs. As added benefit, participant blogs will help you understand how they really benefited from the conference.  Which leads to the next section.

 

2. Activities that deepen your own learning about the conference experience

Although your focus has been on the participants’ learning, you also need to consider your own learning.  After the conference ends, you want to know what went well, what could go better next time, and how participants are benefitting from the conference.  Here are a few ways to learn about the impact of your conference:

Collect feedback through surveys

The most common approach for feedback is through session and conference evaluations or surveys. If you conduct post session or post event surveys, keep the following in mind:

  • Be stingy with the questions you ask and only collect information that you’ll act on
  • Keep the questions relatively easy for participants to answer. 
  • Remind participants to complete surveys and dedicate time for survey completion. 

Conduct an in-house conference debrief with staff and key partners

You and others involved in conference planning and execution should discuss and debrief the conference. Staff feedback can be collected through shared documents (such as googledocs) or internal surveys or through meetings. For example, you can ask staff involved in the conference to consider and share: What went well? What was a problem or needs improvement? What ideas do you have for next year?  

Conduct an after action review

After action reviews are discussions with key stakeholders who have viewed the data and arrived at the meeting prepared to discuss ways to build on success and correct shortcomings. The common template for these discussions is to restate what you set out to accomplish, discuss what actually happened, explore lessons learned, and set goals for next time. 

Interested in exploring these topics more deeply? Our ebook, Conferences That Make a Difference, will be released January 2019. The ebook explores these same topics but provides deeper explanations, more examples, and templates. Sign up here to get your free electronic copy of the book when it’s available!

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