Month: October 2016

5 considerations about elementary school to apply to conference planning


September is back to school time for kids but it’s also the start of the fall conference season. Adult education and professional development is not so different from our younger days of learning and, for conference planners, there’s still learning lessons to be learned from elementary school:

  1. Defined Learning Outcomes: School curriculums are built with long-term goals in mind. At the end of a school year, students need to take away a foundation of skills and knowledge to allow them to succeed in future years and advance their education. Conference programs should be approached the same way. Take stock of what’s happening with your organization and your industry and identify the direction things taking (or you want to see them take). Then assess the audience to determine what skills and knowledge they’ll need to ensure success and advancement. Create programming to help people build strength in in these areas.
  1. Lectures Mixed With Practical Application: Science class would be a lot more boring if we didn’t let students pull out a microscope or beaker once in a while. History classes are a simply a series of case studies. Odds are that a student won’t learn computers by reading a book or hearing someone explain typing methodology. Some subject matter is well-suited to oral presentation while other subjects are perfect for hands-on learning. Plus, there’s a wide variety of learning styles and different people will learn better in different teaching environments. So look for variety in delivery and presentation style in your conference program: Mix lectures with case studies and workshops. Let people get hands-on with technology and tools, when possible.


  1. Storytime: As a rule, parents don’t read their kids textbooks at bedtime and students are attentive at story time. Everyone likes a good story. A good plot generally holds our attention longer than simple statistics and a good story-teller can capture our attention and make facts interesting. The more engaged we are with a story and the more it creates an emotional reaction, the more likely we are to remember it. When choosing speakers, look for those who can turn theory, numbers, and facts into a tale that people will want to listen to.


  1. Attention Spans are Limited: A school day in Canada is around 6 hours. As adults we have greater capacity to concentrate for longer periods but there is still a limit. Keep school hours in mind and avoid scheduling long days of educational content. People will tire and stop paying attention. Likewise, don’t schedule sessions to last much longer than an hour (45-50 minutes is most comfortable) or people will stop absorbing new information. For workshops or sessions where it can’t be avoided, be sure to offer breaks that give people time to stretch and absorb what they’ve just learned.
  1. Recess: Some people love to sit in the school yard and talk while others want to participate in structured games or activities, but everyone appreciates the chance to get out of the classroom. And they serve a functional purpose letting kids get some fresh air and a healthy snack to keep their energy up. Plan conference breaks purposefully, too. Space them out to allow people a respite when they might be tiring, and offer snacks and refreshments that will boost their energy and learning capacity. If weather cooperates, fresh air will also give people a boost but the ideal setting would not let them wander far from session rooms (or nice weather could tempt them to play hooky!) Offer structured activities for physical exercise and networking, but don’t force people to participate. Facilitate unstructured networking and relaxation with comfortable seating areas.



Adults learn differently than children but some of the fundamentals of elementary school planning remain important to adult education. Just as school administration does, conference planners need to build programs in consideration of education goals, variety of learner styles, and attention spans.


How to Prepare a Sponsorship Prospectus

sponsorship prospectus (1)

A prospectus is a sales tool for generating sponsorship support. It should be approached as a proposal to prospective sponsors, not a catalogue of available sponsorships. Some sponsors will still appreciate the latter and want a list of opportunities to choose from. But many will want to work with you to design something that optimizes their return. The prospectus will form a base for discussion and tell prospective sponsors how you value assets.

The first rule in developing a sponsorship prospectus is to make it about the sponsor. Put yourself in their shoes and ask the question “What’s in it for me?” To answer that question you will want to let them know

  • who the audience is and why it’s of value to get in front of them
  • the size of the audience (depending on what they are sponsoring, the audience may be more than just event attendees)
  • the direct benefits of sponsoring (think logo placement, free admissions, etc.)
  • the indirect benefits of sponsoring (think brand association, goodwill, etc.)

Let’s unpack each of those a little bit:

You should already know who your audience is since you’ve designed this event to fulfill a need for them. So let the sponsor know who these people are and what their needs are. Then back it up with some detail and statistics. Infographics are a great way to dress up this boring but vital information.

In marketing, impressions are a measure of exposure. It is basically a measure of the number of times content is viewed. Sponsorship is a form of marketing and impressions are an asset that you can sell. Help sponsors to understand how many people will be view the sponsor as a partner in this event. And how may times people will see this message.

Direct benefits are reasonably easy to identify and sell because they are tangible and you, as the event planner, can control the outcomes. These benefits are delivered by you, over the course of the event lifecycle (you can guarantee that logos are on appropriate signs and swag, that complementary tickets are sent to the sponsor, and that the MC names and thanks the sponsor at lunch). They deliver the message that the sponsor is a partner but the real value to the sponsor is what the audience does with that message and those benefits are beyond your control.

Indirect benefits are harder to identify because each sponsor will value return differently. They are also harder to sell because the audience is in control of the outcomes and sponsors may not see these benefits immediately (they will be seen after the event concludes, over a period of time or maybe even years down the road). While you cannot guarantee that business relationships will form or transactions will result, you can work with the sponsor to identify their investment goals and take steps to facilitate meaningful connections between the audience and the sponsor. Help your sponsors to see this as an investment in business development and future growth.


For event sponsors, the main goal of partnering on an event is to make their organization visible to a target audience. Just as your event fulfills a need for this audience, sponsors offer something that fulfills another need and success for them is being given the opportunity to do so. Your role in this is to facilitate interactions and impressions between the sponsor and the audience. You sponsorship prospectus should articulate how you plan to do achieve this.