Dumping conference programming online and calling it education just doesn't cut it anymore, says one content specialist who advocates ‘a fundamentally different’ approach.
Mitchell Beer, president of Smarter Shift, doesn't mince words when it comes to what he thinks about associations and other organizations that do little more to capture conference content than posting unedited session videos online. “You can't just put a crappy camera in the back of the room,” he said, “and call it continuing education.” Beer also has “along-standing aversion” to products that force people to sit through verbatim audio.
There are a handful of speakers in the world who can command attention for 90 minutes, but most “talking-head” video and verbatim audio isn't very compelling, according to Beer, a former print journalist based in Ottawa who has specialized in publishing conference content for more than two decades. There are far more effective and engaging ways to repackage content online for time-pressed users, he said, including creating summaries of sessions or conference highlights and posting them along with clips of the most relevant programming. “You don't put up the whole hour — pick the right two-minute clip,” Beer said. “That does mean knowing the content well enough to be able to pick [the right clip].”
At Smarter Shift, Beer has developed what he calls “illustrated audio,” which combines still photographs with edited audio clips from conference sessions “stitched together” with voiceovers — a la “All Things Considered” on National Public Radio. For example, Smarter Shift created a nine-minute multimedia presentation with content from a workshop conducted by one of its clients, the International Bridge, Tunnel, and Turnpike Association (IBTTA), that discussed member responses to Hurricane Sandy.
For the multimedia piece, Smarter Shift worked with IBTTA to collect photographs from members — including dramatic photos of flooding tunnels and post- Sandy devastation — and displayed them at relevant moments to illustrate audio clips from speakers. “We were sure that photos from the field would tell a stronger story than visuals from a conference hall,” Beer said.
IBTTA posted the narrated video along with a PDF of a conference report on its website. A shorter version serves as a marketing tool.
The technique works for topics less dramatic than assessing the effect of a historic storm, Beer said. “The intensity of the experience of presenters during the hurricane created naturally compelling audio,” he said. But “if we were dealing with compelling content presented in a relatively dry tone — either because the content was technically complex, or because the speaker's style was less than ideal — we would look for secondary voices to liven up the production and strong, evocative photos to boost engagement.”
Such techniques are more expensive than just recording and posting videos online. “But they're less expensive than the cost of creating a similarly useful product,” Beer said. “It's a fundamentally different way of approaching content. You have to assume content matters.”
Content, Well Considered
There are many alternatives to posting hours upon hours of verbatim conference content, says Smarter Shift's Mitchell Beer. Depending on the topic, audience, and content, meeting organizers could consider:
- A longer or shorter session summary
- A thematic overview of an entire event
- A speaker interview
- An infographic
- A five-to 10-minute audio podcast