Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

October 10 2014

How One Conference Is Using Overflow To Enhance The Attendee Experience

By Carolyn Clark

 It’s the sign on the ballroom door that no conference attendee wants to read: this session has reached full capacity.

As attendees flock to sessions to catch the most talked-about speakers on the agenda, those rooms can fill up very quickly. Letty Kluttz, SPHR, Director of Conference Programming and Development for the Society of Human Resource Management, has come to know the challenge all too well. The SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition is the biggest HR event in the world, attracting approximately 15,000 attendees. They all share one important trait: a hunger for knowledge.

“One of the traits I really love about our attendees is that they all actually go to sessions,” Kluttz says. “We’ll have over 10,000 attendees in sessions at any given time.”

“We don’t want to disappoint anyone if they can’t get into a session,” Kluttz adds.

Taking Education Outside The Classroom

To avoid that disappointment, Kluttz and SHRM began working with live streaming multi-media specialists Digitell to provide more opportunities for overflow audience members. After successfully testing the model in 2013 in Chicago, the organization added even more locations at the 2014 conference in Orlando for a total of 26 ready-to-stream rooms. With four designated overflow areas throughout the conference, attendees can easily find a place to watch the session.

“We want to make sure it’s the shortest possible walk so they don’t miss any of the session,” Kulttz says.

For the SHRM conference team, they can work with Digitell to quickly adjust which sessions should be streamed at any given time.

“The whole process is pretty seamless,” Kluttz says. “We simply put a request out on our radio to stream room X into location Y. It takes about 30 seconds.”

Shaking The Conference Crystal Ball

While the process is simple, there is one big question that’s more difficult to answer: which sessions are the majority of attendees going to mark on their calendars? Kluttz says the SHRM Conference Team has to use a “crystal ball” approach to determine which sessions should be in rooms that are ready to stream.

“Each year, we review the program and discuss which sessions will be the most popular,” Kluttz says.

So far, Kluttz and her team have managed to master the art of predicting attendee behavior.

“It’s been really successful,” Kluttz says. “Our attendees all seem to appreciate it, and that makes it worth doing.”

Capturing Content For The Future

While the overflow set-up clearly benefits attendees during the conference, Kluttz highlights that SHRM also leverages all the content for later OnDemand learning, too.

“After the conference, we take a look at all the recorded sessions to make sure it’s in good shape to offer attendees who may have missed the session or members who couldn’t participate,” Kluttz says. “We make sure the audio lines up correctly and verify speaker permissions to offer the education online.”

“It helps the conference continue to deliver the insights our members want,” Kluttz adds.

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