Crowd-sourcing, or using the collective wisdom of your attendees to define what will be discussed at a conference, is currently all the rage. But should you crowdsource content for your event?
Jeff Hurt sparked an interesting online discussion with his blog post “Two Reasons Why Crowdsourcing Your Conference Content Won’t Work.” His assertion: If you let your attendees choose and vote on what they want to hear, they’ll end up choosing mediocre content and “experts” that may have substandard presentation skills, rather than sessions that will expand their knowledge and speakers who will challenge them. Over time, he asserted, this “popularity contest” model of education selection and lack of quality content will drive attendees away from your event.
And, he’s right.
But with a little moderation and guidance from the event planners (with or without an education development committee), crowd-sourcing can be an excellent way to solicit feedback and engage your audience.
RELATED STORY: 6 ways to create continuous feedback
How democratizing the event design process can enhance your event
Consider this: Our founding fathers loved democracy. But when it came time to outline how America would be run, they didn’t think a full-on democracy would be the best political system, so they opted to make the United States a republic, which better preserves minority rights and individual liberties. Everybody can vote, but the electoral college makes the final decision on who becomes president. You can say whatever you want, but there’s a system of checks and balances in place to prevent mob rule.
In the same way, it is important to know what your attendees want so you can engage them, but that doesn’t mean that you should chuck out all your plans and structure everything around what the outspoken majority says they need, because they may not know what that is. Or, as Hurt says, “Attendees don’t know what they don’t know.”
If you were planning a medical meeting, you wouldn’t ask the doctors in attendance to teach each other about the latest technological advances or newest medical theories if they’d had no lab or clinical experience with either, because it wouldn’t benefit them or their future patients. You would bring in people who had access to the research and experience necessary to teach the doctors new skills or give them insight into new industry trends. So why would you let your attendees determine everything they’d like to see and do at your conference?
That being said, there are instances in which pure crowd-sourcing of content can work very well: During a gathering of high-level experts in a specific area, for example, or at a small conference on a niche topic. But if you’re looking to serve the educational needs of thousands of people, you’re going to need a smaller group of people to take their suggestions into consideration. Only in that way will you be able to develop a compelling mix of content that balances what they think they want with what will challenge them, help them grow, and succeed.
RELATED STORY: The 33 skills meeting and event planners need to succeed