Participant needs + topics + speakers = a challenging equation

Dana’s Meeting Minutes is based on the Meeting Planning Triangle©. Click here for a link.


Most participants say they attend meetings for the education and/or the networking. They want the networking, but to justify the expense, they need the education. Nothing interesting? No registration. It behooves you to research and deliberately plan your programming.



Tip #1

Develop your programming based on topics, not on speakers.

  • To identify current needs, regularly poll members at board and committee meetings asking something like, “What is your biggest challenge right now?” “If you could attend only one session at Convention, what topic would it be on?”

  • Include valuable education for each subgroup in your target audience, considering expertise, years of experience, and other factors pertinent to your group.

  • Even with your popular, come-every-year speakers, careful topic selection should be a priority.

Tip #2

Free isn’t always good and expensive isn’t, either.

  • Base speaker choice on expertise and podium presence, regardless of your budget. A volunteer should be vetted as carefully as a professional. Adopt a protocol that requires proof of successful presentations for all potential speakers, including board and committee members.

  • Presenters with higher fees may be proven speakers, but are worth their fee only if they are a good fit for your audience.

Tip #3

Call for Presentations don’t guarantee good sessions.

  • For non-scientific and non-academic meetings, relying solely on the CFP process for session selection may be limiting because you can’t be sure you’ll receive applicable topics and/or skilled presenters.

  • Honestly assess the value of your CFP model and determine whether you’re getting what you need. If not, consider a strategy to solicit proposals for specific topics in addition to an open invitation for topics.


Be on the hunt for speakers and topics all year.

  • Ensure topics address this year’s needs by reading industry publications, newsletters, blogs, etc. throughout the year. Save links and references to pertinent information for easy retrieval. Ask your education committee members and coworkers to do the same.

  • Ask your counterparts in other states and at affiliated industries for their lists of topics and speakers so you can do some parallel development (copying their good ideas!).


Learn tips from other planners:

9 Unshakeable Tips for Choosing Conference and Event Speakers by Jeff Kear, Planning Pod

5 Tips to Choose the Perfect Speaker for Your Conference by Brand24


Earn CMP credit by reading Are You Finding the Best Speakers for Your Event?, one of Convene magazine’s CMP Series articles.


Information disclaimer: WANT MORE? references do not imply an endorsement for any company, product, or service.




Dana L. Saal, CMP, CAE, has been planning meetings for associations for more than 30 years. She recently decided that coaching meeting planners is now more fun than proofing BEOs, counting coffee cups and writing scripts. If you think a bit of coaching could improve your meeting, send a message via her website!



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