Since today marks the opening of registration for Learning • Technology • Design™(LTD 2019) – our annual virtual conference designed specifically for professionals in the business of continuing education, professional development, and lifelong learning – we thought this would be a perfect opportunity to pull back the curtain for an in-depth look at our planning process with the hope that it can be of value to you as you’re planning your next event.
In this episode of the Leading Learning podcast, Celisa and Jeff share details about their planning process for LTD, including what goes into building the program (with a sneak peak at some potential topics!), how the format for the event has evolved over time, and their strategy for marketing it.
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[00:18] – Our sponsor this quarter is ReviewMyLMS, a collaboration between our company, Tagoras, and 100Reviews, the company that is behind the very successful ReviewMyAMS site. As the name suggests, ReviewMyLMS is a site where users can share and access reviews of learning management systems, and the focus is specifically on systems that are a good fit for learning businesses, meaning organizations that market and sell lifelong learning. Contribute a review and you get access to all existing and future reviews—there are already more than 130 on the site. And, if you don’t have a review to contribute, there is also a subscription option. For details, check out reviewmylms.com.
[01:35] – We are in the thick of planning Learning • Technology • Design™(LTD) – our annual virtual conference – and since we know many of you are planning annual events as well, we’re sharing a little bit of our process with the hope that it may be of value to you. This may be particularly helpful if you haven’t done a virtual conference before. We are also going to share some of the topics and formats that are resonating with potential attendees. Our experience is that people find it very valuable to hear what others are thinking about because it gives an idea of what peers/similar organizations are thinking.
For anyone who doesn’t know what LTD is, it’s an event designed specifically for professionals in the business of continuing education, professional development, and lifelong learning.
Building the Program
[03:43] – We always build the program for LTD in interaction with the attendees and potential attendees so we generally don’t post a program until shortly before the event. We go through a lot of methods to determine what that program is going to be.
Some of the ongoing efforts, not related to LTD include:
- We continually monitor the market. Anyone who receives our Leading Learning newsletter for example, knows that we are constantly curating information so that we know the new trends and what’s going on.
- We have a continuously running survey for anyone who signs up for the newsletter through which we ask people about their challenges, opportunities, etc. and to weigh in on specific topics or topical areas.
- We have frequent conversations with colleagues, clients, vendors, and of course, podcast interviewees.
Some of the efforts we execute specific to LTD include:
- We review and reflect on past events—below are episodes where we conducted mid and after action reviews:
- We collect evaluations, including testimonials—a great example of social proof.
- We send out open ended e-mails for input on topics people would like to see covered and we encourage them to be thinking through what challenges and opportunities they’re facing in their learning business. We also ask people who have attended before about their past takeaways to see what’s sticking with them. Even though asking for open-ended input can be messy, we find it very valuable and it doesn’t take all that much time to sift through the info and narrow down what’s on people’s minds. Being open-ended really ensures you know what your audience needs and wants, rather than just assuming.
- We send out a close-ended survey to determine the likelihood of participation in specific topics. Although sometimes we need to lead the market (since we are Leading Learning, after all!) rather than follow the market.
[12:27] – Getting more specific, below is an example of an actual testimonial we received and how we were able to use it:
- “I’m happy to have been a participant, as now I’ve experienced what constitutes high value for online learning.” ~Eric Hill, Senior Vice President, Corporate Operations, Enterprise Wireless Alliance. This was unsolicited and great feedback to have. Eric was a very engaged learner and one of the big reasons he got so much out of LTD is because he brought so much to it. The idea of the learner stepping up and taking responsibility is something we’ve talked about and has been thematic at LTD, and our events in general (see our related episode, Celebrating the Self-Directed Learner). The other reason he got so much out of it was because we did a lot with community last year. His experience proved how valuable the interplay between the discussion environment and what we addressed in the live sessions was. All of this will be supremely important going into this year’s version of LTD.
[15:37] – Another example that came out of LTD 2018 has to do with Nancy Bacon of Washington Nonprofits, and Mark Nilles of Humentum. They were both presenter/facilitators and they got to know each other over the course of the virtual conference, which developed into an ongoing dialogue. This created an opportunity where they have collaborated to produce an e-book focused on integrating learning into conferences. We could never have imagined that this specific of an outcome would come out of LTD but it’s definitely good feedback for us in terms of that fact that people are able to make great connections and continue them beyond the virtual conference. And people tend to think that you can’t network at a virtual event, something we’ve found to be completely untrue. Going into the next LTD, we’ll be thinking about how to help make these kind of connections happen—and how to highlight that it’s happening to make it clear that there are valuable, concrete things that come out of this.
[18:05] – As previously mentioned, we’ve asked potential attendees about topics that seem to be resonating. We are only in the initial stages and we still have a ways to go to figure out what will actually be on the program but below are the topics that have bubbled up so far:
- Creating truly useful surveys and assessments for measuring both learning AND customer satisfaction
- Building/redesigning content for easier consumption, higher engagement, and greater impact
- Multi-year strategy and operational planning beyond the “101” level
- How to build a certificate program – and translating existing credentialing programs into online learning and micro learning opportunities
- Learning vs. performance support – i.e., what role can learning businesses play in supporting performance rather than “just” delivering learning?
- Actual success stories/revenue-generation models for microlearning
- Automated and semi-automated approaches to curating and personalizing the full learner experience
- Meaningfully engaging learners with tools like badges and leaderboards
Please feel free to comment at the bottom of this page to let us know what you think about these topics or if there are any others you’d like to add.
Evolution of Format
[25:53] – This is the fourth time we’ve offered LTD—the first year it was place-based and in year 2 we made a very conscious decision to take it online. Our tagline at Tagoras is “reach, revenue, impact” and although we liked the place-based event, we knew we weren’t going to reach the audience we wanted to be able to reach. Also because the event is around technology, we wanted to “walk the walk” and really leverage the technology. Doing the event virtually allowed us to more than double attendants the next year.
[27:08] – The second year we structured the 3-day virtual event with sponsors and exhibitors and last year we went to an extended format, multi-week event in the month of February with no sponsors and exhibitors. This extended format allowed time for discussion in forums in between sessions, as well as spacing for learning. However, the feedback showed that it was difficult for people to carve out time over that extended period so this year we’re going back to a more collapsed model over two days—but we’ll still keep the discussion forums. Although we don’t know exactly how we’ll use it, community will definitely be a big part of the event.
[29:28] – Some things we are considering for the next LTD are:
- Some sort of a face-to-face complement to the online format.
- Core content (Tagoras core content) – it’s really helpful when everyone has a certain shared base that they are working from and can refer to. We have a variety of concepts and tools that you may be familiar with—for example, the Value Ramp, Learning Business Maturity Model, Market Insight Matrix, etc.
- Reintroduction of concurrent sessions that are tied into tracks (beginner/intermediate and an intermediate-advanced body of content) – but a mix of everyone together and some apart.
[32:44] – Below is what we’re planning to do in terms of marketing the event:
- Streamline and simplify the Web site to make it much easier for people to learn about the event and get key information.
- Experiment with some promotional offers including a limited time offer (from now until at least the end of November) to invite someone else who hasn’t attended before at no cost—this truly helps us expand our reach and the community of learning professionals we’re bringing together.
- Reach out again to sponsors who we’d like to think of as patrons because we truly want them at the event to support the important work being done—so there won’t be platinum, gold, etc. but rather everyone on the same level. By signing up, you’ll get some promotional benefit and have the ability to extend an invitation to prospects/customers who you think would get value from attending the event.
[37:10] – Wrap Up
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[39:45] – Sign off