. The ABCs of Today's Education Meetings | Northstar Meetings Group

The ABCs of Today's Education Meetings

Northstar Meetings Group presents a new editorial series focusing on some of the hottest and most important meetings industry segments. Our in-depth coverage pinpoints trends, provides critical insights and offers expert advice for buyers and sellers in key sectors. Read more in our series here.

The most crucial advice for planners and producers of education-oriented events can be broken down into two main points: 1) Pay careful attention to destination selection, programming and "value-add" components. 2) Be careful to make the best case for attendance, for registrants as well as for the decision-makers who sign off on the event.

For many education groups, resources offered by a given destination have become critical. The Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) represents a good example where its Annual Meeting is concerned. "For us as an organization that is steeped in diversity, it's very important that destinations have resources that support diversity, where attendees can go or that can be called upon" for educational purposes, says Suzanne Hyers, the event's senior director. The AAC&U last held its Annual Meeting at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta in January 2019 and, prior to that, in 2013; the city is part of its regular destination "rota," Hyers observes.

Hyers notes that with such resources as the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Morehouse College and Spelman College, Atlanta fits her organization's needs. Other educational facilities in the city that support diversity include, but are not limited to, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. Some of Atlanta's institutions of higher learning are the site of AAC&U's smaller meetings, workshops and summer institutes for campus teams. Two programs of this type were held at Emory University in July 2019.

emory education meetings
Atlanta's institutions of higher learning have been the site of the Association of American Colleges & Universities' smaller meetings, workshops and summer institutes for campus teams. Two programs of this type were held at Emory University in July 2019.

Proximity to resources — in this case, those that shore up the technology-education mission of the conference — also is a consideration for LRP Media Group, which produces an annual event called the Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) for educators, school administrators, CIOs of for-profit educational institutions and the like. "In many ways, the features being presented for the 'classroom of the future' at shows like FETC are leading the way for concepts that are being applied across the broader spectrum of business events in adult continuing education," notes Sam Bhandarkar, CMP, CASE, LRP Media Group's event-placement director. "Groups such as FETC take this responsibility seriously, seeking destinations and venues that support the technology being presented, and are always considering opportunities to share success stories from its host destination schools and institutions." Bhandarkar says it is "no coincidence" that destinations selected to host FETC are also at the forefront of technology development and application.

Accessibility and cost rank among other growing concerns for planners of education meetings. "Atlanta has done well for us as a destination because of reasonable airfares and room rates," Hyers asserts. "The fact that the MARTA [rapid-transit system] system makes it easy to get around without relying on cabs is a big plus, too, as is the proximity of [dining options] to our headquarters hotel."

Getting Programming Right

Ensuring that programming is meaningful, innovative and meets attendees' changing needs complements efforts to select the proper backdrop for educational meetings. The more this is emphasized, sources say, the more value the meeting has and the easier it might be to up the registration ante.

Hyers has found that unlike attendees of meetings geared toward other markets, attendees of educational conferences aren't interested in "appearances by splashy stars"; they prefer more of an educational slant, even to after-hours events. Accordingly, AAC&U's 2019 Annual Meeting featured an evening with British-Ghanaian philosopher, cultural theorist and novelist Kwame Akroma-Ampim Kusi Anthony Appiah, who delivered a presentation on the honor code in colleges and universities.

Almost identically, the 2019 Joint Mathematics Meetings, sponsored by the American Mathematical Society (AMS) and the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), featured a "conversation" with Margot Lee Shetterly, author of  the non-fiction work Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. Shetterly's book was made into a movie of the same name. Additionally, the Joint Mathematics Meetings are promoted as offering programs for all mathematical levels, which according to a spokesperson for AMS makes attendance not only more appealing to potential registrants, but also easier to "sell" to those who "sign the checks" to cover participation in and travel to the events.

For its part, the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) has expanded its programming to include a focus on general hot-button issues that impact educational institutions. Its 2019 Annual Conference featured sessions entitled, "Wider-Education Nexus-Secondary Schools: Universities & The Future of Work," "Sexual Abuse: Supporting the Well-Being of Surviving Students and the Community" and "Learn From Parkland: How to Respond to, Prepare For and Prevent School Shootings."

"Understanding what our attendees want to learn and how they prefer to engage in learning helps us develop content that maximizes their return on investment."
Jennifer Womble, FETC program chair

LRP Media makes concerted efforts to make its FETC programming valuable, relevant and reflective of attendees' technology-learning requirements, states Jennifer Womble, FETC program chair. In addition to reviewing feedback from social media, particularly Twitter, as well as soliciting feedback from participants, the FETC team scrutinizes attendance figures from previous sessions.

"Understanding what our attendees want to learn and how they prefer to engage in learning helps us develop content that maximizes their return on investment," Womble explains. "The program agenda evolves every year to match the needs of our attendees and the high-speed changes and constant updates in technology."

Programming tracks and session content are modified as demand for new content arises, Womble continues. Two new tracks were added for FETC 2019 in order to "target the largest-growing roles of educators: instructional coaching and media science" and "better prepare the next generation of science, innovation and technology leaders through more personalized learning experiences."  Moreover, the number of administrative-level and leadership tracks has been doubled in keeping with the growth of FETC to include the largest population of senior-level strategists and decision-makers in K-12 education.

Making the Case for Attendance

Destination and continual improvements in programming notwithstanding, some educators and other prospective participants, especially those who do not work in the private sector, may need to take extra steps to garner buy-in for attendance at education meetings — and, possibly, convince themselves that they should register for these events. To address this need, the FETC website features a downloadable "justification letter" template. The template includes top reasons to attend the conference and provides space to present decision-makers with information on the associated costs of attending it. Also incorporated into the template is space where potential attendees can list the specifics of the sessions for which they wish to sign up and how those sessions will directly help them resolve pertinent issues.

FETC has six dedicated tracks comprised of more than 600 workshops and sessions and hosts more than 400 exhibitors. Individuals who want to attend and need assistance in building a case to do so are given this type of information to strengthen their position, according to the FETC team.

Similarly, the Association for Talent Development (ATD) offers a "Convince Your Boss" toolkit on the website for its ATD 2020 Annual Conference; the same toolkit has been offered for previous conferences over the past few years. It contains a manager letter that attendee hopefuls can customize to explain to their supervisor why an ATD conference is "one of the most cost-effective and valuable conferences" in which they can participate, and to share testimonials from educators and school administrators who have already done so. Other components of the kit encompass a customizable "session and exhibitor worksheet"; instructions on the website that directs potential registrants to list the workshops they plan to attend and describe how takeaways from these sessions will "solve any workplace challenges," as well as to indicate which exhibitors they intend to meet. Yet another part of the toolkit is an "investment worksheet" with space for users to approximate the financial investment to attend the conference.



Higher Education in Atlanta

Planners continue to enrich their meetings and conventions through Atlanta’s intelligence and resources in higher education. Ranked No. 7 on WalletHub’s list of college cities, Atlanta is home to many higher education institutions— from the historically black women’s college, Spelman College, to the esteemed Georgia Tech.
NerdWallet, CBRE (Commercial Real Estate Services), and Forbes have given accolades to Atlanta’s educational sector, labeling it attainable and accessible with its low cost of living and the high number of jobs in a booming tech industry.
Groups and organizations have the opportunity to explore Atlanta in an enlightened view with abundant supplemental educational organizations that offer centralized focuses. These include The National Center for Civil and Human Rights, High Museum of Art, and William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum.
Discover an illuminated Atlanta: contact the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau today and begin the RFP process.