A Conference Which Aims to Bring About Conversation

by Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll

I was recently privileged to attend a rather large conference (the Israeli Presidential Conference) with many big names and lots of exciting panel topics. The atmosphere was charged, the rooms were full of people I know I wanted to talk to, and I was looking forward to learning much.

One panel in particular had me running up the street in heels to try to be on time. Huge names and brands were on the stage, and the topic was something I definitely wanted to hear. Within 5 minutes, I knew it missed its mark.

Firstly, every chair on the panel was taken by a man. We’ve discussed this issue in these pages before. There are plenty of women qualified to sit on any panel. That was strike one.

Strike two was the lack of representation of the nonprofit sector. I cannot begin to imagine how many of us in the audience work in the nonprofit world, yet our angle was completely left out. The third strike was in the way the topic was presented. The panelists spoke from a technical ‘how we did it’ perspective and not- what this means for you, the audience.

A conference which aims to bring about conversation, change and ideas needs more than big names. Topics need to be discussed in ways that are relevant and available to those they are looking to influence.

When we planned FONSI (Future of Nonprofit Summit Israel Feb 28 2011), a large brand was interested in sponsoring the entire day. Obviously, this was exciting. It meant costs covered and being able to provide free entry for all attendees. As discussions went on, it became clear that this was going to become the XXXX show. And X was interested in big names, and lots of bells and whistles. That’s when we began to get nervous.

Knowing the lack of opportunities for nonprofit professionals to get together, to hear from experts in various fields in ways that are relevant to them, we had a specific and simple agenda. We wanted to present relevant topics from relevant people, in relevant ways. In the end, we did it ourselves and accomplished our goals.

It seems that there is a focus on show over content and we really cant imagine why. Attendees expect to learn at a conference, to walk away knowing or understanding more than they did when they walked in. This is especially true in the nonprofit world where professionals are challenged to not only run fantastic, effective programming, but to fund it, publicize it, market it, budget it etc.

People take the day from work to learn, grow and share with others who can understand their needs, give relevant perspective and help them succeed. Seeing a big name is fun, but not as fun as learning from them how to overcome challenges. Hearing how someone created the latest technology is cool, but not as cool as hearing how that technology can help advance your cause.

Bottom line is, whether a day long conference or a one shot presentation, your audience deserves to hear from people whose content will assist them to learn, understand or incorporate information that will advance their work.

Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll is one third of REACH3K. R3k helps nonprofits reach their audience and plan content rich and relevant conferences and events.