by Rick Harris | March 28, 2018

Rick HarrisAfter 25 years of selecting our speakers the exact same way, we at the Association of Proposal Management Professionals thought it was time to shake things up. For a quarter of a century, we had put out a call for speakers for the APMP Bid & Proposal Con. We then collected topics, had our selection committee choose speakers based on the submitted abstracts, and lined up those speakers to lecture our members for an hour apiece.

Earlier this year, we decided to change. Our staff talked to other associations about what makes their conferences great -- and subsequently decided it was time to turn our speaker process on its head. Inspired by these conversations, we created our own selection process based on crowdsourcing: We tapped into the collective intelligence of our members to gain deeper insights into what they wanted vs. what we thought they needed.

Rather than prepare a schedule full of topics that we deemed interesting, we created a list of their ideal session topics for 2018. We then posted online and invited potential speakers to tell us which of the topics they would choose to speak on and why.

For us, the approach was new, different and very much appreciated. Here are the highlights that made this all work so well:

Hyper-planning. We sketched out a plan and then looked at all the parts to make sure it got us to our end goal: speakers matched to the sessions our members and attendees wanted to see at Bid & Proposal Con.

Straightforward web platform. We posted all sessions online with a brief description, to give speakers a flavor of the session without completely defining it. Potential speakers were invited to choose up to three sessions by clicking on radio buttons next to the session.

Flexibility. We created wild-card or write-in sessions for speakers who still wanted to submit the old way, but we warned them that most of sessions would be selected using the new approach.

Crowdsourcing was wildly popular and yielded several main benefits:

Confirmation of quality sessions. Most sessions had a high number of speaker requests, confirming that people not only wanted to see them, but that speakers also wanted to present them. Conversely, the sessions that got a few (or no) speaker requests were immediately cut.

New speakers. This new, inclusive process brought in more new speakers than ever before. We had more than 50 new speakers apply to be a part of the new sessions and panels. That's a lot of new blood with new ideas and information to share.

Pent-up registration demand. The new speaker-selection process created a heightened interest in our conference. Twelve weeks out from the conference we were two-thirds of the way to selling out, and our room-block obligation was at 75 percent -- both new records for the association.

Members loved the new approach. We heard from our members and our speakers that they were glad we changed our selection process, and many of our chapters will be adopting a similar approach for their local meetings.

We believe that every member has something to share, and by turning to ours to help generate fresh educational content, we turned an old process into a new and exciting one. We're glad we took the chance, and we're looking forward to this year's Bid & Proposal Con in San Diego, May 15 to 18.

Rick Harris is executive director of the Association of Proposal Management Professionals.