by Tom Isler | October 01, 2007



Do the math. The American Association for Cancer Research has approximately 26,000 members in 70 countries worldwide, and its last annual meeting, held in Los Angeles in April, attracted 17,000 people. That means at least 35 percent of the association’s membership wasn’t present at the conference and therefore missed all of the education sessions led by influential doctors and scientists. Then consider the thousands of nonmember cancer researchers who didn’t attend and that each attendee had to miss at least one session of interest because of scheduling conflicts. The impact of the annual meeting begins to look limited.

That’s why nearly 100 hours of AACR’s annual meeting education sessions were recorded and posted online this year so that anyone can watch the material, complete with slide shows, for free.

“We consider it a service to our members who attended the meeting, those who did not attend the meeting and the cancer research community in general,” explains Jeff Ruben, director of program development for AACR, based in Philadelphia. The price tag for that service exceeded $100,000, and Ruben says it was money well spent.

A growing number of associations are coming to the same conclusion, that meeting content can be captured and repackaged to serve a number of important objectives, including fostering widespread education, generating additional revenue streams, enhancing the brand of the association within its industry, or attracting new members or meeting attendees.

“I would say if you’re an association and not repurposing the educational content and putting it online, you’re out of touch with the marketplace,” says John F. Nawn, vice president of education for the Professional Convention Management Association, based in Chicago.

The challenge for associations looking to distribute their education sessions online is to figure out what exactly they want to make available (all content or only highlights), to whom (attendees, members, subscribers or the general public) and how to pay for it (pay-per-view sessions, subscription packages, increased registration or membership fees, or corporate sponsorships). “There are as many different strategies as there are associations,” says Ellen Moore, vice president of education and program services for Chicago-based SmithBucklin. “Everyone is grappling with this.”

  An online session from the AACR annual meeting

Web ready: An audio recording
of this session at the AACR annual
meeting was synched with the presentation
slide show and packaged with photos
and other information.

What capturing means

Although associations have been selling audio recordings of their meetings for years, recent advances in technology have transformed the meaning of capturing a session. “We’ve moved beyond an audio file being sufficient,” says Brent Rogers, national director of digital services for AVW-TELAV Audio Visual Solutions, a Freeman company based in Dallas.

The new standard for archiving meeting content is to synchronize PowerPoint slides or other images used during the live presentation with an audio recording of the session, so online viewers see and hear roughly the same thing attendees did in person. Many digital service providers go further, allowing viewers to skip through the presentation from slide to slide like chapters on a DVD and search session transcripts with keywords in order to find all relevant material in a meeting archive.

Additional options abound: Some associations record sessions on video; others, who record only audio, add photographs of speakers to show who’s talking; some even allow viewers to type notes as they watch the session and e-mail the text to themselves.

The content can be streamed on the web or made available for download. Many associations, in addition to online efforts, still offer data CDs of the meeting content for purchase.