Not Another Boring Conference

Guest Blogger - Kent Wyatt

When the Emerging Local Government Leaders (ELGL) network began planning its first conference, the all-volunteer planning committee was unanimous on one essential point: #ELGL13 would be a truly innovative conference experience. Therefore, we were thrilled when attendees evaluated it by saying things like it was “the best one-day conference” they had ever attended. Here’s an overview of three of the concepts that ELGL used to make the conference truly unique:

Using Social Media via “Twitterazzi”

TwitteraziWe coined the hashtag “#ELGL13” for our conference day and encouraged everyone to use this hashtag to share information about the day on Twitter. Then, we formed the “Twitterazzi”, which consisted of 14 ELGL members who were each assigned a different session to “live tweet”. Live tweeting is simply a play-by-play of what is happening during the conference.

This initial team of 14 quickly multiplied once the conference began. A number of attendees created Twitter accounts during the conference so they could add their commentary or pose questions for the speakers. Intentionally using Twitter in this way allowed people who weren’t there to become interactive conference participants.

Creating New Connections

We’ve all been to professional conferences where we congregate with the same people we could see every day at the office or other work events. ELGL was determined to avoid this, so we played the role of matchmaker by assigning the 140 attendees to one of 16 different tables.

How did we assign tables? ELGL asked a number of questions during the registration process such as “Which ‘Parks & Recreation’ character do you best relate to?” or “Have you ever read a Jane Jacobs book?” This created a synergy that added to the value of the conference because people made friends that added to their understanding.

Participating Participants

How do you gain experience when most positions require previous experience? Public speaking at a conference is a prime example of something that the next generation of local government leaders need to experience. So, we added “Lightning Rounds” to #ELGL13 to provide this valuable experience. Some participants were allowed to give the “Lightning Round” talks and were given these instructions: “five minutes… you… a microphone… a projector.” They could literally talk about anything they wanted. Topics ranged from finding workplace inspiration, to investment in electric vehicles, to organizational consolidation. It not only provided them with public speaking experience, it also helped create ownership in the conference.


Developing a conference that is innovative requires using social media in an effective way, creating new connections, and allowing participants to participate—not just observe. If you are intentional about it, you can create excitement that goes beyond the value of the formal presentations. Focus on implementing intentional innovations that will create synergy.

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