The Conference Seminar, Or “Didn’t We Cover That Last Year?”

By Michael Mackay


As you find yourself considering a trip to this year’s summer summit, you may be perusing the seminar topics and saying, “Oh, didn’t we cover that last year?” As much as things change in the association world, many of the core problems and challenges remain the same, year to year and month to month.  You may be asking yourself, “What is the benefit of attending the same or similar seminars this time around?”

You can keep these ideas in mind the next time you attend a session that seems all too familiar.

Repetition, repetition, repetition

Important subjects need to be repeated over and over in order to ensure full understanding.  There are also core learning principles that just don’t change much over the years, and it’s never a bad idea to review them so it becomes easier to download to your staff.

No seminar is ever the same twice

The content in a particular set of seminars may be more or less the same, similar to the way content is the very similar when on-boarding new staff members. However, no one on-boarding meeting goes exactly the same as the last. The same is true with other types of educational seminars. Each seminar brings with it its own set of people and questions. A good speaker will engage the audience, bringing to light new points, and perspectives that may have not come up before.

You are the instructor

If you attend the same type of seminars often enough, you become the content expert. You gain the confidence required to engage further with the speaker and the audience. You assist with the overall engagement of the session by having that expert status, and being the leader in the room. This is particularly useful in sessions that are run as workshops, where teams are put together to work through issues. You can guide people who are newer to the content, which will help your own understanding of more complex issues.

That one new question

Educational sessions always have that one new attendee or a return attendee who’s gone out and practiced what they learned from the previous session and has a new input. There is often that one question that is brought up that you’ve never heard before. Sometimes there’s that one question or objection the speaker isn’t prepared for either. These are both great opportunities to work through a new problem or perhaps highlight an issue you too may face in the near future.

The next generation

Looking to hire your future replacement? Take a look around the room and see who is engaged, who’s challenged. One of these people might make a great asset to your association. They may be in the learning phase, bring new perspectives, or offer new experiences. There’s no better place to hear about how they’ve changed their association’s philosophy and developed new culture and heightened resources than in a workshop or seminar. These types of educational seminars are great opportunities to meet the future of the association space.

Goal tracking

How have you improved? Re-attending a seminar on a similar topic you covered before is a solid way to measure how your association has improved since you last reviewed the topic.  Have you taken advantage of what you’ve learned, and put it to use? Are you seeing the same improvements as your peers?

The world is an ever-changing place

There is often a reason behind having recurring seminar topics each year. Some topics, particularly any relating to technology, have to be extremely fluid. Every year, there are new developments, new metrics, and new principles that have to be learned and applied. If you don’t keep up with these updates, you can quickly find yourself behind the metaphorical eight ball.

Finding a solution

Perhaps the reason a seminar topic seems to be often repeated is due to the fact that nobody has found a solid solution to the high level problem the topic covers. There is likely a great number of suggestions, tactics and approaches that can be taken, but nobody has yet to perfect it, and it requires more discussion. Your experience and knowledge may be a key factor here.


Michael Mackay is a Sales and Marketing Associate at Spongelab Interactive. He works with not-for-profits, associations, and other organisations to design and build platform technology to handle educational, training and organisation needs.