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Avoiding the “Expired Factor” in Annual Programs

Annual programs are the bread and butter of most CLE providers. Notwithstanding this, many providers are either too busy or don’t recognize the importance of keeping these hard workers fresh year over year. Here is a quick twelve point checklist to avoid the “best before” blues.

1. Always use an evaluation form. Don’t accept anything less than a 50% response rate and aim for much higher. Review all feedback for three kinds of comments: 1) what didn’t work; 2) what did work but can be improved upon in the future; and 3) what topics participants want to see in future programs.

2. Keep a running list in next year’s program file of suggestions for changes over last year and additional topics. While this year’s program is still fresh in your mind, create next year’s file – delete from next year’s agenda the topics, presentations and speakers that were poorly received, and explore how to make room for new elements.

3. Attend every program or send a proxy. Small gems come out of every attendance – a single question that could give rise to a whole panel discussion, a panel discussion that may justify its own half or full day program, repeat questions on the same topic from the audience that suggest demand for more programming on a topic, a new speaker who is capable of more, etc.

4. Stay on top of the market – see what other providers are doing with similar topics.

5. Keep a running list of future content and marketing ideas, and open it up as each new planning cycle starts. Have an interesting brochure for an examination-in-chief program from another jurisdiction? Open next year’s examination-on-chief file and see if you can work it in.

6. Plan early – the earlier you get your faculty involved in developing content, the less likely it is that you and they will resort to last year’s agenda because of time pressure.

7. Establish quotas for change year over year (ie. in year 3 you can go back to some of what you did in year 1 that you back-burnered in year 2). Your quota will depend on the type of program you are delivering.

8. Change up marketing materials from year to year – focus on what’s new this year.

9. Change program content, structure, and delivery format. Even if core competencies don’t change, how you package and put those together should change from year to year. Shift the order of key topics or elements, experiment with different approaches (ie. panel v. 4 “10 minute” stand-alone talks, demonstration v. debate, etc.), use new fact scenarios, and consider changes in delivery format (a half day program on expert evidence may draw bigger numbers or a different audience repurposed as a 90 minute webinar). Something as small as a change in focus – going from a mixed practitioner/judges presentation to a “perspectives from the bench” presentation can draw a new audience, change up your experience level, and put a fresh face on recycled content.

10. Change your faculty list from year to year. Establish quotas for diversity and fresh/new faces, and develop strategies for achieving these.

11. Ask faculty to submit original written material for each program they participate in. At minimum, ensure that a small number of faculty contribute original work. Even two or three new papers a year can make a difference.

12. Use technology to help keep programs fresh, and create audience engagement and interactivity – choose new subjects for PowerPoint presentations each year, experiment with video versus live demonstrations, try Turning Point and other audience response systems, expand your reach with webcasts, etc.

Keeping annual programs fresh isn’t as daunting as it seems, but it is important. Remember the 80/20 rule – 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers. How much of your 20% is coming back next year?

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