How one district redefined its conference, and succeeded

Quintin Woodon
Quintin Woodon

District Conferences are both a boon and a bane, depending on the Rotary district, the membership, and the time and money Rotarians are willing to invest in them. A Maryland district decided to take a different approach to its annual event. Here’s a report on what was done and how it worked out.

By Quentin Wodon

For the past four years, I have conducted evaluations of our District 7620 conferences using surveys administered through the web. This year our conference was different:

• It was shorter than previous conferences and cheaper to attend.
• It included on the first day several opportunities to participate in community service projects with local NGOs [non-government organizations].
• It had substantially higher attendance (425 registrations) than previous conferences.
• It focused largely on fun and fellowship, with only a few sessions on Rotary matters.
• It involved multiple locations with transportation provided from one location to the other.
• Because the conference was located in an area with several Rotary clubs nearby, many participants were also able to attend without having to book a hotel night.

Did the new format of the conference work? A total of 155 participants responded to the evaluation survey, which makes the results reliable. Overall, the conference was clearly a success. As shown in Figure 1 below, almost half of participants rated the conference as being better than previous conferences. This is slightly below the result for last year at 60%, but still impressive given that for the previous two years (2012 and 2013) most respondents rated the conferences on par with previous conferences. We are getting better at organizing these events.
Figure1

Figure 2 provides data on satisfaction rates with the facilities and various aspects of the conference. The number of respondents for each question and ratings are provided.

Figure2

The ratings look good with most respondents rating most aspects of the conference as very good or good. Fewer responses are provided for hotel rooms because as mentioned many participants did not need to book a room, which is a good thing to keep costs down. The organization of the conference and the opportunities for fellowship were well rated. The categories on learning about Rotary and meeting with the district leadership were less well rated, probably in part because few sessions at the conference focused on Rotary business and training, but even in past conferences, these ratings have not been high. Importantly, the cost of the conference was much better rated than in previous years — the conference was affordable!

Some 25 different sessions were individually rated with at least nine respondents per session (this is a minimum number of respondents to ensure some reliability in the assessment). Six of the 25 sessions got 75% or more “very good” ratings: two of the service project sessions, the high school 4-way speech contest, the Interact session, the Saturday evening dinner with [noted international Rotary figure] Dean Rohrs as speaker, and the subsequent Rock Tenor music performance. In other words, service projects, interactions with youth, and the Saturday capstone events stole the show in terms of approval ratings. Another nine sessions got between 60 and 75% “very good” ratings.

What could still be improved in future years? When asked what types of sessions they would like to see more off, sessions on successful projects and debates/discussions on Rotary and its future were mentioned the most. There were few of these sessions this year, and we should probably have more next year. In terms of speakers, participants would like more motivational and entertaining speakers. Participants would like the conference to remain short at two days. As to whether it is better to have one or more districts present at the conference, the feedback was split between the two options. All of those results were similar in previous years.


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