Mickie over at We Have Always Done It That Way has a must-read post for association meeting planners about how just providing tracks at your conference isn't enough: You have to put the information in context. From her post:
Change the way you organize conferences. Donâ€™t just plan lots of individual sessions. Tracks are better, but not enough. Plan the track as a coordinated curriculum and have speakers work together to build upon each otherâ€™s sessions.
Provide pre-conference recommended readings to attendees to set the stage for the material they are about to learn
Encourage speakers to build meaningful case studies and problem-solving activities into their sessions.
Build lots of peer-to-peer sharing into the event, both structured and unstructured.
Continue the conversations post-conference with list-serve discussions or online communities.
Another point I'd like to add is that context also means putting the content into the context of your attendees' real lives. I've been to too many sessions for my own profession where the ideas are great, wow, I'd love to do it here. But, unlike the presenters, we don't have the resources to make it happen. There are so many barriers to making something learned turn into something done, and a lot of it comes down to gearing the information to the reality of your attendees' environment—their context, not the organization's, and not the presenter's. This is an issue the continuing medical education community struggles with daily; I'd like to see more thought go into it in other areas as well.