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AFS Review: News

2017 Annual Meeting Attendees React to Meeting

Friday, December 15, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Lorraine Cashman
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Roughly 650 people attended the 2017 AFS Annual Meeting in Minneapolis, and exactly 85 told us what they thought about it, submitting their responses to a participant survey that we emailed to all registrants after the meeting.

Overall, the feedback was quite positive. Most of the respondents gave the meeting high marks on a 10-point scale: 84% gave the meeting an 8 or better, and the average and most common score was a 9.

Respondents gave many, wide-ranging answers when asked what worked well. The most frequently praised elements were:

  • The whole thing (15%)
  • The variety of interesting, well-executed sessions (13%)
  • The timing of the schedule, including time for socializing (12%)
  • The Marriott City Center’s central foyer, including casual meeting space (10%)
  • Networking opportunities (9%)
  • The hotel layout or service (8%)
  • Having all sessions in one building (9%)
  • The location of the conference in Minneapolis; the conference app; and technology support (7%)
  • Panel assembly; easy transportation (6%)

When asked to identify their favorite part, respondents singled out:

  • Kay Turner’s Presidential Address (23%)
  • Sessions in general (20%)
  • Networking/socializing (17%)
  • Fellows-sponsored events (14%)
  • Live music and dance events (14%)
  • Cultural Diversity Committee-sponsored events (11%)
  • Tours (10%)
  • The Fake News series, sponsored by the New Directions in Folklore Section (8%)
  • The Opening Ceremony; the Breakfast of (Folklore) Champions, sponsored by the AFS Fellows; and presenting a paper (7% each)
  • The Memorials; the recognition of retiring Executive Director Tim Lloyd; mingling in the Atrium lobby; and the sessions 04-02 “Folklore and Critical Race Studies” sponsored by the Cultural Diversity Committee, and 05-08 “State of the Labor Force,” sponsored by the AFS Committee on Workforce Concerns (6% each)

The single biggest complaint was that there are too many sessions at a time (23%), but many people who say this go on to indicate that this is a price they’re willing to pay; member surveys repeatedly tell us that most think it is important to include as many people in the program as possible. Though almost a quarter of respondents say that this is the one thing they would change if they could, there were few suggestions about how to reduce the number of sessions: Only four respondents urged us to reject more papers in order to reduce the number of concurrent sessions. Other suggestions included adding a day to the conference (5 respondents), prohibiting students from presenting (3 respondents), and making all papers shorter (2 respondents).

When asked to identify aspects of the meeting that didn’t work well, respondents gave a wide range of answers, only agreeing on a few:

  • The layout of the hotel caused problems (16%).
  • The program shouldn’t start so early (10%).
  • There should be more engagement with the conference location (8%).
  • Some events started late or ran long (6%).

More than half of respondents used the annual meeting app (56%), and all but one liked it; more actually said that they would use an app next year (58%). However, the program book still has a loyal following: most app users indicated that they used the book in addition to the app, and 10% of respondents would prefer to use both in the future. While a good number said that they would use only the app in the future (11%), almost as many said they would prefer to use only the printed book (10%) and, indeed, 30% couldn’t use the app for various reasons. Respondents offered suggestions for improvements to the app, like added functionality in the agenda tool; we have shared all of them with Atanto, our app provider.

We asked about attendance for the second year in a row. We learned that most respondents came for the entire meeting (54%); 15% missed only Wednesday. Wednesday was the day that respondents were most likely to have missed (20%), followed by Saturday (9%).

This is also our second year of conducting head counts in each room for concurrent sessions. Like last year, we found:

  • Average audiences were small across the board: Most sessions had 10-20 audience members (42%); the average audience was 19. Only five sessions we counted attracted more than 40 audience members, 30% had 20-40, and 22% had less than 10.
  • Time of day affected audience size, but not as much as, or in the way that, you might expect: Average attendance was lowest in the 8:00 am sessions at 17, but it was 19 at 10:15 sessions, and 20 at 2:00 pm. The two largest audiences were in 8:00 am sessions.
  • Average attendance generally held steady throughout the meeting: Though Friday was slightly better attended than any other day, the average audience on Saturday was the same as on Thursday.
  • Sessions were not the biggest annual meeting attraction: The total attendance in sessions at any given time ranged from 30% to 41% of the total number of people registered for the meeting. In other words, at any given time more than half—and sometimes as many as two thirds—of annual meeting registrants were not in sessions.

Many thanks to all who took time to complete the survey, and to Rosalind Rini Larson for her work analyzing the survey results!

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