There are almost no limits to the uses of crowdsourcing.

Large companies like Starbucks use it to keep an open line of communication with their customers, seeking new product ideas.

Individuals use it every day to become self-educated buyers, posting queries on social media: “Hey, hivemind, what’s your favorite dishwasher brand?” or “Which restaurant has the best gluten-free pizza?”

And, in the meeting and event industry, planners can engage attendees before an event, starting the conversation early, tapping into their wants and desires during the planning stages and getting them invested in the experience.

Crowdsourcing can be as simple as soliciting topic or speaker suggestions from potential attendees, allowing the community to vote on the submissions. This can be done well ahead of time or, in some formats, at the event itself, deciding the next day’s agenda.

It can also be more involved, inviting people to apply to be a speaker at your event, something SXSW has perfected with their PanelPicker. On that platform, people submit proposals for sessions they want to present. Those ideas are voted on by other users and eventually by the SXSW planning team.

This, too, can be done well ahead of time or at the event itself. An added bonus noted by SXSW in a recent interview with Skift: When people submit their proposals for public vote, they start promoting them on social media, asking others to vote for it. That serves to promote the event ahead of time as well as well as the idea.

No matter how it’s used, there are a few things to keep in mind to avoid potential pitfalls.

Make sure you have the resources

If you’re starting the conversation early by inviting ideas or presentation submissions, make sure you have the resources to keep up your end of the conversation. It will take time to manage the submissions and engagement.

Speaker preparation

Those eager presenters who win the online vote? They may not be professional speakers. Think about how you can encourage a quality presentation, like providing a tip sheet or guidelines and allowing plenty of preparation time. Require presentation materials to be submitted for review. This can guard against speakers turning their time into a sales pitch.

Stay in control

Finally, make sure you maintain final decision-making power. Many events and conferences are designed to be educational. Teachers would never give students total control over the curriculum, so make sure quality content is presented regardless of the crowdsourcing results. Remember: When you open voting up to the internet, interesting things can happen. (See R.S.S. Boaty McBoatface)

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