How We Helped NCME Profit on Pandemic Conferences

The Challenge: After deciding to throw their own annual conference in early 2020, NCME needed to both organize a conference for the very first time and pull it off in an all-virtual environment amidst the societal chaos at the beginning of the pandemic.

Our Solution: We helped NCME elevate their virtual conference from a webinar to a fully engaging virtual experience, with the added bonus of drastically improving their profit margin.

The Numbers: $90,000 in conference revenue, far exceeding the goal of breaking even.


The Feedback: “Talley staff are professional, knowledgeable and easy to work with. They have great institutional knowledge, are creative with their solutions, and are dedicated to serving our membership.”

For over 20 years, the National Council on Measurement in Education (NCME) has been promoting the knowledge, understanding, and implementation of best practices in educational measurement for university faculty, testing specialists, professional evaluators, and more. NCME enlisted Talley for full-service association management in 2019, in order to take the organization to the next level.

NCME has traditionally worked with the American Educational Research Association (AERA) to execute their annual conference. As the pandemic hit immediately before the delivery of the 2020 event, AERA decided to cancel all components. NCME then made the decision to host a solo conference, despite all of the challenges that the transition to virtual events posed at the beginning of the pandemic. As their AMC partner, Talley was there to guide NCME through this chaotic time and help them host a successful, all-virtual conference for the first time.


The challenges of an early-pandemic conference

Not only did NCME need to battle a rapidly-changing world while planning their conference, but they also needed to navigate the planning on their own for the first time. Finding the right way to deliver a valuable experience in a new, all-virtual environment right when the pandemic was kicking off was always going to be challenging.

As a strategic partner, Talley also looked for ways to shift NCME’s perception of the purpose and impact of an annual conference — that not only could it provide a valuable experience for members, but it could also generate significant revenue for the association. Talley showed them how conferences could be monetized to both share key information and raise funds. In the transition from 2020’s conference to 2021, Talley worked to find ways to monetize the annual conference and help NCME grow.

Addressing the challenges head-on

Creating an engaging event

While the 2020 conference became tangled in the complications of planning an event as COVID hit, it provided an opportunity to troubleshoot the move to a virtual platform and test what worked for the organization and its members. NCME decided to expand their conference and offer fewer concurrent sessions. Before 2020, NCME needed to run events concurrently, up to 15 at a time, to accommodate all the programs. The move to a virtual platform allowed NCME to extend their conference and have fewer overlapping panels and speaker events, making it more accessible to their members, who no longer had to make the hard choices of which events to attend and which to skip.

Overall, the 2020 conference was a massive success, in spite of the challenges posed in the planning process. Members expressed appreciation for NCME’s dedication to sharing valuable educational information with its members in such a volatile time, and on the whole, it went off without a hitch.

When it came time to plan the 2021 conference, Talley and NCME had a clearer idea of what was needed to surpass attendees’ expectations. Expanding the conference worked well in 2020, and the challenge for 2021 was to make it a more seamless and authentic experience.

The clearest improvement that needed to be made for 2021 was the conference’s hosting platform. While the online meeting solution for 2020 sufficed, it didn’t allow for an interactive and engaging experience for attendees. After testing many platforms for their real-time broadcast capabilities, 1:1 meeting scheduling, and audience participation features, Talley decided to implement a solution that already had positive response from other event management clients.

Finding profits during a pandemic

Another goal that Talley set out to achieve while planning the 2021 conference was to transition the conference from a dissemination of important research and information to a monetized opportunity. As a strategic partner, Talley works to find opportunities like these that help organizations meet their goals with the added benefit of unlocking additional revenue streams. With all of the improvements to the conference itself for the 2021 event, plus the planning and marketing that Talley contributed, the result was a highly successful and profitable conference.

As the event planners, Talley was able to support NCME’s “logistical needs in the transition through detailed planning and excellent execution,” and came to the table prepared for anything while the world endured through the pandemic. At one point, Talley stepped up to lead the RFP process to find a hotel to host an in-person conference while NCME still hoped for a live event after their initial venue had been canceled. The quick turnaround and flexibility on Talley’s end helped NCME plan for multiple event possibilities in an unpredictable time.

The results of a successful partnership

At the close of the 2021 conference, attendees were thoroughly impressed with the virtual conference that NCME hosted. NCME also managed to reach 1,100 attendees, far above their initial goal of 750. With the overwhelming positive feedback in a turbulent time, NCME was thrilled with the results of the conference.

In addition to positive feedback, NCME also saw impressive revenue from the event. While the goal was to break-even on the conference, with Talley’s planning NCME was able to make a profit of nearly $90,000. Never having monetized their conferences before, the 2021 event allowed NCME to see the potential for their content to generate revenue that could be reinvested into the association to improve future events.

Talley and NCME were able to build an impressive conference, despite the circumstances, and look forward to working together in the future for even more success. When asked about Talley’s role in the conference planning, NCME said “Talley staff are professional, knowledgeable and easy to work with. They have great institutional knowledge, are creative with their solutions, and are dedicated to serving our membership.”

Large scale conferences always pose unique challenges, but for NCME, the circumstances of planning an event while a pandemic changed everything made planning their annual conference more difficult than ever. With Talley’s expertise and hands-on team, virtual events and conferences become easier to plan than ever. No matter what event or meeting you need to plan, our experts are here to guide you to success in a changing world.

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