How Micro-Staff Associations Can Streamline the Abstract Submission Process

Micro-Staff February 11, 2020 By: Elizabeth Schlicht, CAE and Jordan Held

One AMC leveraged a digital work-management tool to drastically streamline processes related to its association clients’ conferences. Even better: It also reduced staff time by 50 percent compared to the former paper-centric process.

The stage was set for a revamp that would streamline the abstract submission process: Our AMC had inherited a paper-heavy process to manage numerous continuing medical education (CME) meetings for multiple clients with similar information and speaker requirements. For these associations, which also happened to be micro-staff, any time savings has a major impact on overall programming and staff’s ability to move multiple projects forward.

While many larger medical associations manage the abstract submission process using a platform specifically built for that task, this technology isn’t necessarily accessible to associations operating with smaller budgets, prompting many to search for a more budget-friendly, efficient alternative.

Since we already use the work-management tool Smartsheet for many different processes, timelines, and projects, we figured it could also be leveraged to manage the submission process, speaker management process, CME submission process, and grant application process. By doing so, we were not only able to drastically streamline these connected processes but also reduce staff time by nearly 50 percent when compared to the paper-centric process.

Before introducing or implementing any new tool, it’s important to keep your end needs in mind. For instance, what data are you looking to capture with this form or spreadsheet, and how do you need to export and share it to make it usable?

We were not only able to drastically streamline these connected processes but also reduce staff time by nearly 50 percent when compared to the paper-centric process.

We first rolled out the tool for speaker management, capturing vital biographical information, speaker credentials, honoraria choices, as well as their session titles and objectives. Utilizing a form to collect this information, while also enabling supporting files to be uploaded (e.g., required disclosure forms, slides, and so forth), allowed for easy real-time tracking. Both staff and leaders always know who had not yet submitted this important information, which empowered them to follow up with confirmed speakers to ensure timely submissions.

Since information is available as soon as it’s submitted and alerts can be set to notify you when that happens, it allows you to make changes and market your meeting in real-time. This is a key asset for ensuring earlier and overall higher registrations for many associations.

Once collected, the information is all housed in one spreadsheet, which allows for easy downloading to support CME applications for sessions—all without needing to copy/paste or retype from word doc or PDF speaker form submissions into internal and external housing documents. This ensures accuracy, while also drastically cutting the amount of staff time needed to complete this vital task. This same information can be shared through limited reporting for grant writing support, with columns added to allow for submission, approval, and reporting/reconciliation tasks.

Once the speaker management workflow had been successfully implemented, we then launched a new call for session proposals utilizing the same format. This was a new process and saw immediate success from our membership, with more proposals submitted in the first week than needed to fill the conference. The submissions were also easy to share with the planning committee through reports within Smartsheet, which allow for real-time review and decisions.

While we did hit some speedbumps that led us to slightly revamp the build and notifications structure, the overall strength of session submissions, ease of speaker packet submission, and significant time saved by staff has been a boon for these conferences and clients.

Elizabeth Schlicht, CAE

Elizabeth Schlicht, CAE, is executive director at Association Acumen in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.

Jordan Held

Jordan Held is membership and digital marketing manager at Association Acumen in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.