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10 Terrific Tips to Plan a Better Association Conference

10 Terrific Tips to Plan a Better Association Conference

Unlike corporations where meeting attendance is mandatory, association planners need to entice and pull attendees into their conference. Due to regional limitations, budget constraints and members trying to deal with more work in less time, selling your conference may not be a walk in the park.

In fact, research says, on average, only 33% of members attend their association’s convention or conference.

The good news: Association members want to learn something new and network more with their peers. The challenging news: The conference needs to be great in order to justify their time away from the office.

10 Tips to a Terrific Association Conference

  1. Start with Your Event Goals.
    What are you trying to accomplish? How will you measure success? It is best to get your attendees, exhibitors and sponsors involved in this process by making their goals, your goals. Poll them often.
  2. Crowdsource Content.
    Find out what your attendees want to learn about and who they want to hear from. Once you have the content framed, ask association members to vote on it.
  3. Leave Open Time.
    According to MPI, association meeting goers want unstructured time at their conferences for two reasons: 1) They want to network more and desire small meeting areas throughout the convention center or hotel to talk and 2) They need a few hours every day to manage the work back at the home office.
  4. Let Them Outside.
    The Boston Convention Center is onto something; they are creating large outdoor meeting spaces to conduct learning. I see this as a trend throughout the industry in the next few years. Along this line, give attendees boxed lunches or use food trucks and let them go catch some rays and enjoy the fresh air during the lunch period.
  5. Add an Element of Surprise.
    Yes, it is important cover all the content in the agenda guidelines, but add mystery to your event as well. Have a small gift basket placed in attendees’ room upon arrival. Schedule a celebrity at the closing dinner. Take them behind the scenes to a local attraction. Rent iPads instead of having them carry bulky conference binders.
  6. Mix Up Presentation Styles and Times.
    Have panel, lecture, facilitation and audience-run sessions. Mix up the time slots – make presentations 18-minutes (TED), 6 minutes and 20 seconds (Pecha Kucha) or 5 minutes (Ignite). Keep your attendees guessing until they are in the meeting room.
  7. Implement Gamification.
    Attendees love to learn through games, and this is one way to cleverly weave your association and sponsor messages into the content. Segmenting teams and creating a fun, competitive environment is the way to create buzz and fun at your event.
  8. Move through Mobile.
    Whether you rent iPads, rent tablets or have attendees use BYODs (Bring Your Own Device), communicate with them through social channels, texting and email. Real-time options lead to real-time fixes from “the room being too cold” to “I can’t hear the speaker”.

    In addition, if your association meeting is very large, mobile devices act as second screens allowing attendees to see and hear the speaker even if they are located at the furthest point in the room.

  9. Remember the Family.
    Many association members could be sold on a conference if they can bring their family with them. Activities can be planned while the attendee is in the conference or the family can join them before or after your event.
  10. Have Fun!
    Even though your association may have serious issues and challenges to solve, make it a point to implement laughter into your conference every day through entertaining speakers, impromptu activities and icebreakers.

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