5 Ways to Make In-Person Conferences Worth It

As Association Professionals we are competing with an ever-increasing amount of professional development offerings for our members. From free sponsored webinars to LinkedIn Learning – everyone is vying for our members’ attention. Your association has to create a compelling reason for your members to choose your conference over the alternatives, and when you’re competing against free, it’s an uphill battle. Start creating member value with these 5 ways to make your in-person conference worth attending. 

Start with why.

This is not new, but it will continue to be an integral part of justifying your association’s meetings to your members. If you cannot succinctly share the overarching aim of the meeting, then it is time to have some tough conversations. Your members are asking tough questions and want to know – what’s in it for me? If you aren’t sure how to answer that question, consider a facilitated discussion with your key stakeholders using a methodology like Event Design Canvas. And don’t forget to measure whether that why was met when you are done so that you can apply lessons learned to your next meeting iteration.

Don’t plan a meeting, design an experience.

Once you have defined your meeting’s purpose, you must intentionally design for your intended audience. The thing that separates a meeting from an experience is a deep understanding of the person you are designing for. This starts with an analysis of data that you may already be collecting on your participants but can easily be augmented by surveys, focus groups and facilitated exercises like the Event Design Canvas. Your stakeholders have changed over the last 3 years, and so have their expectations. 

Change behavior.

This is arguably the most difficult feat your association faces. And the only way to help your attendees to change, is by really taking the time to analyze and empathize with them. Ask your stakeholders – what commitment does it take for them to attend your association’s in-person conference? This is everything from time, compromise, money and even opportunity costs – what are they not doing to be at your event? And what do they expect in return for the sacrifice of their time and money? Taking the time to identify and define how we can best alleviate our stakeholders’ pains will help you design for change. 


Engagement isn’t a buzz word, it’s a prerequisite. When you comb through evaluations or solicit feedback from stakeholders, no one mentions that really great 4 hour CE session that was required for recertification. They remember the way they felt when they walked into the General Session at their first association meeting or how it felt to hug a long-time colleague after 3 years apart. So create more engagement opportunities that allow members to connect with each other and minimize the “sage on the stage” same old-same old. We know content is still important and helps justify attendance, so consider more micro-learning, after all, that is what has made TED Talks so successful over 20 years ago. In 2020 we figured out how to deliver professional development digitally, let’s keep doing that so that when we are in person we network and learn from our peers. 

Create connections.

What makes your in-person conference different from the dime a dozen free professional development –  your members…IN REAL LIFE! We know that digital events are here to stay, but the one major roadblock they face is the opportunity to create meaningful connections. And where can we better plan for these interactions? At your in-person conference! Don’t waste the precious time you have in-person by over programming every minute of the day, leave planned and unplanned open time for your members to connect, learn, and grow from each other.

It is worth the effort and time to intentionally design in-person conferences that reflect your stakeholders needs – as of today. But remember, what you design for 2023 won’t necessarily still be applicable in 2024. Continue to be agile in your design process and collect your lessons learned so you can iterate into the future. Reach out to me to talk about Association Meetings, Events and the Event Design Canvas.