The Three Keys to Purposeful & Strategic Association Events
One of the key membership benefits of any association is the ability to participate in an Annual Meeting or Conference. In my last blog, 5 Trends Shaping the Future of Association Meetings and Events, I named purposeful & strategic event strategy as one of the key trends that association professionals must consider as they build out their future member engagement opportunities. Association meetings and events are not piecemeal. Each one contributes to your overall meetings and events program and plays a key role in member engagement and retention. There are some members that will only have one extended interaction with your association, and that happens at a meeting – make sure you are dedicating the right resources necessary to make that experience count.
1. Your association is only as successful as your members, so your association’s meetings and events are essential to providing them with the solutions and tools they need to succeed. This could mean a robust trade show with technology solutions or professional development that targets their business acumen. Your association meeting has the unique ability to uncover member pain points and address them through education and engagement. Take the time to listen to your members (stakeholders). To craft the right kind of experience, you have to be in tune with your audience and understand their human needs and desires. Ask questions to be able to design with their satisfaction and success in mind.
2. For some of you members, your Annual Conference will be the only exposure to the association. You may offer a diverse member benefit portfolio, but for some the professional development and networking that are offered at your Annual Meeting will be the only benefit members experience. Making networking an intentional aspect of your conference is crucial. What does intentional mean? It depends on the member and your association. Remember one size doesn’t fit all. Consider offering a variety of formats from virtual cohorts to brain dates to roundtables. The key to each of these formats is to set your members up for success by providing agendas, transparent communication and psychological safety in each of these scenarios.
3. Be inclusive. Some of your members are attending your meeting for the first time, so don’t miss this opportunity to provide a warm welcome. This is how you set the tone for their membership experience. But don’t wait to create safe spaces until the day of the event – inclusivity should start before the meeting. Make sure you are involving diverse perspectives on your planning committees, as well as in your speaker and vendor selection. Priya Parker, author of The Art of Gathering, emphasizes the importance of setting the stage for inclusion before your meeting even begins. Take the time to focus on structural behaviors that make people feel comfortable. And once that stage is set, ensure that you are practicing inclusion throughout.
Every association meeting is an opportunity to create a dialogue with members, gather feedback and create an engaging experience that leads to member retention and raving fans. Make your meetings count. Connect your mission and vision to the meeting and make sure that the purpose of the meeting is clear. Taking the time to develop a purposeful event strategy can be the key to your association’s overall health and continued member engagement and retention.