Meeting attendance has been on the decline for many associations. If yours is following the trend, it might be time to transform or refresh your meeting. According to Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, CoreNet, an association for corporate real estate professionals, increased registration revenue by 49% and sponsorship revenue by 73% by revamping its meeting, a stunning achievement at a time when many groups are questioning the future of their gatherings.
There are multiple reasons for the decline in association meeting attendance. Some are obvious—the potential attendee pool is smaller, members don’t have the money, attendees go to other events instead. Others are not as obvious—your attendee needs have changed, your event design is not appealing to potential attendees, attendees don’t have a reason to attend.
Many associations benefit from having a fresh set of eyes look at their meetings so they can objectively identify areas for potential improvement. Dana Saal CMP, CAE, Saal Meeting Consulting, specializes in designing and transforming association meetings. Saal begins her work with an association by defining the event’s objective–-the why behind the meeting. Once this is clear, it’s easier to address the how—the structure and content that will steer the process.
In a movement toward increased attendee engagement, Saal suggests including interactive opportunities for today’s adult learners. Using unique room set-ups that accommodate natural attendee/facilitator interaction is one way to enhance attendee engagement. These set ups steer away from theater or classroom style and utilize casual seating, highboys, and pods of mini conference blocks.
Teaching that is more than straight-lecture learning is also important and can include roundtable discussions, group problem solving, flipped teaching (homework done before the session) and hands-on project completion.
To start the transformation process, Saal advises association executives to solicit input from various event stakeholders who are not active members or regular attendees, including former attendees (those who used to attendee but have not participated in a while), industry newcomers who have not participated yet, and current and former exhibitors and sponsors. She recommends including young people in order to get their buy-in now so they will still be attending later.
As you collect input, Saal warns of the following, which can stifle the process:
- Self-imposed blinders
- Fear of change
- The perception that there are insufficient funds
- Misunderstanding about effective processes
- Veterans who are reluctant to change or won’t allow it
- Not identifying the real problem
If your association meeting would benefit from a refresh or transformation, Saal recommends learning more through the Professional Convention Management Association and Meeting Professionals International. She also advises attending other meetings as an observer to garner adaptable ideas, as well as reading industry literature and materials including, “How One Planner Performed Reconstructive Surgery on a Meeting,” where you’ll learn about a meeting transformed in less than a month.
Click here to learn more about Saal Meeting Consulting.