You plan for your annual conference all year. Attendees fly in from all corners of the world to network and learn from their peers, get energized by keynote speakers, and depart for home filled with excitement to begin implementing conference takeaways into their professional lives. Organizers bask in the glow of positive evaluations and begin to plan for the next year. It’s a wonderful feeling, but it can be fleeting. Attendees go back to work. The glow of the conference dims. Planned collaborations with distant colleagues never materialize.
And yet, the number of conference attendees is on the rise. A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Economic Significance of Meetings to the U.S. Economy shows that nearly 225 million people attended conferences each year.
There are things you, as an association, can do to keep up the momentum going throughout the year and boost conference ROI for attendees. Participants may no longer be in the same room, but you can remain the binding asset keeping them energized, passionate and interconnected all year round.
In our digital world, it’s easier than ever before. We’ve put together some of the most effective ways to keep the conference camaraderie and collaboration going.
Strategy 1: Be Social. This one is simple to implement and will pay off huge dividends in terms of member satisfaction. Post updates and photos on your social media channels and encourage members to share their news and photos as well. Set up an internal message board or create a private members-only group on LinkedIn. Let members know that this is a place where they can share best practices, ask questions and get support. If it applies to your job, it’s fair game on the board.
“The members of one association use their message board for everything from asking for an IT referral to questions about the best way to dispose of office furniture,” says Association Manager Art Cianfano. “When you have members who are geographically diverse, but often have similar questions and needs, it’s really helpful if they can have an online gathering place to connect with peers who may have tackled similar issues before.”
Creating an online community means that someone in Idaho can get advice from someone in Toronto or San Diego. It’s like being able to yell over to the next cubicle, “Hey, how do I…? It helps make a geographically distant group feel like a cohesive unit.
Strategy 2: Share the Conference. Want your members to remember the inspiring keynote speaker? Hope they implement the great suggestions from a panel speaker? Share the materials from the conference, whether it’s videos, PowerPoint presentations or articles. Let members know you’ll be posting the content online. Then share portions of the content throughout the year through email campaigns and e-newsletters.
The North American Association of Commencement Officers (NAACO) often asks members to write about a particular speaker or conference topic and publishes the content throughout the year through member communications. It helps remind people about sessions they attended as a way to relive part of the conference, or if they missed the conference, glean valuable information they can use in their professional careers.
Reminders about online sessions, available presentations or even a takeaway from a speaker can be a valuable reinforcement of the learning opportunity at the annual conference.
Strategy 3: Take it Regional. Hosting a regional event is a way to maintain face-to-face interaction on a smaller scale. Ask members if they’re willing to host one-day sessions featuring presentations, discussions and networking opportunities. Members have a chance to show off their facilities and expertise, as well as interact with peers in a smaller, more intimate setting. It’s often easier for nearby peers to drive a few hours than fly cross country for a multi-day event.
Regional events are a great way to delve into a single topic in-depth and may include brainstorming sessions that pave the way for a presentation at the next annual conference.
Strategy 4: Collaborate & Share: Often there are calendar year events that can help rally and unify members around a specific cause. Members of the Event Services Professionals Association (ESPA) are scattered far and wide across the U.S. and Canada, but each year its sustainability committee celebrates Green Week in April by highlighting the local activities of its different members, whether it’s a tour of the first LEED certified airport or helping to landscape up local riverfront as part of a community service project. Every August, members participate in Celebrate Services Week by acknowledging their participation in the services industry by helping out in service of their community.
ESPA shares this news through its social channels, e-newsletters and online bulletin board. It offers recognition to member participants and shows the impact its member activities can have on the larger community.
Strategy 5: Lunch ‘n Learn. Associations exist because people in the same professional field enjoy learning and networking together. Keep the learning going after the conference by having virtual lunch ‘n’ learn sessions where people convene to learn about a specific topic. One of CMA’s other clients, the National Association of Independent Lighting Distributors (NAILD), has its hands full with constant technological developments in LED lighting. In order to remain ahead of the curve they frequently convene experts to discuss the latest technological developments in the field, as well as general business topics, including “How to Manage Difficult Employees” and “Why your Business Should be on Social Media” to stay connected throughout the year.
Association conferences are great places to share not only industry-specific topics, but also general business issues that all professionals face. The more you can help your members succeed in all aspects of their professional lives, the more value you bring to them and the more engaged they become in your mission.
Conference attendees typically leave the annual conference energized by new ideas and with the best of intentions to keep that momentum going throughout the year. But, life intervenes and before you know it the conference is but a distant memory. Association management plays a key role in keeping the messages fresh, available and working to create a community of peers and resources after the conference is over.
Keeping attendees interested and engaged will not only increase the value of association membership, but encourage your members to become brand ambassadors of the association, touting its benefits across the industry.
If you would like to leverage CMA’s experience helping associations achieve year round engagement, please contact us at 800-852-4269 or email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.