The annual conference is a laborious process that requires a lot of diligent planning. A proactive approach to preparation will allow for a less stressful, even enjoyable, planning experience.
Please don’t let the warm temperatures and the beach sand slipping through your toes fool you.
At CMA, an accredited association management company, we refer to the summer months as the beginning of the “marathon towards a successful annual conference.” Like a marathon, planning for your annual conference takes preparation, endurance and a great support system. We are here to act as your support system and help you execute a successful annual conference. There are many components that go into planning the annual conference such as location, speakers, and what will be given out to the members, etc. Many of you may still be at the starting line, so do a few mental jumping jacks and let’s run through the six-month conference check-in:
Choosing a location is your first, most important step. If you have yet to begin planning, booking a venue should be your first step. In fact, it is common to book a location a year in advance. If you are venue-less while reading this, please open an internet browsing tab and start looking now! Reserve the necessary block of rooms and get that hotel contract signed. Not only do venues rent out quickly, you also need to announce the location to your members so that they can begin making the necessary travel arrangements. While looking in to booking the location, look to see where most of your members and new initiatives are coming from and see if you can find a venue that is close and convenient to most of them. As an accredited association management company, this will make the impression that you are being not only thoughtful but also considerate to when it comes to getting to the event.
Set up an open conference registration to make things easier for your attendees. Once the venue is booked, members can RSVP, send their payments and reserve rooms at the hotel. RSVP is much more reliable and can help make the arrangements go smoother and quicker. Make sure to answer all questions (also for your guest if applicable) throughout the registration process. The sooner you can open registration the better, because it will help your members finalize favorable travel itineraries. Also, remember to have various options when it comes to your members making their payments.
Book a keynote speaker and finalize the program ahead of time to ensure the utmost quality and care in these key part of the conference. The keynote is an integral component of your program and an element that should be squared away months in advance. To find a speaker who will best enhance the experience of your members, the research, communication and contract negotiation process must begin now with an accredited association management company. The keynote speaker should display the qualities that any accredited association management company would like to display to its members. In addition to the keynote speaker, you might want to plan an excursion as a part of the conference program. Examples of fun, offsite activities like trips to the zoo, aquarium or bowling. If an offsite activity is something you want to include, then you should organize this right away.
Order food/ beverages & association swag to keep the conference fun and exciting. Food and beverages are a “must have” for your conference. You should know who is going to cater the event and have an idea of what you plan to serve. It’s best to lock down your caterer and at least a tentative menu as soon as possible. Your menu, depending on the duration of your event, should be able to satisfy everyone who is attending the annual conference. It is important to make sure that you have enough of food and plenty of variety so that everyone can enjoy. Also, don’t forget everybody’s favorite part of the annual conference: all of the free association swag! As an accredited association management company, we start thinking of which promotional items we want to order, and make sure to look up pricing online to help manage conference budgets around the six-month mark prior to event day.
Embrace member suggestions to create an environment of learning, understanding, and open communication. Whether one of your committees wants to unveil a new initiative or a member offers to help at the registration table, be open to all ideas. New initiatives and members can help to build a sturdy foundation to a great overall successful annual conference. A great way to solicit suggestions is to just ask. Ask your committee chairs, send out an email or even an eblast to your entire membership. Members are hard-working volunteers and their enthusiasm can help you pull off a great event. If your new initiatives see how enthusiastic your members are about their positions then they will feel more comfortable and want to become members as well.
Build hype in order to garner excitement and get attendees looking forward to the event. While the annual conference requires a lot of hard work and planning, it is important not to lose sight of why you have it in the first place. It is intended to be a fun, informative and educational experience where your association members can make meaningful connections, collaborate on ideas, learn new information/technology and so much more. The hype coming from an accredited association management company will make the members engage more and get more into the conference, making it successful. Leverage social media, public relations and advertisements to create hype. Get your members excited! Make them realize that what they are learning is fun and can benefit them in the long run and not a waste of their time. This can be an exciting few hours that can make for a lifetime of high achievements for both the company and its members.
Planning for any major event takes time and preparation, especially one as important as your conference. Don’t jeopardize its success by failing to plan efficiently and effectively. The annual conference does not have to be the looming raincloud ready to ruin the vacation you so greatly deserve. Start jogging now, so you don’t have to sprint later.