The following post is a guest contribution from Protech Associates - an Association Management Software - written by Matt Dickens, Protech's LX Product Manager.
Virtually every association kicks off its annual meeting in the same way, and frankly, I'm ready to see a change. So what's the problem with the typical meeting format? Too often, association leaders spend too much time talking about the organization, and not enough about their members.
I can't tell you how many association meetings and conferences I've attended over the years, both as an association IT director and a technology vendor, and it seems like they all use the same opening presentation template: a lengthy video or speech explaining what's so great about the association.
But everyone in attendance already knows about the association. They're at the event! Of course they know what's great about the organization. Instead, associations should focus on the top benefit of hosting an annual meeting - the collaboration among members.
The opportunity to host a meeting of this scale presents itself once a year. You're not going to get this many members in one place at the same time until next years event. Make sure it's one to remember.
Here are two benefits and one piece of advice to make your next annual conference all about your members.
1 - Build Better Member Relationships
From the minute members register online and attendees walk in the door, emphasize and re-emphasize the importance of building better relationships. People attend this conference from far and wide to get to know other people in their field. They want to know which innovative practices their fellow members are employing. Maybe other members are looking for their next job.
Most importantly for your association, it's those new relationships founded at this year's annual meeting that will have people coming back for more.
Use that opening session to set the stage with key messages:
- "Collaborate with others"
- "Speak with people attending the same sessions you are"
- "Share what you've learned, and ask about what you don't know"
The awards, self-recognition and pats on the back can wait.
2 - Boost Word of Mouth
Now that all those relationships have been established, word about your association will spread. Imagine members saying, "Oh, I learned this at so and so's event!"
This kind of unique, post-event knowledge transfer is just what you need to get non-members inquiring about membership. It's the kind of information they can't learn with a simple Google search.
3 - Crowdsource Next Year's Theme
The annual meeting doesn't focus entirely on collaboration among members. Use the opening session to get members thinking about why they showed up in the first place. Now that you've planted the seed, start walking around and asking why people attended. Whatever the plurality of what folks tell you, that's what you'll want to focus on next year.
And don't forget to ask people what they want to learn, too. Make that the focus of next year's learning sessions, or maybe even the theme of the overall meeting.
Make Next Year's Association Meeting the Best Yet
If there's anything I've learned from my years of attending association conferences, it's that no one cares how big and mighty your association is. Instead, focus on what attendees can do to make the most of their event experience, how they should manage their time and why they must spend time networking.
It may seem counter-intuitive to use your best marketing opportunity this way, but it's the way of the future for association annual meetings and it's what the attendees want.
Looking for more ways to flip the script on your next annual meeting? Download Protech's free e-book, Revolutionize Your Annual Meeting: How to Host An Annual Conference That Will Keep Your Members Coming Back Year-After-Year, for more tips from Matt Dickens and Protech's event expert Heather Hughes.