Flipping the Script on Your Next Annual Meeting

By Matt Dickens, Protech’s LX Product Manager

Virtually every association kicks off its annual meeting the same way, and frankly, I’m ready to see a change.

So what is it that trade and professional associations do? Talk about themselves.

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 begin the same way: a lengthy video or speech (heaven forbid, both!) explaining what’s so great about the association.

Everyone in attendance already knows about the association. They’re already 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.

Host Better Association Meetings

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 again throughout the year. So make sure it’s an event to remember.

It all starts with the opening session. Set expectations and remind people why they are attending.

Your annual meeting is meant to help members network, collaborate and learn. Reminding them of this at the outset will position attendees for a fantastic event.

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 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 they’re 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”
  • “Talk to 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 built, word about your association will start to spread. That’s why 46 percent of executives agree that in-person events are the top marketing channel to achieve key business objectives.

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 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 Meetings the Best Yet

If there’s anything I’ve learned from my years attending association conferences, it’s that no one cares how big and mighty your association is. They just don’t want to hear it. They’re there for themselves.

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.

Which association-related meetings are you attending this year? This webinar, “An Insider’s Perspective: 5 Can’t-miss Association Events of 2019,” highlights a handful of conferences really stand out.