Escape the Chaos: Reset the Annual Meeting Experience

Need to reset your association’s annual meeting experience? Follow these tips to make annual event experiences as comfortable as possible for your members.

By Heather Hughes – Marketing Communications Specialist    

The best event planners thrive under pressure. We have to — there’s too much going on around us to react negatively when the going gets tough. However, when the inevitable stress of planning a major event hits, that pressure should never trickle down to members. 

Leading up to an annual meeting or expo, event planners are doing backflips just to keep the chaos controlled. No matter how skilled you are or how much goes right, that many people in one place at the same time requires some serious logistical gymnastics. The trick is to shield all attendees from sensing any issues behind the scenes and creating an atmosphere that can be enjoyed at their own pace. 

As we plan for another Fusion Customer Conference in 2020, we’re always looking for ways to make those event experiences as comfortable as possible for our guests. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years, including some takeaways from ASAE’s Xperience Design Project, to help make your members comfortable at your next annual meeting. 

#1 – Make Event Registration Easier 

A chaos-free annual meeting starts at registration. By making the registration process as smooth and simple as possible, members are apt to register earlier (20 percent of Americans are chronic procrastinators, so don’t make event registration harder than it has to be). 

With simple registration forms and fast, mobile-responsive web pages, signup should be a breeze. Try auto-populating forms for members to remove the first step from the registration process, and send email reminders for registration regularly so members don’t forget. 

This next method to controlling chaos upon registration may sound counter-intuitive: allow members more flexibility. 

If your member-based organization offers different learning tracks at the annual conference, allow members to choose some session that aren’t on their preferred track. Make sure attendees have the option to select their sessions at registration, as well as any time after registration (for those procrastinators).  

#2 – Provide Overflow Session Spaces 

Whether or not you’ve allowed for flexible learning tracks, it’s always helpful to have at least one overflow room. Overflow or satellite rooms offer two key benefits to members, and they also save the organization from having to close the doors to an overcrowded session. 

Benefit #1: Give members a place to enjoy sessions without interrupting the presenter. Plenty of attendees will operate as if this is a working conference — keeping their phone in hand ready to answer any incoming calls or emails. By live-streaming popular sessions in satellite rooms, you’ll provide members with a space where they can feel comfortable moving about freely without interrupting the audience or speaker. 

Benefit #2: Relieve stress of members who can’t get into their preferred sessions. It’s frustrating when a member spends hundreds or thousands to attend your event only to get shut out of a session of interest. It’s those negative experiences which leave a sour taste in a member’s mouth and leave them less than excited to attend your event next year. 

#3 – Add Quiet Rooms 

While overflow rooms provide the perfect space for your multitasking members, quiet rooms have quickly become a trendy addition to the event experience. And with so much going on at these annual meetings, it’s nice to have a designated place set aside to recharge. 

These spaces feature no sessions, networking conversations or even music. It’s a place to recharge after a marathon of sessions or an overabundance of networking that can be emotionally draining for more introverted members. Try setting aside one or two of these spaces at your next event to be sure your members have a place to relax, even just for a brief moment. 

Final Thoughts 

Even though events and annual meetings feel a bit chaotic behind these scenes, these three tips can help put members at ease. As early as registration, members should feel comfortable to do as much or as little as they’d like at your next event. By making registration simple, allowing members to personalize their learning tracks and providing alternative workspaces, you can rest easy knowing that you’ve done everything possible to create a calm, chaos-free event experience. 

To learn more about hosting great association events, check out our on-demand webinar, “Event Experiences: Keep Your Members Coming Back for More.” 

About the Author: Heather is Protech’s resident events guru, planning our Fusion Customer Conference and Protech’s visits to association events across the country.