Thursday, December 15, 2011

7 Ways to Turnaround Your Meeting Attendance

In a recent Association Trends poll, trade associations and professional societies expressed surprise at higher-than-projected attendance this spring. But they remain only cautiously optimistic about future attendance as uncertainty about the US economy looms.

After 25+ years of managing conferences, workshops and meetings, I’ve found 7 ways that you can sustain growth in meeting attendance:

1. Topics are key

  • In surveys asking “why did you attend our conference” over the last 20 years, the No. 1 response has always been ... the conference’s content or topics. Not the location. Not the food. Not the “big name” speakers. Not the networking. Instead, members and other participants focus on what they will learn and experience if they decide to sign up to attend.
2. Advance notice importance
  • People are busy. They have other events/conferences to attend. They may want to plan a family vacation around your event. They may need to get the funds in next year’s budget. So, advance notice is extremely important.
  • If your event requires travel/overnight stay, the initial save the date notice should go out at least nine months before the event. (By the way, this is in addition to your announcement of “next year’s event” at the “this year’s conference.”)
3. Pre-conference publicity
  • Send notices about speakers (as they are booked) with a focus on their topic ... what are the 3-5 key points your audience will learn?
  • Use multiple media platforms: direct mail, website and social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook. 
  • Be sure you establish a Twitter hashtag (#) early ... include it in the “save the date” notice and in all other conference promotions.
  • Ask speakers to Tweet (using the hashtag) comments or key tips starting 3-4 weeks before the conference.

4. Post conference ... builds for the following year
    Don’t waste this year’s conference ... use it to build for next year!

  • Compile and provide the Twitter stream to your members and post to your website
  • Conduct onsite interviews (with speakers or attendees) and share via Twitter, Facebook, your YouTube channel and your website.
  • Verne Harnish has created a Gazelle’s YouTube channel that features video interviews of speakers at his Fortune Leadership Conference. See, for example, this video interview with author Daniel Pink.  The videos provide value to Verne’s members and promote the conference for the next year.
  • See how the folks at the Content Marketing World are using 2011 testimonials to boost 2012 registration ... nine months before the event! “Over 99% of Content Marketing World attendees said that they would attend again.”  
5. Live streaming extends value
  • Use the conference as part of your overall content management strategy.
  • You can live stream the entire conference or just selected breakout sessions.
  • No, live streaming the conference does NOT cannibalize registrations; in fact, it helps boost attendance as people “see what they are missing.”
6. Presentation Styles/Strategies

7. Price IS a factor
  •  I’ve never forgotten advice from an ASAE presenter back in the 1980s: the registration fee is the smallest part of the full cost of attending a conference. She was right! Airfare, hotel and the value of time away from your business (especially for entrepreneurs, freelancers and others) combine to make the cost of attending the typical 2-3 day conference well over $2,500.
  •  Don’t know about you and your organization but over the last several years I’ve seen members and boards make significant “noise” to lower registration fees and find other ways (such as shorter conferences) to lower the costs to attend.
What have your or your organization done to help enhance conference value and/or increase or maintain attendance?

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