shark weekMassive size, stunning speed, and a mouth full of razor blades are just a few reasons why millions of viewers tune in each year to the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week each year. It has become somewhat of a religion for shark fanatics to tune in to the week-long programming block that has been on TV since 1988. That’s an incredibly long-lasting programming block that the channel can rely on to drive their numbers and increase sponsorship.

Can you imagine if you were able to create something similar for your association, that you could rely on each year to drive membership or increase non-dues revenue? Most association meeting planners and executives would hope that their annual conferences are their “Shark Weeks”, but frankly, is your event that compelling? Does it push past attendees to keep coming back, and bring their friends and colleagues as well?

Here are 5 Way to Make Your Annual Conference Your Association’s “Shark Week”:

1. Create Original Content & Topics Every Year

Each year, Discovery does a great job of creating new showcases that are very interesting. Whether it’s the story of the ‘Ninja Sharks’ who are the Bruce Lee’s of the ocean, or the ‘Super Predator’ that details how six sharks have developed adaptations that make them effective predators, the topics are unique and interesting, yet still focus on their cash cow, sharks. This is something you need to do regularly as well at your annual conferences.

You need to create the expectancy that your conference will be interesting and fresh, yet still focus on your association’s core values. You don’t always have to talk about boring, 50 year-old standards and policies. Maybe focus on how an association member was able adapt those standards and policies to further their career. Give your content some relevancy and some interest by creating new topics that maybe your attendees and members would have never thought of. Sometimes it’s the thing we least expect that interests us the most, like the thresher shark karate chopping prey with their long tails.

2. Be a Great Storyteller

One of the best things that The Discovery Channel does is telling great stories. They are able to captivate an audience with unique story lines (factual or not) and play on their interests. The great thing is that if someone is a member of your association, you already know that your content is typically going to be of interest to them. Now it’s up to you to create a great story around your content to really show them value.

Something to try: Don’t just tell your attendees about the benefits of being part of your association, give them real-life examples. Have a session full of actual members sharing their successes because of their membership with your association.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Create a Difference of Opinion

Each episode or topic that is aired on Shark Week has shark and sea experts giving their input. A lot of the time, it’s a lot of back patting and shared viewpoints. Once in a while however, it’s great that they use two experts who don’t agree on certain topics and show how they go about proving their viewpoint. That’s truly interesting. Two experts challenging each other and letting the audience make their own conclusions.

One thing I’d love to see is an association bring two though-leaders on a topic together who have different view points. Let them create some thought provoking discussions that the audience can truly see “both sides of the coin” and make their own judgement. Of course, choosing panelists that disagree, but respect the other panelists is key here.

4. Bring in New Speakers

Each year, there seems to be a group of shark experts that make appearances that have appeared before. Obviously, Discovery has good relationships with these experts, because they’re the best in their field, but I love to see when they bring in the younger shark enthusiasts that have their own inventions. During one episode, a local shark wrangler creates a shark decoy named “Parthenope,” and then RIDES it while real sharks take swipes and bites at it. Now that’s enthralling!

We all know most association conferences have familiar faces when it comes to speakers, but never be afraid to give others in the industry a try. Even if they’re younger and maybe newer to the industry. They could have viewpoints that are extremely valuable to your members. Let their fresh look at old topics freshen things up a bit.

5. Make Sharing & Promotion Easy for Attendees

Shark Week has been around since 1988, so the content itself has a compelling reason for people to keep coming back. However, since the introduction of social media and “easy sharing”, it has since become somewhat of a pop culture phenom (for better or worse, depending on who you ask).So why not do the same with your event. Make it as easy as possible for attendees and industry members to share and promote your conference.

  • Create a conference hashtag to help organize and measure all of the social media activity
  • Enable social bookmarking on your conference website
  • Include share buttons on all pre and post show communications