Having a successful conference is a top priority for meeting planners. But what makes a conference successful? As part of our recent industry survey, we asked association professionals what they viewed as their top conference goal. “Increasing conference attendance” was by far the most popular response. (The complete results of the survey are available for download in our 2017 State of the Conference Industry Report.)
“Increasing conference attendance” can’t be done by focusing solely on attracting new attendees. You need to make sure that your previous conference attendees return, as well. Yet, many associations fall into a pattern of repeating the same things they’ve done in the past. This type of “conference rerun” can deter members from returning to your events. Don’t stick with what you know! Here are 6 tips to get your members excited to return to your next conference.
Bring in new speakers with an open call
According to our report, 27% of associations use an “invite only” speaker selection process, as opposed to open calls. Holding an open call for papers doesn’t just help you find new and up-and-coming speakers, it can also help your members stay engaged and active in your association by giving them the chance to play a role in your conference.
Don’t just invite the same people back year after year. Bring in new types of conference speakers with diverse job functions or points of view to keep your presentations fresh.
Provide fresh content and messages
No one wants to return to a conference that covers the same material as the previous year. Industries are always changing, and to stay relevant, your conference content should keep pace with those changes, as well. Choose timely topics that have groundbreaking research or are in the news. Highlight new regulations, trends, best practices, or case studies.
Aim to teach your attendees something brand new each year by dedicating a part of your conference to a new and trending idea.
Give your attendees a voice, too! After your next conference, ask attendees what they would like to learn in the future.
Use different themes for each year’s conference
Having a special focus lets conference attendees get in-depth information on a particular topic. Themed conferences can help differentiate one year’s conference from the previous year and make your event memorable.
To come up with a theme, choose a broad topic that is relevant to your industry and that generates wide interest. For example, a restaurant association may hold an event with a food safety theme.
Offer new ways of delivering your conference content
Changes in technology mean that content formats are always shifting. Association professionals see this shift in the changing preferences of their attendees. What worked in the past is not guaranteed to be the best option in the future.
Take a new approach to how you deliver content at your conference. In addition to traditional printed materials, offer content on a mobile event app, digital content library or USB. This blended approach allows conference attendees to choose the format that best suits their learning style. You may even want to send a survey to your past attendees to see what kinds of formats they prefer or would like to see in the future.
Change up the way you run your sessions
Conferences provide attendees with a lot of information. Sitting and listening can be tiresome. Keep your conference fresh by offering a variety of session formats, such as workshops and roundtables.
While you’re asking your attendees about their content and format preferences, ask what other types of sessions they’d like to see next year. This can add another layer of engagement and may help your attendees feel like a part of the process.
Use your conference content to market for next year’s event
The life of your our content doesn’t have to end with the event. Re-use these educational materials year-round to stay on your attendees’ radars. Ask speakers to help promote your event on social media before and after your conference by providing new content specifically for your marketing purposes.
Only 55% of associations currently re-use content from their conference for any purpose. Don’t miss an opportunity to generate awareness and build excitement for next year’s event.
A quick survey of your previous conference attendees can provide some great insights on how to tailor your event to the most important people in your organization—your members—and increase return attendance from year to year.
Read the full 2017 State of the Conference Industry report to learn other best practices and challenges that conference professionals face before, during, and after their event.