By Matt Dickens, Protech LX Product Manager
If you’re one of the 41 percent of marketers who believe that events are your single most effective marketing channel, you know that you can’t afford to botch your next annual meeting. And yet, I’ve been to enough trade and professional association annual conferences to know that plenty of organizations still miss the mark.
So how do you make sure your next annual meeting is one to remember? Focus on fostering collaboration and setting up spectacular networking opportunities that make members want more year-after-year.
With the following three suggestions, attendees will enjoy their newfound networking opportunities, but your association can expect increased registrations and happier attendees.
3 Ways to Improve Association Networking at Your Annual Meeting
1 – Keep Sessions Short
According to the fine folks over at Microsoft, the average human attention span is only eight seconds long — shorter than that of a goldfish. Beyond eight seconds, Microsoft found people generally lose concentration.
So, about those two-hour sessions at your annual meeting…
If an increasingly digitized world has our brains craving short bursts of information over long-form lectures, wouldn’t 20-minute sessions be more stimulating?
But what do you do with all that time between sessions, you ask? Host gatherings or meetups where attendees can discuss what they’ve learned or what they hope to learn. These satellite rooms could include lunch or coffee, and they could be broken out into topics or member categories.
These smaller rooms also provide an added benefit for those who attended for the purposes of association networking. According to research from Loughborough University School of Business and Economics, 97 percent of event attendees prefer small, face-to-face meetings with fewer than 10 participants.
By shortening sessions and adding more opportunities to network, attendees will enjoy more chances to collaborate and communicate.
2 – Offer Referrals
It’s easier to network, or meet new people in general, with a wingman by your side. This goes double for annual meeting newcomers trying to break into a clique of veteran event-goers.
A great way to ease fresh faces into your event is to offer referral deals, where a member gets a substantial discount if they can coax a friend or two into attending.
Not only will this increase registrations and expose non-members to the association experience, but it will also give members a buddy to help them navigate the conference center with confidence.
3 – Host Group Events or Excursions
In the world of television, there’s a concept known as a “bottle episode.” These are inexpensive productions that are shot in a single location and are rarely memorable. They help keep expenses down in anticipation of higher cost, action-packed episodes down the road.
Unfortunately, associations occasionally fall into the bottle-episode trap for their annual meeting. During these events, no one leaves their hotel or conference hall, becoming a bland, vanilla memory of just another event.
While it seems logical that bottling members up in one or two locations would create forced networking opportunities, it’s more likely attendees use their free time to retreat to their rooms for a little R&R.
In order to break free from the monotony, I suggest following ASAE’s lead.
At the 2018 ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition, attendees were encouraged to sign up for one of six Chicago Experiences. These excursions (including a visit to Wrigley Field or a culinary tour through the city) consisted of smaller groups, giving attendees a few more association networking opportunities than they’d otherwise have.
However, those kinds of experiential events are rare. According to Event MB, only 14.9 percent of event organizers plan experiential events.
If you’re looking for your own association networking opportunities, watch our recent webinar, “5 Can’t-miss Association Events of 2019,” to find out what to attend this year.