5 Ways for Associations to Increase Conference Attendance

Associations invest heavily to provide conferences, meetings, and training opportunities to members yet industry statistics show only 20% take advantage of these offerings. What can associations do to increase attendance? This blog post is the first of five-part series that will answer that question.

Help Potential Attendees Build a Business Case for Attending

Conferences are expensive. Whether the attendee is paying or their company is funding it, the cost of attending a conference can easily run into hundreds if not thousands of dollars. The expense includes not just registration fees, but also travel and accommodations, per diem allowances and lost productivity due to time out of the office. Could it be that many of those 80% of members who don’t attend your conference didn’t go because they couldn’t provide a strong enough rationale to their companies (or themselves) that the expense would be worth it?

Most associations put a lot of thought into planning the program for their conference and in marketing that content to potential attendees. However even if you have created an attention-grabbing program for your membership, attendance will still fall flat if members can’t secure approval to attend from their managers who are holding the purse strings.

Unfortunately, many members who want to attend your conference will simply submit a request and cross their fingers. As a meeting professional, you can help your members by showing them how to put together a business case for why they should attend your conference and equip them to articulate that business case to their management.

Equip Members with Key Talking Points

As part of your marketing materials, consider including a template that members can use as a “talking points guide” for their management. The guide will suggest members think about the most important issues facing their organization and how their work is aligned with those challenges.

For example, will there be training sessions in areas that will immediately benefit your company or department? Will there be workshops designed to teach attendees a special skill and/or help your team overcome current or future challenges?
Encourage members to thoroughly review the conference agenda and focus on the sessions that relate to those issues or speakers with relevant experience in those areas. Advise potential attendees to articulate a short business case for how attending these sessions and meeting these people will help them contribute to the organization’s success then urge them to use this business case to make their request for attending the meeting.

For example, part of the business case might read as follows: “At present, our organization is highly focused on cost savings. My personal contribution to this organizational strategy is to be responsible for finding ways to reduce sales costs. At the XYZ annual conference there is a session entitled, ‘Using Technology to Maximize Sales Efficiencies,’ and an expert, Sarah Smith, will be running the session. I would like to attend Smith’s session and meet with her privately to get ideas about maximizing the cost savings we could receive from using technology in my area.”

The sessions aren’t the only area of the program that can support your business case. Does the conference include an expo? Will the exhibitors include vendors with tools you use or are evaluating for potential future use? Is this an opportunity during which you’ll be able to compare competing tools?

So that members will be able to demonstrate the value of attending, your marketing materials can include additional elements to help members prepare successfully for the event. You can include a “list of people I’d like to meet” and reminders for members to reach out to other attendees for a meal, coffee or chat. You can include a personal agenda template with “Sessions I’d Like to Attend” with space for notes, “Exhibitors I Want to Visit” with space for booth numbers, and “A List of People I’d Like to Meet” with space for their contact information and time and place to meet up. You can also include a “Conference Summary Sheet” so that members can concisely communicate what happened at the conference and how they will use this information to benefit their organization.

The purpose of all these materials is to help more members secure the necessary approvals to attend your events. The increased attendance will help attract more speakers, sponsors and exhibitors. But more importantly, it will help demonstrate the value of membership and thereby increase acquisition of both individual and corporate membership as well as improve member retention.

These are just a few of the ways associations can help increase conference attention. In our next posts, we will be discussing some additional strategies. Bodden Partners specializes in associations and membership marketing. If you would like assistance in marketing your next event, or improving member acquisition, retention and engagement, please contact us for a free consultation.