How to Create A “Must Attend” Conference

In our research, we have found that most Associations and professional groups are eager to increase the number of members who attend their conferences. According to recent industry research, 80% of members do not attend the Association’s annual conference. When asked about their reasons for not attending, many members respond that the conference is irrelevant, boring, inconvenient and expensive.

The problem is compounded by the environment in which businesses operate today. Whereas associations were once the primary resource for relevant industry-specific information, the annual conference now competes with a host of tailored information resources proliferating online. Calculating how much business-related content is being produced is an exercise in futility. The numbers change so rapidly that what I write here today is going to be out of date by next week.

It is estimated that almost 80% of marketers participate in content marketing. Instead of marketing their products, they are marketing information. This has resulted in an information explosion, spewing out an nonstop and nearly unmanageable torrent of information about every business problem imaginable. Between blogs, tweets, enewsletters, RSS feed from online business publications, webinars, business podcasts, and posts on business-focused sites like LinkedIn, who can even keep up anymore? And who is going to wait around months to attend an annual or semi-annual conference, when many of the answers you seek are no further away than a Google search box?

So why attend do people still attend conferences? Most would answer that they are looking for deeper, more relevant insights and to form connections with industry peers. What do your members want from your conferences and other events? How can you know and what is the best way to provide it to them?

At Bodden Partners, we believe these questions should be answered sitting around a conference room table. We believe that nobody knows what they want more than the members themselves. What critical issues are being discussed in your member community? What challenges are making their work more difficult? What opportunities excite them?

These are some of the questions that need to be answered before any Association can plan a successful conference. There are two ways to find the answers. One way is through using social media monitoring, trending topics and content aggregators to analyze and identify topics that are generating the most coverage and interest within your community. The other way is by going straight to your members and conducting in-depth interviews into their needs, concerns and interests.

Keep in mind that although associations bring together people with common concerns and interests, the membership itself is often quite diverse. Therefore, association management will need to identify the lifestyle and professional needs of each member segment. For example, according to the study Generations and the Future of Association Participation, the needs associated with career stage carry more weight than those associated with life stage. Each membership segment (entry level, mid career, senior level and near retirement) has needs that are unique to their career stage and these needs heavily influence what they are looking for from the association.

Is all this effort worth it? Most definitely. A strategically designed and well-executed conference will increase attendance which will in turn, generate more interest, support and revenue from sponsors and exhibitors. Additionally, members who attend the conference will return with real-world, practical solutions that demonstrate the tangible value of their membership thereby increasing their likelihood to both recommend and attend future events. This member satisfaction will result in deeper member engagement which improves member retention and supports new member recruitment.

If you would like assistance planning your next event, contact us for a free consultation.