Applying adult learning principles, ultimately helping attendees turn learning into action, is key for a successful association event or conference. Most of these teaching tactics focus on empowering the learner to come to their own conclusions. The most thought-provoking and valuable events for associations are those that show (not just tell) what is possible for their organizations. They not only articulate but demonstrate ways the association can help them get there. Here’s how that might look:
It’s much easier to remember information if it’s shared through storytelling. Give your attendees a role to play in the event story. Position your association as the hero by sharing stories that identify and solve chronic organizational challenges. If your membership can see themselves in the narrative, taking action will come more naturally.
“This is the way things have always been” is a dangerous phrase in business regardless of industry, especially in today’s digitally-enabled economy. You know your association’s biggest pain points. You know the solutions they’ve used historically may not be the right fit for growth in the future. Challenge their thinking. That will surely get them talking!
The vision and plan for your association’s event or conference should be built around the people you want to invite. If you provide an environment that’s well-suited for 1:1 and small group conversations, attendees will take your cue and make it their own. The biggest value you can provide is to show them that the resources are available, where and when, and let them champion their own learning at your event.
Members are arguably the most important people at your event. Your charge is to ensure they get value from the experience, which means ramping up engagement efforts.
With increased reliance on technology and the availability of tools and software designed for engagement, there are countless ways for members to engage with your event and each other while they’re there. Virtual events, or a virtual component like what you find in a hybrid event—which we’ll discuss later—are one of many examples. The same concepts and tactics found in digital marketing apply to events. Consider placing strong calls to action and micro-content (like videos) on your association website to generate demand and drive registration.
How will you know whether what you’re doing is working or not? Your members will want to share their thoughts and ideas about your event. It’s important to give them a method to do so.
It could be a dedicated email alias they can contact, a post-conference survey they complete after the event, or a social media community with designated hashtags for your event. If you want to learn more about branded hashtags for associations and how they work, see #assnchat on public social media channels like LinkedIn for how this looks in context.
Networking isn’t just about putting people in a room together and letting them do the work. It’s about providing an opportunity for the right people to connect with each other about the things that matter most to them.
Consider your association and the subgroups within it: are there patterns, commonalities, or discrete differences of thinking and prioritization? Use this information to build multiple networking activities designed to get members talking. Give them spaces to consult with experts and colleagues together and separately. For more ideas, look into private meeting scheduling and matchmaking, or “speed dating” networking models. Be creative!
How do you leave an impression that sticks with them even after they return home? Create an environment that gives them an experience to remember, one that they can take back with them and apply to their organizations.
Rather than talking "at" them, like you see in the typical keynote/main stage style presentations, consider ways to engage experts and members together. This guide from Blue Sky eLearn on how to design smarter learning experiences can help. Provide a space where they can roll up their proverbial sleeves and dig into practical scenarios— workshops and table or chalk talks are great examples.
Establish a theme for your event. It could be inspirational, action-focused, or specific to a business challenge. Consider your overall goals for the event and use them to inform how you frame messaging. Think about your audience, the venue, and the culture you want to create with your event.
Repetition creates familiarity and weaving a common thread, like a theme, can help your members navigate the event with ease. Common threads in messaging, signage, session content, physical branding and decor can all help them remember the experience as well.
A hybrid event refers to an event that incorporates a multimedia component or another element outside the typical in-person conference structure. Today, an increasing number of associations and event organizers lean on hybrid events, combining live in-person modalities with live streams and sessions on-demand. This gives non-attendees, those who were unable to physically attend, an opportunity to benefit from and engage with the event.
This structure is what you’re likely accustomed to seeing for events: there’s a designated location or venue, a limited duration, and all the action happens onsite. In a hybrid event, the primary session delivery method may be live and in-person, but incorporating a live streaming or on-demand component will help you both extend the life of your event and give everyone a chance to glean insights for their organizations – including those who could not attend.
These nontraditional elements— live streaming and on-demand content— can also help save on logistics and speaker costs. By eliminating the need for physical travel (on the speaker’s end) and preparing and renting a physical space (on the event planning side), you may find what funding you don’t spend on content can be reinvested in other places at your event.
Further, content from live streams can be copied, edited, repackaged, and republished in endless ways for future delivery. This can mean major value, not just budget relief, for your association and membership.
You have probably seen some version of this or experienced it yourself as an event attendee. Live streaming is especially valuable to anyone who would benefit from your event or conference but is limited in their ability to attend in-person. With a live stream, attendees and non-attendees can tune in from anywhere, anytime a web connection is available.
For those physically present, this means they can get what they need from the comfort of their hotel or home office without having to scramble for a good seat. What’s more, however, is non-attendees can still experience the content and value without the barrier of travel or compromising other priorities for their business. Live streaming your event is a value-add in itself; but, you can extend the life of your event and give more value to your members if you record those live streams for sharing on-demand.
Putting on an event or conference for your association is an investment, not only of time and money but other resources as well. These insights will help guide your thinking about how to deliver the most value to your members, leading to higher returns on that investment in the form of increased membership engagement, knowledge, and more.
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