One of the most important initiatives your association can take on is the annual (or bi-annual) event or conference. The events your association hosts are an incredible opportunity to impress upon attendees the value that can be garnered by claiming membership to your community.
However, wherever there is great opportunity, there is also considerable pressure to perform. Since your association-hosted conference is most likely the biggest and most exciting event on your memberships’ calendar, it will set the tone for the rest of the year. The best way to ensure it makes a positive impression is to strategize effectively and get all of your ducks in a row.
Below, we have provided a set of steps that when followed (more or less), will allow you to command a considerable level of control over the outcome of your events. By taking a formal approach to the management of your event, you will have greater success creating positive experiences for attendees and continually build your association’s reputation of value.
- During the strategy phase, this may be the most amusing and creative part – to imagine what your event should look like. Being in touch with your membership (and the industry from which they hail) is invaluable in deciding on what topic or theme you should drive at. Target what is currently trending within your target market, but also, hasten an educated guess about what the next big thing will be, and offer attendees a glimpse of that as well.
- Sketch an actual, physical plan or roadmap. What needs to be accomplished? How will those needs be realized? Brainstorm with your team all of the elements that need to come together. Build a checklist that you can lean on as a sanity check throughout the planning process so nothing gets forgotten or goes unnoticed.
- Establish a budget and don’t deviate from it. Events can balloon into terribly expensive endeavours. However, the good news is that a great event doesn’t need to break your association’s bank. Just don’t get lured down yellow brick roads. Identify a handful of elements that you plan to invest in and then be economic with the fillers. Oh, and never be shy to ask for a deal.
- No event planner or administrator is an island… Is that how that saying goes? Anyway, you shouldn’t be alone on this event planning expedition. To execute a successful event, you need to bring people into the fold and delegate tasks. Don’t allow yourself to feel that it is all on you. Events are too big and have too many moving parts to be carried on one set of shoulders. When you need support, ask for it.
- Choose a place that is familiar to the majority of your members, is easy to access and has exceptional facility management. The physical location where you plan to host your event is obviously key so you need to ensure it is a venue that will serve your needs and is reliable. Side note – make sure you have a back-up venue in the event that some unforeseen circumstance dictates that your first choice is not viable.
- The very best resource for any administrator planning an event is a solution that connects association representatives with members. Usually referred to as an association management system or AMS, this cloud-based software will give your association immediate access to members. With your membership at your fingertips, it’s just one less thing you’ll need to worry about when planning and managing the event. To learn more about how an AMS can support your association event planning, contact Guild for a free live demo.
- Once all of your boxes are checked, it’s time to spread the word to members and non-member attendees. Hopefully you will have finalized the details a couple of months prior to the event, to ensure invitees have ample time to block off the date in their calendar. In your announcement of the event, tell invitees what it is, why they should attend, when it is and where. Also, give them the ability to register right within the correspondence. At the last minute, if any details change, you should have a method to provide all of your attendees with updates quickly and easily.
- During the event, make sure association representatives are accessible to attendees. Make yourselves visible and enjoy the time spent with your members. The best way to make an event positively impactful and memorable is to have a great time.
- This is a key step and one many associations fail to complete. After the event is completed (and hopefully gone off without a hitch), make sure you check in with your members to garner their feedback. What did they enjoy? What do they believe needs to be reconsidered or improved next time around? There’s always room for growth and the best way to learn is to ask. A great way to finish off this follow-up correspondence is to provide further value. Attach an educational resource or article related to the topic addressed at the event.
This is not the only approach for planning a successful event. As long as you have a plan of some sort, that has considered the details and given you some sense of control over all of the moving parts, you should be fine. The most important thing is to remember that events are supposed to be fun, so have a good time throughout the process. It can be hard work planning a great event, but it’s also rewarding (for the planners, the members and the association as a whole).