Conference "MatchMaking" is Magic - 4 Trends in Conference Organisation

Here goes my view on the current conference trends I see in the market: its all about community building, offering a unique live experience, the use of data to increase the effectiveness of your coference and its about using technology.

Community Building

People attend live events to meet peers as much as to learn from the speakers on stage. Conferences should therefore be used as a 'milestone' in a community building strategy that starts long before and continues after the live event.

Start with feeding your event subscribers with pieces of content that make them curious and eager to attend and to connect with other delegates (Conference "MatchMaking"!).

Community building efforts will increase delegate engagement, increase the Return on Event and it will benefit your (social) objective.

Offering Unique Live Experiences

Its not only about the speaker on stage, its also about the social dinner at a unique location, its about the group picture that can be shared on Twitter, its about experiencing innovations during the exhibition, its about an interactive workshop that sends your delegates back home with fresh ideas. And yes, its also about speeddating with peers (Conference "MatchMaking"!)

Its all about live experiences that make a live event different than an internet live stream experience.

The Use of Data

What item of your online program has been visited most? Which speaker received most replies on his/her live voting question? Which exhibitor received the most visits? Which session was well attended? Which attendee received the most meeting requests (Conference "MatchMaking"!)?

Data enables you to better organise and run the event and to learn for future editions.

Use of Technology (apps, live stream, interactive voting, …)

An increase number of participants use their smartphone to consult the program, speaker bio's, even watch the live stream from their hotel room. All these uses are pretty passive ...

The next step of digitalisation lies in increasing active delegate engagement via live voting during a lecture, networking facilitation (here we go: Conference "MatchMaking" is magic), lead scanning during an exhibition, ...

Organisers should use technology to shift delegates from passive conference visitors ("info downloaders") to active participants ("info contributors").

Why Members Matter and How to Increase their Number

Many associations ask me: “We think having Members is old fashioned and we want to stop our efforts to raise Membership Fees, do you agree?”

Members are your most loyal customers.

The good thing about Members is: you do not need to find them anymore, you do not need to convince them to pay for your services for the first time,... Members are already part of your customer base and they are pretty loyal!

Hence: Members are the first in line to purchase the (new) services you offer.

What’s more: as they are loyal and motivated, they should be the first to provide useful feedback about your services. This feedback allows you to improve/adapt your services quickly to your (future) customers’ needs. This, in turn, enables the creation of better services that will convince less loyal and new customers.

Spoil your Members.

For all these reasons, Members should be spoiled. They should receive real value for money for their Membership and they should be invited to actively provide their feedback on your association and its services/products.

Your entire association and its future Members will benefit from it.

Thus yes, Members do matter and increasing their number, starts with being transparent as an association about what you do and why and allowing your current Members to express their opinion on all aspects of it.

Next, it’s about clearly developing the financial and non-financial benefits you offer to your Members. Ask yourself: What added value do you offer and is the value in line with the Membership fee?

If Members can actively provide feedback and they get services that add value for themselves, you can start implementing Membership Management Processes. How to do that? Just read one of our next blogposts.

3 Actions to Grow Your Association

Ambitious directors of non-profit organisations are not satisfied with a status quo. Here are three actions you can take to grow your association.

Convince your team of your purpose and added value

Make sure you and your team are convinced of the added value of your own services, before starting convincing others.

Do you want to organise trainings? In which areas specifically and with what actions? Do you want to increase your countries’ changes to get golden medals? In which disciplines and what are the actions you will implement?

And why would potential interested persons in your goal, be willing to collaborate with your association?

Answering these questions obliges you to define your ‘unique selling proposition’ (USP). Knowing ànd truly believing your USP, will make all future actions much more productive.

Manage your association as it was a business

You are not good in everything. We all have to admit that. Therefore: carefully select and create partnerships with organisations, suppliers and individuals that can bring true added value to your association.

And for those areas you really want to make a difference for your members, make sure you hire and grow the best talent that is available in the market. If not, your members will seek help elsewhere.

You are right, a balance scorecard might seem boring, but it’s a great tool to align everybodyto achieve the same goals (from Board to your support team): number of new Members, number of participants at your Annual Congress, click-through rate of your e-newsletters, number of Members that seek your advice per month, etc… These metrics help to focus and to answer the difficult question: what are my priorities today?

You are the best: believe it, show it and communicate as such to your addressees.

You are the best association in your field and you make a difference. If not, why bother…

Use technology to drive personalisation in your communication: customised emails, mobile applications, What’s App and text messages complement more generic tools as mobile websites, e-newsletters, Linked-In, Facebook, etc. 

This personalised communication starts with strong (and painful) database management: Know whom you are aiming for and stand out from the crowd!

Through targeted and relevant communication of information to your target audience you make sure they know you are the best.

To summarise

Once your association is convinced and aligned on your own purpose and the concrete actions to bring added value to your members, it all comes down to selecting the right partnerships, hiring the best people and monitoring closely the correct implementation of the agreed actions. All this will increase your association’s impact, which makes it much easier to communicate on a personal level your added value to the right target audience. 

It is about interaction, stupid!

Welcome to the 21st century, where interaction with your audience is key to keep that audience interested and turn them into real promotors of your message, product or service.

Your key note presentation? A product launch for your sales teams? Did you ever consider broadcasting live events over the internet? 

Organisations plan business events to get a message across to those invited and to gather as much feedback as possible. However, some of the invitees can’t make it because they lack the resources : no time, too expensive, traffic jams! flights! train delay!

Hence: let’s record the live event and broadcast it via the internet to a pre-invited target group. It could also be collaborators or customers that don't need to attend the entire event but are specifically interested in hearing the key note or a specific product presentation. Thus: you offer customised content to the target group: great! It will keep them motivated and interested.

Next step is to get that motivated target group to provide useful feedback on the content you shared. You could offer them the event’s mobile application, other conversations tools or a live stream platform allows immediate feedback options: voting, questions, etc.

Ideally, the live event uses the feedback immediately into its presentation to offer a ‘direct return on investment’ to the audience.

The time of one way events is definitely over. Live streaming is one of the answers: its cost effective, surprisingly interactive and increases your target audience.

Clear objectives lead to successful business events

When companies want to increase the return on investment of their business events, they need to focus on defining exactly which objectives they wish to achieve.

When it comes to business events, return on investment or return on objectives thinking (ROI&ROO) should be an important guidebook for both business event planners as well as their professional event agency. In my view, event agencies can make a difference by advising their clients to take time to think about the real objectives of the event and by using these objectives when planning, evaluating and improving the event. This is how it works for me:

  • Most events are evaluated at the ‘satisfactory’ level: Has the hotel accommodation been satisfactory? Would you advise this moderator to a friend or colleague? How would you evaluate the quality of the information you received?
  • However, the event ROI/ROO methodology ( speaks about three more levels that are harder to monitor: learning (did the participants actually learn something?), application (do the participants apply in their day-to-day business what they have learned? Meaning: did the event started a behavioural change?) and result (once the participants apply what they have learned, does it impact the bottom line or any other change I wish to see?).

But how to monitor this in a pragmatic and cost effective manner? My advice would be: First, think things through at the concept phase of the event and second, to use online and offline tools for continuous monitoring purposes. At both stages, bringing in the expertise of an event agency will bring much added value and lead to a successful business event.

  • Think things through: If you have a meeting to inform several EU subsidiaries about the new sales strategy, you want them to apply the strategy in the end. As a result, you wish to see a coherent EU wide sales strategy. If your meeting is about a detailed product repair briefing to technical staff, you wish the staff to repair the product using the learned procedures. Hence, from the onset of the event planning, one should think ‘strategy’: what behavioural change, leading to the result, does the event aim for?
  • Use online tools: This should not be rocket science. A first online survey right after the event, should measure the ‘satisfactory’ and the ‘learning’ level. For the learning level, smart questions are necessary to measure whether participants did actually ‘get the key messages you want to come across’. Close collaboration between the event agency and the sponsoring company is necessary for this. A second online survey should be planned 3 or 6 months after the event, measuring whether the participants actually apply what they said they have learned (behavioural change). Again, close collaboration between event agency and sponsoring company is necessary.
  • Use offline tools: To find out whether or not the EU sales strategy has been coherently applied throughout Europe, one could easily speak to the national sales managers. If the objective was to improve the bottom line, one should consult their sales figures. And if the objective of the repair briefing was to lower recurring breakdowns, this could be in the companies IT system. The point here is that measuring results, cannot be done via an online survey to the participants. The participants can confirm they changed their behaviour, but the result should be monitored via other, often offline, tools and methods.

The above methodology is straightforward and cost-effective and allows, what I would call, continuous improvement of how the business event is organised. A good starting discussion on the real behavioural change one wishes to see, ensures that the right focus is brought into the event setup. Lean monitoring whether or not the ‘satisfactory’, ‘learning’ and ‘application’ objectives are met, allows to adjust the focus of the event for the next edition.