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How to Refresh Your Meetings Strategy

by MYB, on December 17, 2019


People come to your event every year with high expectations: They want quality content as well as an experience that delivers a few surprises. That’s why the time to start thinking about next year’s event is pretty much immediately after this year’s has ended.

MYB Executive Vice-President Karen Salibian says a good first step in that process is to think about how you can better personalize the attendee experience. “We’re in a world where we want it now, when we want it,” she says. “You might want something electronically, while I want a paper copy. So how do we really get to know our attendees so we can segment the experience to them and personalize it?” (Check out our video blog on personas for more on the impact that kind of segmentation can have.)

What you might find during that research is that some groups are feeling left behind. If, for instance, your attendance among student members has dropped off, it’s time to plan for programming that can engage with them. “You can put some campaigns together to reflect what you’ve learned,” she says. “If money is an issue and the students can't afford to come, you can make it more attainable with travel-grant programs, or sponsorship programs, or pay-as-you-go plans for registration fees.”

After the event is also a good time to look at your content mix. Many associations are adept at offering a variety of session formats, Salabian says. But even those associations can get stuck in a rut of hour-long sessions and three-hour deep-dives. “Maybe you need to mix it up and beta test some new ways to deliver information,” she says. “Maybe you don’t need so many concurrent sessions. Maybe some sessions aren’t 60 minutes but 10 minutes. Or they’re on the stage in the exhibit hall. Or you take them out into the community and have sessions at alternative venues.”

Any plan to change up your meeting strategy, Salabian warns, will require buy-in from the presenters as well. So part of your planning process for next year will involve encouraging your speakers to get comfortable with new formats.

“One thing that’s often overlooked is how presenters can foster an inspiring environment,” she says. “You need to work with presenters on the front end to help them be the best facilitators and thought leaders during the event. That means helping them understand that you don’t want the same-old-same-old.” Salabian encourages planners to think about bringing in younger and emerging professionals into the fold as speakers, as they’re often more comfortable engaging with new formats.

But none of the great ideas you’ve decided to implement next year will mean much if potential attendees aren’t hearing about them. And though market segmentation can certainly help, some out-of-the-box thinking may be necessary as well. If you’ve made student registration more affordable, for instance, you may want to partner with universities to spread the word.

“A lot of times associations have great initiatives and programs for their meetings,” she says. “But what matters is getting the message about them in front of the right people.”