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What Do Meeting Attendees Really Want?

by John Folks, on January 5, 2023

As we kick off the new year, a big question looms for many of us - Is meeting attendance back? Many associations reported hitting pre-pandemic registration numbers last year, and a few even set attendance records, particularly this fall. The question now is, can we sustain this?  

The answer is an emphatic, YES! However, it will take some work. To foster sustainable attendance or better yet, growth, we will first need to dig deeper into the the question of what drives attendance, and specifically, for whom?  

We all know that education and knowledge are important reasons, right? Networking? Cutting-edge research or seeing new products, maybe? Finding a new job? Well, the answer could be any of those reasons or something completely different. At MYB, we spend a lot of time researching prospective attendee behavior, and the only consistent theme we see is that the drivers of attendance are more complex and multi-layered than we might expect.  

Think about why you attend a conference and what factors into your decision. I attend PCMA Convening Leaders every year, because I look forward to being re-energized and inspired for the year ahead. I go for the sense of community I feel and the opportunity to reconnect with longtime friends and colleagues. Regardless of the educational program or where it’s held, I have attended the last 31 annual meetings. However, my reasons for attending have changed over time as I progressed in my career, with the changes in my job responsibilities and based on what challenges I might have been dealing with at the time.  

Your prospective attendees have a variety of reasons for attending too, and they likely evolve over time. Our job as the organizer and host of the meeting is to clearly (and currently) understand not only what matters, and to whom, but what are the most important reasons I attend. This is where anecdotal assumptions and generalizations about groups can mislead us. We consistently uncover surprises as we research and segment behaviors. These findings provide a valuable guide to designing a more customized and therefore a more valuable meeting experience. They will also guide how and what you communicate to various groups as you promote the reasons to attend.  

If you give them what they truly want and need, they’ll be back – for the networking, the new knowledge, the community and camaraderie, the destination, or whatever reasons motivate them – a good start to sustaining and growing your future attendance.  What 

Topics:Growth & StrategyResearchAssociations