Meetings

Could Less Be More When It Comes to Meetings?

By / Feb 17, 2017 (iStock/Thinkstock)

You may think giving attendees more options and choices is always better, but what if it turned out that offering them a little less is the way to go? Some ideas for making it happen.

The other weekend I was trying to pick a place to go for dinner in my neighborhood. I was hemming and hawing: Did I feel like Thai? Or pizza? Or ramen? Or a burger and fries? I couldn’t decide. And, in that moment of frustration, I blurted out, “Ugh, there are too many options.”

I know it sounds ridiculous, but all the dinner choices were just too much for me. What I wanted at that point was less, not more.

Have you ever considered if your association is giving its meeting attendees too many options?

Sure, conference planning teams only have the best intentions when they offer more sessions, more learning, more networking events, and more receptions. They want to give attendees the ability to personalize their own experience. But is there a point where all the extra options leave attendees feeling overwhelmed?

It probably depends on your organization and what your attendees are looking to get out of the meeting. But, if you’re thinking of taking the “less is more” approach, here is how it can potentially be done.

Reduce concurrent sessions. Association meetings are filled with lots of great education given by lots of great presenters, but to cram all that content in, oftentimes a single session block could feature more than a dozen sessions for attendees to choose from.

With that in mind, the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) restructured its 80th Annual Conference, which took place in Phoenix this week. An article posted on the Door & Window Market magazine website outlined some of those changes. Not only did AAMA reduce the amount of sessions happening at one time, but it also offered duplicate sessions to allow attendees to catch a speaker they may have missed the first time around.

“If you are coming here, we want to make sure you are getting everything you can out of these events,” Janice Yglesias, AAMA’s association services director, told the publication.

Make room for quiet time. I’ve blogged about this before, but be mindful that attendees need some alone time during a conference to absorb what they learn onsite and to simply reconnect with themselves.

“What if conferences set up small spaces designed for individuals to be away from the crowd? What if they created enclaves where it was socially acceptable to be alone?” asked John Spencer in a post on Quiet Revolution.

To accomplish this, associations offer attendees everything from silent spaces to nap pods—yes, nap pods—on the tradeshow floor. At this week’s College Art Association’s 2017 Annual Conference in New York City, all attendees were welcome to stop by the meeting’s dedicated Quiet Room.

Shorten learning offerings. Some topics may require a two-hour deep dive session, but associations also need to mix it up and cater to those attendees who learn better in bite-sized formats—think 10 or 15 minutes. The goal of these short-form sessions should be to give attendees a nugget or two of know-how that they can quickly implement once they’re back at the office.

For example, at the International Ticketing Association’s conference last month, the group once again had its Inspiration Stage space, which featured mini learning opportunities that were collaborative and conversational. All sessions were 15 minutes long with five minutes of Q&A at the end.

Now it’s your turn: How has your association implemented a “less is more” strategy in terms of its conferences and events? Please share in the comments.

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now. More »

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