A New View: Why Change Is Good for Meetings

The entire moving process is stressful, but there’s renewed energy and enthusiasm that comes from a new home and neighborhood. There are also a few lessons in it for associations considering a minor or major change to their meetings and events.

You know what’s often stressful and overwhelming? Moving. The packing, the purging, hiring movers (or recruiting friends to be cheap labor), the unpacking—the whole process can drive the most sane person a bit crazy. I know that was the case for me this past month as I packed up and got ready to move to a new apartment earlier this week.

In order to make room for new stuff and stay ahead of the curve, you sometimes have to get rid of the old, unused, and the stuff that falls into the category of But we’ve always done it that way.

Thankfully, the move is over and—even better—went as smoothly as I could have wished for. But now that I’m living in a sea of boxes and have spent a few days getting acquainted with the new place and neighborhood, I couldn’t help but think about how the moving process could also apply to meetings and events, especially if associations are considering giving their conferences a minor or major overhaul.

Know what you can’t go without. When you decide it’s time to move, if you’re anything like I was, you have a budget as well as a list of must-haves and then nice-to-haves. I’m talking anything from square footage to number of bedrooms to proximity to public transportation.

The list can go on forever, but when overhauling and transforming a meeting, it’s important to know what the non-negotiables are for both your association and your attendees. For instance, does past research show attendance is 50 percent higher when meetings are held in the Midwest? Then you probably don’t want part of your overhaul to be relocating your meeting elsewhere. Are attendees more likely to attend a summer meeting than a winter one? Easy: Stick to June, July, or August.

Get rid of what you don’t need. But just as you need to know your musts, you also don’t want to bring unnecessary baggage—a.k.a. boxes—to the new place. I was amazed by how much stuff I had accumulated by living in the same small apartment for more than five years. Even worse is that a lot of that stuff was at the back of a closet or cabinet, either not used in a while or, in some cases, completely forgotten. The lesson for associations is that in order to make room for new stuff and stay ahead of the curve, you sometimes have to get rid of the old, unused, and the stuff that falls into the category of “But we’ve always done it that way.”

Take, for instance, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, which radically changed the learning experience for attendees at its meeting. One thing NASSP got rid of was the traditional call for proposals for sessions and speakers—something tried and true to most association meetings. Instead, NASSP’s professional development team looked at issues that its members said—and research revealed—was keeping them up at night. After narrowing down that list, the team identified authorities in those areas and professionals doing work in the field and invited them to be speakers.

Adjust to and appreciate a new perspective. Granted, I didn’t move that far—less than five miles—but there’s something exciting about living in a new apartment and neighborhood. Of course, it takes some getting used to, as it would for attendees experiencing a refreshed meeting for the first time, but the positives will likely surpass the negatives. When I was on my first run through the new neighborhood yesterday morning, I was excited and energized, making mental notes of restaurants, bars, and shops I want to check out in the near future. Adding any new elements to a meeting will create buzz and energize attendees, speakers, and exhibitors. They’ll also likely see your association as anticipating needs and adjusting to new expectations.

Now it’s your turn: If your association has overhauled one of its meetings or events, what aspect have you found most rewarding, or what lessons have you learned from change? Share your thoughts in the comments.


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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