Incorporating the Old With the New at Events

You want your conference to be on trend, but there’s something to be said for nostalgia. Could the adage “everything old is new again” apply to your next event?

I’ve acquired two “new” things in the past two months that I’m pretty excited about. The first is a record player. (And it’s about time, too, considering I’ve been collecting a fair amount of vinyl the past few years and haven’t had anything to play it on.) The second is a 1960s baby-blue Royal typewriter—which actually works—that I pretty much begged my uncle for. (In return for his giving it to me, I promised I would dedicate the first novel I type on it to him.)

Why not host a listening party of sorts at your next meeting?

As I sat at home the other weekend listening to some records, the whole idea of the “everything old is new again” popped into my mind. Think about it: Sure, most of us love  having the shiniest new toys—whether for status or because they simply make our lives easier—but that same amount of love exists for things that are old yet hold a lot of nostalgia and bring back happy memories for us. (Recent example for a child of the ’90s like me: Jimmy Fallon reuniting the Saved by the Bell cast on The Tonight Show.)

So I began to wonder how association meetings and conferences could use nostalgia and other retro elements to create deeper experiences or connections with attendees that would benefit their events.

Turns out I’m not the only blogger in the meetings space to consider this. Earlier this month Alex Plaxen, director of marketing at EventRebels, wrote about harnessing the power of nostalgia at your events. In a guest post on the Social Tables blog, he cited the popular Throwback Thursday social media campaign as one current example of nostalgia succeeding in pop culture and suggested a few ways planners can introduce nostalgia before, during, and after events using things like memory displays and disposable cameras.

Here are few other ways I thought of—with some examples of groups that have actually done it.

Bring in a photo booth. I don’t know about you, but it’s hard for my friends and I to pass up a good old photo booth, whether it’s at the local dive bar or someone’s wedding. Even better is looking back at the photos a few months or years later—and remembering the event and stories behind the pictures. Why not have one at your next meeting?

That’s exactly what the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology did at its 2014 annual conference. Attendees could visit the green screen booth; don their choice of hats, glasses, and jewelry—even boxing gloves; and have some fun pics snapped. (Here’s a link to a video montage of a handful of them.) The American Concrete Pumping Association also had a booth at its PumpPAC cocktail party during World of Concrete 2015. Know what else? It’s a great sponsorship opportunity, one offered by both the Produce Marketing Association and the Louisiana Library Association.

Suggest attendees go tech-free. Remember the simpler days when we didn’t have to carry at least two electronic devices on us at all times? Why not go back there at your next meeting? No, I’m not suggesting that attendees ditch their smartphones or tablets for the entire meeting, but what if during a certain session block you asked that they keep from using their phones and other devices to tweet and take notes? Instead, have a table with different types of paper and writing tools—heck, even have some stickers on hand—and let them go to town jotting down their takeaways.

After all, a short-term digital detox couldn’t hurt anyone. While I couldn’t find an association that has done this (P.S. If you have, and I missed you, let me know in the comments), some venues have started introducing no-phone policies in an effort to get people to focus more on the music playing and their fellow guests. Some places even go as far as to offer a guarded cellphone check.

Host a listening party. Going back to my record player—why not host a listening party of sorts at your next meeting? I’m not suggesting attendees bring their favorite vinyl records with them—even though that could be awesome in my opinion—but rather give them a chance to gather in a casual setting and share things that are most interesting to them and/or the industry.

For example, at its 2014 Annual Conference & Exhibition, the American Library Association held a listening party for the cult podcast Welcome to Night Vale after realizing many attendees were avid listeners. Similarly, the Kansas chapter of the American Planning Association held a two-hour listening party in the hotel bar during the Kansas Planning Conference. There attendees could listen to music, have a drink, and talk about how they “encounter planning issues in popular culture.” And next month’s National Association of Black Social Workers’ 47th Annual Conference will feature a more traditional listening party where participants will listen to contemporary R&B and hip-hop music and then discuss its effect on the community.

Have you had success incorporating nostalgia or anything considered retro into your conferences? If so, please share in the comments.

(Luke Chesser/

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

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

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