Practice Makes Perfect: The Benefits of Hosting an Event Pilot

If you’re planning to launch a brand-new event or conference in the coming year, hosting a pilot version is a good way to test your assumptions and work out any glitches before “go time.”

In elementary school, before every winter and spring chorus concert, we held a dress rehearsal a day or two before we would hit the stage in front of our families and classmates.

We practiced our entrance and exit, learned where we would stand, got a sense of just how bright those stage lights would be, and attempted to work out any kinks. In the business world, our dress rehearsal might be called a “test run” or “pilot.”

Well, here at ASAE, a little more than four months from now, our newest event will make its debut: Xperience Design Project (XDP).

The two-day experience—for those who host, plan, and support meetings—will bring together association professionals and industry partners to find solutions to shared challenges in the meetings industry using co-creation and elements of design thinking.

To ensure that attendees have the best experience possible in May, ASAE last month held a dress rehearsal of sorts: a one-day pilot version of XDP. More than 80 association meeting, marketing, programming, and technology professionals, as well as industry partners, came together to test and fine-tune the new format.

First, attendees participated in The Lab, an immersive, facilitated learning journey around three core topics: experience design and event innovation, content strategy and learning design, and marketing and technology.  Discussion of each topic was led by a prominent industry leader.

After that, participants engaged in the Business Exchange, a series of one-on-one conversations with industry partners. They could then participate in one of three fast-paced accelerator labs that focused on embracing change and on experience enhancements they could implement at future events. Two unique “Surprise and Delight” team activities followed.

To close out the event, the full group reconvened to share key takeaways and to hear a co-created XDP song, written and performed by Jonathan Mann.

“The pilot gave us the ability to see how the different aspects of XDP played out, so we can provide attendees with an exceptional experience in May,” said John H. Graham IV, FASAE, CAE, president and CEO of ASAE.

Whether your association is launching a meeting, event, or some other type of new product or service, a pilot version can provide a number of benefits. Here’s a look at a few of them:

Receive (more) honest feedback. Maybe your attendees and members are completely comfortable with sharing their likes and dislikes with you. But for those less comfortable, inviting them to take part in a pilot makes it clear that this is an initial run-through and that you’re encouraging feedback that will make the actual event even better. Creating this environment may make them more willing to share the good, the bad, and even the ugly feedback that will help your organization tweak and evolve the concept before the next iteration of the event is held.

Test your assumptions or crazy ideas. Based on experience and other factors, you may be convinced that the flow of the meeting is perfect or that the topics your speakers will discuss are spot-on. But a pilot could show that these elements or others may not live up to your attendees’ expectations. Likewise, a pilot gives you the opportunity to try out some out-of-the-box session formats or unique food and beverage choices that wouldn’t be your normal go-tos.

Build better engagement. Holding a pilot run of an event may also help you boost attendee engagement. Not only will people feel honored that you’ve asked them to participate, but if they feel that you listened to the feedback they gave and even see some of their suggestions in action at the actual event, they’ll also feel they contributed and are part of the new event’s success.

Now it’s your turn: Has your association ever pilot tested a meeting or event? Tell us about your experience in the comments.


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

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

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