Conference Advisory Boards: What Should Their Role Be?

Associations frequently use advisory boards to develop a meeting’s curriculum or to help identify industry trends and breaking news. But what other roles can these experts play?

I was sitting on the bus during my commute earlier this week here in DC when I noticed a sign asking people to join the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Riders’ Advisory Council. As you’d expect, the 21 councilmembers advise WMATA’s board of directors on how to make the area’s public transit system better, more accessible, and more reliable for their fellow riders.

While the sign didn’t spur an interest in joining, it did get me thinking about the role of advisory boards or councils when it comes to association conferences. A quick Google search revealed that lots of associations have them—and that organizations often use them to do two main things: to help identify industry trends and breaking news that may be pertinent to the conference and to develop the conference curriculum.

While some groups, like NACADA-The Global Community for Academic Advising, have a formalized structure where members are appointed to a two-year term, other associations go the informal route and bring members in to serve in an advisory role on an ad hoc basis.

Depending on an association’s needs, either structure can work and deliver results. But how else can an association employ its conference advisory board members to improve meetings and events? Here are three other roles that these advisors may be able to take on:

Attendee satisfaction surveyor. Postconference surveys are staples of association meetings, but groups may not exactly be getting the feedback they’re looking for. That’s where conference advisory board members may be able to help. Ask them to approach other attendees while the conference is in progress to get some thoughts on where things are going well and what can be improved. This outreach may elicit more-candid feedback. After all, attendees may be more comfortable speaking to a fellow attendee than to a board member or association staffer.

Speaker solicitor. It’s almost guaranteed that your conference advisors are highly engaged in the industry your association represents. Because of this, they’re just as likely to know and be connected to other industry leaders. Use these established relationships as a way to solicit speakers for your conferences. Consider asking each of your advisory board members to secure a sought-after speaker.

Conference marketer. Since these advisors know all the cool features of the meeting and all the must-attend sessions on the schedule, they’re the perfect people to get others to register. Encourage them to promote the meeting through their social media accounts, offer a behind-the-scenes look at their role as an advisor, and talk to other prospects about all the benefits that will come with attending. These activities can help attract not only new conference attendees but also new advisory board members.

Does your organization have a conference advisory board? Share what its role is and how members’ duties have changed over time.


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

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

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