5 Questions to Answer Before Planning Your Next Meeting

What are the most important things your meetings need to deliver? Drill down on these questions to find out.

It’s true that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but when it comes to your conferences, you really try hard to do so.

Non-dues revenue is increasingly important to associations—and conferences are still a great vehicle for producing that income.

Therefore, keeping meeting attendance high—and growing—is a strategic priority for any association. The best way to do that is to stay on top of what your members want from your conferences.

And while you surely read all sorts of articles and reports on how the meeting landscape is changing, your meetings need to reflect what your members want—not what’s trendy in the meeting space.

Here are five questions to talk through as you begin planning your next major event. Your answers can help you focus on delivering the content and experience that your members will value.

**1. How much should we focus on technology trends at our meetings? **

How much is technology disrupting your industry? Are your members clamoring for more information on tech trends?

If the answer to that last question is “yes,” then make sure you hold your meeting in a city with a strong tech scene. That way your host city can provide relevant local tech speakers for your conference. For example, the nonprofit TechPoint in Indianapolis works with conference planners to find local keynote and panel speakers that can cover the latest and future tech trends that matter to your members.

**2. Do we need to deliver that wow-factor at every conference? **

A one-day executive or training meeting is pretty cut-and-dried affair, but at your annual meetings and other major conferences, your attendees might be expecting a memorable moment. Or better put, they might appreciate one and come back for more.

The key question you need to answer is what will be memorable to your attendees? Don’t underestimate the value of an amazing off-site venue.

3. Do your attendees want your meetings to be more sustainable?

Do your members care about reducing their personal or organizational environmental footprint? If so, then they’ll likely appreciate your efforts to green up your meetings.

Have you considered offering composting? If so, you will be going a long way toward having a zero-waste meeting. Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) did it when it hosted the 2016 U.S. Olympic diving trials.

Or take recycling one step further by upcycling. Indy-based nonprofit People for Urban Progress can work with groups that hold their meetings in the city to turn meeting banners that would otherwise be trashed into VIP swag (think executive bags).

4. Will some of our attendees want to tack on a vacation day or two to our conference?

For longer meetings, will some of your members want to potentially stick around for a day or two after the conference to take advantage of what the host city has to offer? If so, then what will they value: nature, walkable downtown, great local food scene, or sporting events?

Why not choose conference cities that offer it all?

Indianapolis has a walkable and bikeable downtown area filled with buzzy local restaurant and a booming craft beer scene. Just over the river, nature awaits in the form of White River State Park. And Indy has virtually every major sports team, not to mention the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

5. Should offering wellness options be a priority?

Will some of your members want you to help them meet their fitness goals? Do you need to offer a wider range of food options for an increasing number of attendees with dietary restrictions? Is wellness a topic that resonates with at least a subset of your membership?

If so, then consider offering fitness classes, more healthful food and beverage options, and maybe even a meditation session or two. Your attendees who care will definitely appreciate it.

If you just have a handful of members who want help sticking to their exercise regimens, consider referring them to Trainer Push, an online service that arranges workouts for people who are traveling.

Nobody knows your members better than you do. They might want everything on this list, or some items might not be as pressing. Taking the time to drill down on what your meeting attendees really want will then help you focus on delivering it. And when you do that, you ensure they will back for more.

(Handout photo)