Focus on creating meaningful connections at your next annual meeting, and your members will be back for more.
Is our annual meeting an engaging experience for all of our attendees? If this question is keeping you up at night, you aren’t alone.
The Internet is brimming with how-tos and do-thats on every subject imaginable. Your association undoubtedly provides scads of helpful professional information via your publications, webinars, website, online forums, and more. So what’s the value proposition for attending your annual conference? Why should your members put aside their to-do list, brave the airport, take time away from friends and family to attend your meetings?
Simply put: There’s something special about face-to-face meetings. As Business Insider reported back in 2011, in-person meetings capture our attention, inspire positive feelings, and allow us to build networks. All of that still holds true today.
In fact, holding meetings that allow your members to build a professional network is one of the more important things your association does. So, why not double down on that at your next annual meeting by potentially enlisting some outside help? For attendees, it will make your meeting an experience to remember—and repeat.
Create More Meaningful Connections
C2 Montréal, the annual event that brings together commerce and creativity to explore opportunities and disruptions, is changing the business conference paradigm by upending the entire experience.
“For us it’s not the schedule or the program, it’s the experience for the participants,” said Richard St-Pierre, president of C2. “We think about the best participant experience, and then we figure out a program that will amplify the experience.”
One of the ways that C2 does this is by working with the Montréal-based peer-learning company e180 to connect attendees via braindates. e180’s online platform allows users to connect on their own, but the company also works with event organizers, as at C2, to elevate attendee connections and interactions.
“We place the idea of learning from each other at the core of everything we do,” said Christine Renaud, CEO of e180. “When people meet for a braindate, it’s not just about networking or collecting business cards. It’s all about having the right conversation that can eventually grow into a partnership or professional friendship that will continuously propel you for the rest of your life.”
e180 offers event organizers three services. The first is the braindate technology—how people initially find each other through self-created profiles—which integrates into any existing conference app. The company then works with conference organizers on an engagement and marketing strategy to help convey the idea that all attendees are valid content providers and can learn a lot from each other. And finally, e180 sends a learning concierge to the event to help create the braindate meet-up space, initially connect daters, and answer any questions from curious attendees.
“We create a place where people feel they belong, where their knowledge is valued, and where they will have the right conversations with the right people without having to rely on serendipity,” Renaud said.
Help Attendees Get the Most of Conference and Host City
Montréal-based Yulism offers another way to improve the attendee experience by connecting attendees not only to each other but also to experts in the city.
“We see ourselves as an added value to amplify engagement at conferences,” said Stéphane Martel, CEO of Yulism. “We provide a concierge service at conferences to help participants to connect with the content or to connect with other participants.”
Generally, Yulism assigns one concierge per 25-50 participants, and they begin their work a month before the event, helping attendees identify their objectives and goals. Once the conference is underway, the concierges then help attendees achieve those goals by facilitating interactions both on-site and off.
In addition, Yulism also offers collaborative workshops (called Learning Events) and field trips in Montréal, where participants can meet with and learn from local experts. For example, at the Metropolis World Congress in June, the event organizers offered attendees a half day to participate in Yulism-created off-site programming related to the conference themes. (Or attendees could use the time to schedule braindates through e180.)
“Our mandate was to program half a day of content based on the conference topics but outside the convention walls,” Martel said. “The attendees got to learn about specific topics on-site where the real things happen with the real experts instead of getting that information from a PowerPoint in the convention center.”
A September/October 2016 Associations Now magazine article on this topic summed up why creating engaging learning experiences and meaningful connections matter: “It comes back to the unique potential of live events. Your audiences left their offices in search of something truly different. They’re hoping you’ll help them find it.”