What Does It Take to Get New Attendees?

You can’t rely on your most loyal attendees forever. Now’s the time to think about how to get new attendees registered and onsite.

Late last month I came across a column by Dave Lutz, managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, discussing why meeting planners need to develop an attendee succession-plan strategy—and how to do it.

His suggestions included owning the mid-career professional demographic, understanding that labels and actions matter, and avoiding putting people in boxes.

“As you reimagine your conference for future audiences, there are four areas you need to consider: engagement and community strategy, learning experience design (LXD), user experience design (UXD), and purpose and passion alignment,” he wrote.

For associations, as their most loyal attendees begin to retire, now is the time to experiment and figure out a way to woo the next generation of attendees—and exhibitors. While lots of research shows that millennials, as well as other generations, value face-to-face meetings, that alone won’t get them in the door. Here are three strategies I’ve seen associations use to bring new attendees to their events:

Registration gifting. In his column, Lutz mentioned that many meetings offer free or discounted registration to students and early-career professionals—a tactic he said often has a “poor conversion rate for future attendance.”

The association meetings space is also no stranger to these types of discounts. But another approach I’ve seen groups take is to offer already-registered attendees the ability to donate registration money to students or even gift them a free registration. For instance, registrants to the National Court Reporters Association conference can support student attendees by adding a donation to their convention registration. And, last year, ACPA–College Student Educators International gave faculty members the ability to “pay it forward” and pay the registration fee for an undergraduate or graduate student.

Shark Tank-style competitions. One way to get people in the door who are likely to be the next generation of innovators and experimenters—and hopefully future attendees—is to invite them to pitch their products and ideas that they think will improve the industry.

Associations frequently employ these Shark Tank-style pitch competitions. For example, the American Association of Airport Executives capped off its Airport Innovation Forum with five startups pitching their ideas to a panel of judges that included innovation experts from Microsoft and Amazon and an aviation industry insider. For early-career professionals or those new to the industry, the opportunity to pitch to execs from well-known companies and receive immediate feedback from audience members is an experience they will likely never forget and may help make them future attendees.

Career-focused opportunities. Most of these next-gen attendees will be early- to mid-career, which means they’ll be focused on planning their career path or getting in front of industry leaders. To help with this, groups like the American Association of Drilling Engineers offer students the opportunity to highlight their work through dedicated poster and presentation sessions [PDF]. Meanwhile, other groups—like the National Black Nurses Association and the Association for the Advancement of Medical Implementation—offer onsite career fairs and career-related sessions that cover everything from interview tactics to salary negotiation.

Appealing to next-gen attendees is also important because of the effect it has beyond the conference: It will help develop your membership base. What strategies have you tried to encourage new attendees to register for one of your conferences? Please share in the comments.

(DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images Plus)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

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

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