Three Ways To Buck Tradition at Your Annual Meeting

Sick of executing conferences the same way you’ve done them for years? Consider making these changes to breathe new life into your events and boost attendee engagement.

It’s easy to stick with routine. I tend to go with one of two routes when I head out the front door to go on a morning run. For me, it mostly comes down to knowing that either will get me back in time to make breakfast and shower before I head to work.

But feeling rebellious the other day, I decided to take a new route. After I finished, I felt more energized post-workout than I had felt in a while—and, more important, I was happy I made it up the hill I wasn’t expecting to have to conquer.

Meeting professionals can get stuck in routines as well. It’s easy to rely on components or formats that have been successful in the past. But if you’re ready to inject some new energy into your events, here are three traditional elements found at most annual meetings that could be prime for a rethink:

Morning general session. Associations typically kick off each day of their conference with an opening general session that allows attendees to gather and hear from a keynoter who provides insights that get them thinking. But consider whether bringing all participants together needs to be limited to the morning. An end-of-day wrap-up session, or even a pep rally, can allow attendees to share takeaways and bring up their energy levels after a long day of learning.

For instance, Meeting Professionals International’s 2018 World Education Congress featured WEC Pep Rallies at the beginning and end of each day. According to MPI’s website,the morning pep rallies were intended to bring new perspectives that would help attendees kickstart their day of education, while the goal of the evening rallies was to energize them. The sessions were hosted by a comedian and featured talks on topics that ranged from creating memorable experiences to taking smart risks.

Exhibit halls arranged in aisles. Of course you want your expo hall to be designed in a way that’s easy to navigate for attendees and that draws traffic for exhibitors. But does that mean it has to consist only of aisles?

Not exactly, says the Association for Creative Industries. In 2017, when it launched Creativation, AFCI also reimagined its tradeshow as a vibrant city—the capital of the creative arts industry—where professionals go to gain knowledge.

Attendees were able to hop on and off the tradeshow shuttle bus after visiting the registration lobby “train station” and picking up their “tickets” (badges). From there, they could check out the show’s 10 new feature areas, clustered around city streets and neighborhoods, while visiting exhibitor booths.

The term “annual meeting.” Do a Google search using the terms “association” and “annual meeting,” and you get more than 63 million results. If you want to stand out, it may be time to toss the “annual meeting” terminology and create a name and brand that better fits your profession or industry.

A number of associations have put this idea into action, including AFCI with its Creativation conference. Others include the American Animal Hospital Association, which launched Connexity last month, and the Data & Marketing Association, which rebranded its annual event as &THEN in 2015.

How have you bucked tradition at your association’s annual meeting? Tell us how in the comments.

(tolgart/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

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

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