Keeping Your Meetings Fresh for Attendees

Learn how one association keeps its annual conference fresh after 40 years.

When you host an annual event, it can be easy to fall into the pattern of doing the same thing each year.

So how do you keep things fresh? Looking for advice, we turned to the team at the North American Veterinary Community (NAVC).

NAVC has been hosting their Veterinary Meeting and Expo (VMX) for the past 40 years—mostly with the city of Orlando as the destination city.

Think Big, Focus Narrow

When it comes to thinking up new features for VMX, NAVC’s Senior Vice President of Live Events Joe Sorrentino says the planning process is focused on the attendee experience.

“We’re looking at creating experiences for attendees when they’re here and not just a traditional event where you’re sitting in a room listening to education, but all encompassing,” Sorrentino said. “Everything that we do is built around the experiences, whether it’s the workshops that we put on, the entertainment that we do, or the fitness courses that we put together.”

Each year the NAVC staff plans VMX around a theme, and with the 40th anniversary falling in 2023, the team decided that the event should celebrate the 1980s—featuring fun activities on the exhibit floor like a roller skating rink and arcade.

In addition to fresh new ideas like skating and games, Sorrentino said there are also popular experiences that attract attendees year after year. For example, a behind-the-scenes tour at SeaWorld Orlando offers the opportunity for attendees to observe the veterinary care, husbandry, training, and study of the park’s resident animals. Sorrentino said demand has been so high for the tour that NAVC is looking to add more of them for attendees.

“Orlando has everything that we might need from an entertainment perspective.” Sorrentino said. “There are lots of vendors in town to support us, arcades, amusement park vendors, suppliers—you name it, they’re here—and we get to take advantage of it.”

When it comes to planning memorable events at VMX, Sorrentino said the team will brainstorm and then work with the local destination marketing organization (DMO), Visit Orlando, to identify vendors to help them execute their plan.

“Sometimes we don’t know what we need,” Sorrentino said. “We’ll make a quick call to Visit Orlando and ask, ‘Who do you have that might be able to do X?’ and they give us probably two, three names.”

Beyond programming, Sorrentino advised thinking of all the different ways that your theme can be incorporated into your event, giving each year a unique flavor that attendees don’t want to miss.

“We looked at, ‘How do we incorporate the eighties theme, but also give back to the profession that supported us?’” Sorrentino said. “So we actually turned our pricing back to 1983. Registration cost to go to a conference in 1983 was $125 and that’s exactly what we launched this year.”

Look Beyond Entertainment

In addition to an expansive expo floor and exciting entertainment, continuing education options draw attendees to an event. The same can be said at VMX.

VMX is billed as the world’s largest, most comprehensive continuing education conference and launchpad for new products and innovations within the veterinary industry. Sorrentino says the staff is accurately aware of the importance of offering cutting-edge education as a selling point for attendees.

“We have such a great pool of resources to find speakers, from theme parks, the local zoos, and educational institutions. The University of Florida is right in our backyard as well,” Sorrentino said.

Identify Growth Opportunities

Over the years the size and structure of VMX has changed and grown, and Sorrentino says NAVC has been lucky to host the event in a city that has been able to grow with it.

As NAVC’s flagship veterinary educational event, VMX has attracted over 18,000 attendees, necessitating a move to the Orange County Convention Center in 2017.

“It’s very difficult to find venues and properties that can handle a show of our size,” Sorrentino said. “We’re 130,000 square feet of actual exhibit space and we have over 600 booths. We have almost a thousand educational sessions. You can’t pull that off in most facilities.”

Beyond just being able to grow with the event, Sorrentino also says the staff appreciates the connections they’ve been able to make in the community and with vendors over the many years of hosting in Orlando.

“We’ve got some great relationships and we’ve built up equity and built up trust. They’ve become part of our team,” Sorrentino said. “We work with a lot of the same people each year and sometimes they’ll remind you, ‘Hey, did you remember this?’ ‘No, I didn’t thank you for reminding me.’ And it becomes easier to do your job.”

Want to learn more about growing your event in Orlando? Check out for all the latest on Cvent’s No. 1 meeting destination in the country.

(Handout photo)