How a Meeting Planner Swap Could Improve Your Own Conference

People typically attend annual meetings to network, learn new skills, or keep up with the profession’s latest trends. But for association meeting professionals, they may attend another group’s conference to bring back takeaways that will improve their own events. A look at how one event pro embarked on such a journey in 2020.

In 2020, Robyn Jones, director of conferences and events for the Association for Asian Studies (AAS), found herself with a virtual convention to plan for the following year but didn’t know the inner workings such a meeting would require. 

“We needed to choose a virtual platform, which we’d never done before, and I had no idea where to start for planning a meeting like this,” she said. 

Like many of her colleagues, she was assessing how organizations like hers were faring during the early months of the pandemic. She had her eye on the American Library Association, and its virtual annual meeting slated for June 2020.  

“I always admired ALA’s in-person conferences,” she said. “Our associations have many similarities. ALA’s members are librarians, and librarians are a large demographic for us. We have the same exhibitors, and ALA was holding their event online using the same platform we had.” 

Curious to learn more about how ALA put its virtual convention together, Jones contacted a member of the group’s meetings team to see if could receive a complimentary registration. Her request was granted. In total, Jones attended seven virtual conventions in the summer and fall 2020 with the goal of bringing back innovative ideas for AAS’ convention.  

A Dual Approach to Meetings 

Jones attended these virtual meetings through the lens of both meeting professional and participant—looking for best ways to use the platform and how to make the process easy for attendees. 

“ALA created video tutorials to walk attendees through the platform,” Jones said. “I thought that was a great idea and something we should do rather than screenshot printed documents.” 

Jones also observed how associations used exhibitor videos, networking rooms, and musical entertainment to combat Zoom fatigue. “The Latin American Studies Association’s virtual meeting had a big musical performance before the keynote address that sucked me in,” Jones said. “I was always taking note of what drew me in, of where to click to get into a booth or session, and if I was getting what I needed.” 

In addition, she looked at how associations used audio-visual and technology companies at conventions. She found that the standard Zoom meeting didn’t compare. “When we were planning our virtual meeting, we made sure that our produced large events—live and recorded—felt like watching television rather than watching someone in their kitchen on Zoom,” she said. 

Trends in 2023 and Beyond 

Jones isn’t attending any conventions this year with the meeting planner mindset she had in 2020. But if she had the time and budget, she knows what she’d be looking at how associations are delivering on the exhibitor experience.  

“I have an impression that exhibitor needs have changed since the pandemic,” Jones said. “I think exhibitors are interested in more than just buying a booth. They liked some aspects of virtual conventions, like lead generation, which you can’t do as easily at in-person meetings.” 

Best Practices for a Meeting Planner Swap 

If you see a conference coming up that you think can help you generate ideas for your next convention, Jones said don’t hesitate to reach out to someone on the meeting team. 

However, before introducing yourself, research the convention program. Consider how the meeting will help you better organize, plan, or rethink aspects of your own convention. 

“Show [the meeting planner] that you have a serious goal and an agenda for the events you want to attend,” Jones said. “Show them you’ve taken the time to understand their programming. Be specific about what you’re interested in, why you want to go, and what you hope to learn from their event.” 


Hannah Carvalho

By Hannah Carvalho

Hannah Carvalho is Senior Editor at Associations Now. MORE

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