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A Look at Year-Round Event Engagement

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Annual meetings should no longer be considered finite events. Associations can maximize these offerings, as well as revenue and engagement, by allowing participants to collaborate all year long.

At associations across the country, conversations around their premier conferences have changed: Savvy association professionals recognize that the annual meeting should be more than a one-and-done event. That’s why organizations are creating opportunities throughout the year for members and exhibitors to deepen their connections to fellow conference attendees—and to the association itself.

The pandemic prompted a “hyper-learning” mode that exploded in an array of new options for association conferences, according to Joanna Pineda, CEO and chief troublemaker at Matrix Group International. In addition to adopting virtual or hybrid conferences on a more permanent basis, many organizations are capitalizing on the excitement that comes from an annual conference with meeting-adjacent opportunities and offerings that are not limited by the time constraints of an in-person event.

Organic Expansion

One easy way to expand engagement is to link smaller, more focused meetings that occur throughout the year with the annual conference. For instance, associations can offer space at the annual conference for attendees of previous conferences, courses, or webinars to continue conversing and meet up in person.

“While not all members of the smaller groups will make the trek to the annual meeting, everyone is considered part of the ‘cohort’ and continues to receive updates relating to the smaller meetings and the larger conference,” Pineda said.

Participation in the smaller group builds excitement for follow-up interaction at the conference—and conference meetups expand interest in participating in the virtual committee or subset meetings beyond the conference.

Another way associations are maximizing their meetings is by offering advanced spotlight sessions during the conference. “Spotlight sessions assume a higher level of knowledge gleaned from previous conferences or webinars,” Pineda. Conference attendees who express interest in these sessions are contacted prior to the event with links to past sessions or preparatory webinars to get ready for higher-level discussion during the upcoming conference. Spotlight sessions promote past content and build excitement for the upcoming meeting.

Many organizations are capitalizing on the excitement that comes from an annual conference with meeting-adjacent opportunities and offerings that are not limited by the time constraints of an in-person event.

Strategic Engagement

For some associations, building upon the annual meeting is a more massive undertaking. Two years ago, the National Association of Broadcasters launched NAB Amplify—a digital hub that facilitates connection between in-person events for members of the broadcast, media, and entertainment industry.

Developing the digital hub was part of a strategic initiative intended to nurture and grow NAB’s revenue assets, deliver more targeted information, and develop more loyal customers, says Justine McVaney, SVP and deputy managing director, NAB Global Connections and Events.

NAB Amplify features information, updates, videos, and educational products—offering conferencegoers continuous updates on the latest trends and technologies impacting the industry. Visitors also access in-depth analyses and get sneak peeks of new products. In addition, NAB Amplify users can curate their conference experience prior to the live events and connect with like-minded individuals during and after the conference.

The hub also provides exhibitors with benefits beyond the traditional in-person exhibit hall. The hub features a “Company Profiles” section, which was recently redesigned and will eventually offer tiered benefits, giving readers “the industry’s most complete and comprehensive source for products and services,” according to McVaney. The hub also features a product discovery video series called “Demo Days,” spotlighting companies and their products and services.

NAB also leverages the hub to collect more detailed data about conferencegoers and their preferences, facilitating the creation of more personalized products and services.

“It’s all about getting data organized and in one place,” said McVaney. “It allows us to track engagement of customers to help us make smarter business decisions, and to give members what they’re looking for.”

Ultimately, curated data will help with decision-making: “We always have new ideas, but data can help determine which idea is the right idea at the right time,” said McVaney.

NAB also plans to beef up the portal with more opportunities for members to connect with one another, expanded information, educational videos, and digital “channels” for collaborating on topic-specific content.

“We’ll be able to diversify our offerings and conduct market research, which will benefit our live events—all driven by customers’ needs and wants, given what their behaviors show us,” said McVaney.


Christine Umbrell is a freelance writer based in Herndon, Virginia.

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