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.
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.