By Scott Steinberg
From educational programming to setup and transportation, association meeting planners have no shortage of concerns that constantly demand their attention when designing events. With so much effort routinely poured into creating must-see occasions though, it's all-too-easy to overlook many easy and cost-affordable low- and high-tech solutions that can also help you better engage attendees in the run up to and during your meeting. Looking to get members more involved in your programs, and get more in general from any get-together? The following hints, tips and solutions can help you make every meeting more of a team event, plus squeeze tremendous added value from every program, extending the value of events far beyond their actual duration, even providing lasting benefits for those who can't attend.
Source Contributions From Your Audience
Invite members to participate in programs via official channels (e.g. web, word-of-mouth, email, social media platforms, etc.) by submitting their questions and suggestions, or showing support for programs and initiatives via comments, videos or podcasts prior to your meeting. Submissions can be used to shape event programming (e.g. when weighing trending topics to feature), incorporated into speeches (i.e. by putting queries that participants have sent to featured experts), and used in supporting materials (ex: video reels filled with testimonials, insights and real-world frontline commentary). Note that all are fair game for posting on your website, sharing online, or incorporating into current or future programs, takeaways and promotions. Each presents a great way to acknowledge your community and make its voice heard.
Survey Attendees and Make the Numbers Add Up
Partner with your speakers and/or sponsors to conduct surveys, polls and studies, or provide audience questionnaires, both prior to and during your event—not just after presentations are delivered. Research and input can be used to craft more insightful programs, incorporated into call-and-response segments, or potentially debuted as part of special onsite announcements. Findings may even be used as unique value-adds: "All who attend will receive a copy of our annual industry awareness survey!" Data collected prior to, at or following your event can further be used as part of press releases, white papers and other novel takeaways—all built by and for attendees with their active input.
Surprise and Engage Your Attendees
Speaking of input, since when in the connected age does conversation work one way? Rather than delivering canned 30- to 60-minute speeches, consider stopping at regular, preset intervals during presentations to invite audience questions, conduct informal polls or source offstage input--all techniques that can help re-ignite interest and discussion. Reaching out to known experts in attendance ("I see Marketing V.P. Jane Smith is here today: Jane, what challenges do you see this trend presenting?") also can help heighten programs' sense of dynamism and engagement. Talking with an audience, not simply at it, makes for more must-see sessions, and helps enhance participation, engagement and retention rates.
Add Live or Streaming Guest Appearances
Want to really shake things up? Use videoconferencing services (see: Google Plus' Hangouts feature) to source live input from surprise guests wherever high-speed Internet connections are available. Via these platforms, top authorities including notable members and organizational leaders can pay events unexpected visits that keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Similarly, you also can beam in thoughts, opinions and live updates from events occurring simultaneously in other parts of the world. The next time leadership teams or committees convene at distant locations, consider using these platforms to bring all closer together and illustrate your association's global impact.
Promote Running Commentary
Courtesy of online connectivity, every smartphone-, tablet- and laptop-wielding audience member is now a potential broadcast announcer or program participant. Running streams of questions and feedback from viewers can be projected live on screens for speakers and viewers to see throughout events, courtesy of Twitter and other services, helping guide ongoing discussion. Attendees also can be given tools, links and access to share live blog streams, chats and event highlights via their own websites or social channels, helping all promote and drive conversation around presentations as they unfold and allowing your efforts to reach a wider target audience. Invite sharing, streaming and ongoing online discussion, and you instantly boost interactivity and impact.
Better Leverage Speakers
With so many hard-to-pin-down experts onsite and available for audiences to engage with, why limit their exchanges to cookie-cutter keynotes alone? Question-and-answer sessions, meet-and-greets, book signings, breakout sessions and panel appearances can all help attendees enjoy further access to these luminaries. Have a smartphone or spare audio recorder handy as well? You know what they say about free press; make a point of creating and archiving film or podcast clips with them on topics of interest for sharing online via your website, social or digital channels to boot. Consider asking speakers to share each of these assets and additional insights with their own audiences, too. The practice can help increase your reach, add value for viewers no matter which channel they discover you through, and potentially generate more publicity ops for your association.
Film and Distribute Programs
As many resources as association meeting planners invest in offering attention-grabbing activities and speakers, many neglect the exponential gains videotaping provides despite its only incremental expenses. Where appropriate, always keep a camera on hand during events to capture learning and insight, and ensure that insights gained from challenges and team-building activities are preserved for others to learn from and enjoy. Lessons and program highlights can easily be uploaded to sites like YouTube or Vimeo (where they can be promoted, shared or embedded into other websites), or incorporated into exclusive members-only archives. Inside tip: Setting aside a space at your event (e.g. a quiet room where users can talk to the camera) allows speakers to comfortably share personal insights, anecdotes and testimonials, thereby boosting engagement rates while simultaneously building your library of potential assets. Can't afford a professional camera crew? Skip fancy setups and have a volunteer man a budget-friendly portable HD camcorder; dozens of models cost just $100-$200.
Capture Advice and Insights
Continuous content marketing and publishing efforts should be a part of every organization's outreach programs. Events provide the perfect venue at which to tap high-ranking officials, experts and thought leaders for learning, insights, and advice, which can be used to generate added value and help raise awareness for associations and nonprofits all year long. As part of your programs, workshops, and meetings, ask all to share stories, provide hints and tips, and offer support or feedback. Quotes and commentary can then be incorporated back into interview segments, newsletters, mailers, trailers and more. With so many great resources on-site, why not utilize them?
Create Unique Value-Adds and Takeaways
Enough with the pens and keychains. Instead, consider creating more unique giveaways incorporating members' names, faces, and unique contributions to help heighten recall and event takeaway. For example: After capturing all those interviews, videos, and personal anecdotes, try using the material you've collected to create a variety of eBooks, brochures, websites, or video segments (i.e. The Future of Association Management or 50 Ways to Get Members More Involved) featuring contributors. Don't want to get that fancy? Transcribe contributions and use them to create blog posts or newsletters that highlight your community, creating opportunities to connect and re-engage audiences while promoting social sharing year-round.
Collect and Respond to Fan Feedback
Now that your annual meeting is done, don't be afraid to ask: How do we make the next one even better? Go beyond simple surveys and questionnaires by reaching out participants and speakers via your Wiki, webpage, email newsletter, surveys, or social channels to find out what they loved and would like to see more of in coming months. Encourage them to suggest future topics and programs, provide feedback on their experiences, and brainstorm even better ways to share event highlights and learning.
As a key part of any winning association meetings team, it bears reminding: It's never too early to get audience members involved.
Scott Steinberg is a speaker on leadership and innovation, and the author of Becoming Essential. The CEO of TechSavvy Global, a management consulting and market research firm, he has also been featured in 600+ outlets from CNN to NPR. He can be reached 888-507-2246; email@example.com, or through his websites at www.techsavvyglobal.com or www.AKeynoteSpeaker.com.