Create Programs That People Want To Attend

By Nicole Millman-Falk, CAE

Click image to enlargeSuccess Under StressJessica L. Levin, MBA, CMP, CAE, President and Chief Connector, Seven Degrees Communications, LLC, spoke at MeetNY on Creating Events People Want To Attend.

Association education programs don't have to be snooze-fests, according to Jessica Levin, MBA, CMP, CAE, President, Seven Degrees Communications, who spoke at NYSAE's Sixth Annual MeetNY. People come to events for networking and education. Where these two intersect helps people learn from each other, not just the speaker. Levin suggested meeting planners consider alternatives to seminars as a way to maximize interaction among attendees to create dynamic programs.

Malcolm Knowles indentified six principles of adult learning, which Levin suggests should guide all association educational events.

  • Adults are internally motivated and self-directed.
  • Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences.
  • Adults are goal oriented.
  • Adults are relevancy oriented.
  • Adults are practical.
  • Adult learners like to be respected.

"Seminars don't have to be boring," said Levin. Since adult learners can only absorb information in 20-minute intervals, she suggested alternatives to the typical meeting seminar, including: single-topic events; a series offered over a period of time; camp-style programs that are completely participant driven (People show up with no specific agenda, just the topic at hand, and take control of the event.); TedX programs are short (10 to 15-minute segments), where small bits of information are presented ("It is very high energy," said Levin.); Pecha Kucha sessions offer 20 slides, with 20 seconds on a slide ("This type of program forces speakers to be brief and get to the point of the topic," said Levin. "It really holds people's attention."); even briefer are ignite programs, which are only five-minutes; conversation-only events generally have a facilitator or moderator, and participants talk about a single topic of whatever they want; problem-solving programs allow participants to find solutions from their peers.

Another way to create no-yawn programs is to offer better learning environments for meeting attendees. Consider the room set up including temperature, arrangement of the chairs, perhaps setting up couches instead of classroom seating. "A living room style offers a more relaxed atmosphere and can open up conversation," said Levin.

Click image to enlargeSuccess Under StressMeeting planners and industry suppliers packed the room at the New York Society of Security Analysts to hear Jessica L. Levin talk about planning non-boring events.
©Joseph Rodriguez/ 2015.

Planning an interactive session? What about holding a meeting where people stand up, or move from one location to another in the middle of the program. "I once held a meeting with people sitting on yoga balls," said Levin. Imagine the barriers that environment might break down!

Changing the venue is another way to change the meeting's dynamic. Consider holding a program in a park or alternative environment. "Even hotels can think outside the ballroom," said Levin. Work with your sales team to think about other locations.

Of course, technology allows associations to plan educational events where you don't even need to meet face to face. Webinars, Google Hangouts, Go To Meetings are among the many alternatives out there.

Networking is clearly a component of any association gathering. Consider building those events into your programs as well. Roundtables, master-mind groups, pitch nights, speed networking, even games can change the dynamic and get people interacting.

With a little creativity, association meeting planners can create events that are educational and fun, keeping attendees engaged and awake!

Nicole Millman-Falk, CAE, is President of Millman-Falk Communications, LLC, providing strategic communication services for trade associations, professional societies, and donor-based organizations. In addition to her own company, she serves as Editor for Apogee Publications, which provides turnkey association newsletters, magazines, and membership directories. She is Editor of NYSAE's InView and is Chair of this year's Awards Committee. She can be reached at 201-652-1687;; or through her website at