Engagement + Marketing

10 Ways to Remake Your ‘Annual Meeting’

Most annual meetings have used the same agenda template for decades — they just replace the filling each year. Here's how to breathe new life into yours.

One of my favorite conference-committee activities is what we refer to as the “wave.” We challenge the committee to rank each of their conference elements as “boundary,” “emerging,” “established,” or “dying.” This list (combined with next month’s list) of ways to remake your annual meeting was influenced by committees who ranked these elements as established or dying. They need to be put on the stop-doing list or reimagined for continuous improvement. View your annual event as being in constant beta mode. Change things up 20 to 25 percent each year, ensuring that you discontinue legacy elements that lack engagement.

If you want to increase relevance for next-generation attendees, start with this kill/change list of 10 items. (We’ll feature another 10 next month.)

1. Don’t trot out your annual business meeting as part of a general session. Transparency is critical to build trust, so publish committee reports and financials online, and meet bylaw requirements by offering a 30-minute session (max) for interested parties.

2. Consider changing how you brand your event, so that “Annual Meeting” is not part of its lexicon. It lacks intentionality, other than the obvious fact that you do it once a year. Create a brand or tagline that is purpose-driven for the profession you serve.

3. Change the vernacular from attendee to participant. Attendance is passive; participation is active, and provides greater value.

4. Audio syncing to PowerPoint is no longer a viable tool or an attendee benefit. Metrics have been declining for years, so rip off the Band-Aid. Instead, provide a link to handouts, use video capture as your budget allows, schedule session replays, and have journalists write session recaps.

5. The majority of your participants aren’t inspired by your awards banquet. Speeches thanking the academy and photo shoots taken while the audience is held hostage need to go away. It is, however, important to recognize excellence and celebrate the profession you serve. Expedite and chunk the way you showcase recipients’ achievements throughout the program, and publish videos of them that can be shared beyond the live audience.

6. No one has ever changed their opinion of a brand through bag inserts. It’s an ineffective marketing tactic.

7. The same goes for branded key cards. Not only do they lack impact, key cards will soon become extinct at many hotels.

8. An “everyone wins” approach to posters may help grow participation and revenue in the short term, but it doesn’t help your profession. True examples of innovation and breakthroughs are lost in the masses. CVs are not improved by poorly vetted properties.

9. Exhibition and exposition halls should be rebranded as solution centers. The way people buy has changed — the more that trade-show floors can be learning destinations, the longer they will thrive as a program component.

10. It’s fine to have a handful of invitation-only events, but don’t publish them as part of the main program or sessions-at-a-glance. Their lack of access can be alienating to many participants. If you must publicize these events, put them in the back of your agenda with other non-program activities like committee or board meetings.

Dave Lutz, CMP

Dave Lutz, CMP, is managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.