“You always come out of a successful year with the challenge of, how do you meet those benchmarks again?” Vigna said. “How do you deliver the same ROI to visitors?” Attendance-wise, Vigna is not worried about having fewer people in Spokane than NHRMA did in Tacoma. “We’ve been working with NHRMA on this conference for many years, and those numbers fluctuate on both sides,” Vigna said. “We are keeping them updated on where things are at so that there are no surprises, and providing tools and guidance and how we might make corrections if we see that trends are not the way they need to be.”
As for attendee ROI, NHRMA and Conference Solutions hope to capitalize on engagement with a conference mobile app. “That’s our self-imposed challenge,” she said. “We want people to be able to form connections regardless of whether there are five or 500 people in the room.” While NHRMA has had a mobile app for two years, and while usage has risen each year, it’s mostly remained “very functional,” Vigna said. “We are looking for a vendor to really capture what it is our attendees would use it for. There are lots of tools out there, and a whole range of sophistication. We want to find out what this group would be willing to adopt and embrace, and capitalize on those pieces.”
NHRMA is moving away from the typical conference-wide social program to a series of “sign-up, explore-the-city-in-your-own-way” events. Last year was the association’s 75th anniversary, and to celebrate it, NHRMA put on a big “Showcase of Washington,” where a number of F&B vendors participated in a food-and-wine showcase. While it was well-received, it still was a single activity that attendees either chose to participate in or didn’t.
This year, that “keystone social event” will be replaced with a series of events — sponsored by Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., a firm that helps develop employee-benefit programs — designed to highlight Spokane, including a walking “ghost tour,” an improve show, a painting class, a food tour, and more.
“We recognize that people are coming into a city, and beyond the networking events at the conference, we want to provide ways for members and attendees to have engagement outside of the session rooms,” Vigna said. “We felt that the conference-wide event, while successful in the past, deserved to be looked at. We were having a hard time finding a one-size-fits-all event for a population of 600 people. So we did a gut check: What do attendees really want to do?”
Convene’s Pre-Con/Post-Con series asks meeting planners about their challenges and how they intend to address them (Pre-Con), and then circles back around after the meeting has occurred (Post-Con) to see how well they worked out.