How to create an unmissable association conference

18 February 2019 by Lauren Smith

Events professionals at the recent Association Summit I attended agreed that associations and membership organisations are facing declining or flat-lining membership levels across the board. An association’s events programme is usually one of the main reasons for members wanting to be part of your organisation in the first place. So, it makes sense that you would want to maximise the benefits of attending for members.


The WHY of planning events

When planning your event, it may help to start with the why at the beginning of the event planning process. Ask yourself why are you running this conference?

In some research carried out by MemberWise and EventBrite, respondents from the 120 associations that took part agreed that 'bringing people together is something they all agree is important. Nearly 100% of those asked said they agreed or strongly agreed.'

What's more, '96% agreed that events provide a great opportunity for members to learn and benchmark against their peers' and almost '70% of the associations agreed that events are a cost-effective way to meet their objectives.’

But why else should run your event? The below pointers should help you get started with a brainstorm around this. It’s designed to help you capitalise on your event and ultimately get the best outcome for your organisation and your members.

Common reasons to run a conference

To drive reputation:

  • show you’re the leading the way in your industry
  • create a ‘must-attend’ event for discussion, ideas generation and knowledge sharing
  • put a spotlight on your industry/profession for lobbying, influence etc.

To increase engagement:

  • attract new audiences (from your existing membership base and beyond)
  • bring your vision to life – take your members on the journey with you
  • show where and how you’ve taken on board any member feedback

To push the benefits of Continuous Professional Development (CPD):

  • stress how it can ensure your members stay competent, employable and flexible by improving their transferable skills (crucial in an uncertain job market globally due to Brexit etc.)
  • educate people about your industry/profession
  • highlight typical career routes and how your members can follow suit to earn the big bucks (among other things of course!)

The HOW of running events

Secondly, you should think about the how. It’s time to get your operations head on at this stage.

What to think about to make the event happen:

Create a strong theme by:

  • choosing hot topics in your industry/profession
  • keeping it simple and clear
  • producing thoughtful sub-themes

Shape the format of your event by:

  • deciding when and where you will run it
  • being clear on what your members want to see
  • putting yourself in your delegate’s shoes – think through the delegate experience from the first promotional email they’ll receive to the last session / networking drinks they’ll attend

Deliver some compelling content by:

  • having reputable speakers
  • using your speakers’ expertise
  • giving your members something a bit different! The best speakers engage the audience with questions and things to think about as opposed to just speaking at them for example, your speaker could ask the audience to follow them on Twitter, give them a hashtag to use and perhaps make a competition around it. The most creative tweet around key takeaways wins a prize

The WHEN to do what for your event

Finally, you need to nail and agree on the when – essentially this is your timescales. Any events professional will tell you that your life will be a lot easier if you can stick to a plan for this. You’ll then free yourself up a bit to focus your time and energy on your promotional plan and getting bums on seats.

When you should do what:

One year before:

  • get a date in the diary
  • choose the location
  • think about themes and sub-themes
  • think about the branding

Nine months before:

  • launch your conference with a clear theme (and make sure any outstanding decisions on branding have been made!)
  • secure 50% of your speakers – and have their full details including images for speaker bios stored and ready to go
  • develop your marketing and comms plan

Six months before:

  • aim for a full programme
  • be clear on what your speakers will be talking about – ask for a synopsis at the very least
  • start to increase promotional activity and create additional content from the speakers

A little before:

  • start to drive excitement and engagement – if your systems support discussion forums this can really help to get some great subject matter. Posting on Linked In pages is an alternative
  • showcase specific features and slots in campaigns to drive up attendance and engagement from those attending

At the event:

  • make it easy for members to find each other connect and network; issuing a list of attendees on entry doesn’t really cut it anymore
  • first, enable members to search the attendees list via your website (making sure you have permissions as per GDPR) and reach out to meet
  • second, hire in some member networking technology (smartimpact can help here)
  • film speaker sessions and get copies of their collateral

A little after:

  • transcribe the videos of speaker sessions – there are tools available that can do this quite effectively
  • use the transcripts (which you can edit and improve) as a time and content index for the video sessions
  • publish the collateral and videos (maybe cut into short snippets), and make it searchable; build your members area into a ‘go to’ source of easily-found knowledge and use them to support your promotional content for next years’ event

Does your CRM hit the spot for all things event management?

The planning and successful execution of an event is a complex and very time-consuming process, with the need for lots of details to be co-ordinated across various tasks at many different points with many different people during the run up to the big day.

On top of that, associations are often juggling lots of events with multiple and conflicting deadlines to hit. According to the MemberWise survey carried out with 120 respondents from associations and membership bodies, ‘20% reported to be running in excess of 52 events per year - more than one a week and a further 6% hold events activity most week.’ There’s clearly a need for a sophisticated CRM for event management in this space.

If your CRM isn’t taking some of the stress out of events management for you then our smartevents module within Microsoft Dynamics can help. This events management software can assist you in managing everything from promoting the event, group and individual bookings, discounts at regular intervals at various price points (Early Bird etc.) to event ROI and budgeting/forecasting.

During the recent Association Summit, a common theme among attendees was the need to make speaker management easier. Associations tend not to have the luxury of an in-house conference producer to manage this very time consuming and ongoing task, so it was a shared frustration among attendees at the roundtables and sessions I attended. Our smartevents module can help with this as it has a special speaker management section, powered by its sophisticated workflow and task automation capabilities.

Like the sound of smartevents?

Download our smartevents eBook for an overview of the what the events management software can do for you.

Talk to us

We’d be more than happy to answer any questions you have around CRM for event management or arrange a demo for you. Get in touch with smartimpact or give us a call on 0845 544 2043.