Published February 19, 2015
A new year always inspires us to try new things. A gym membership never sounded better. That French language class is calling your name. Maybe the Mediterranean diet is worth a try. So why not pour that New Year’s enthusiasm into some new ideas for your meetings? The quieter days of the first quarter might be a good time to meet with your organization’s leaders and talk about ways to change your meetings in small or even large ways.
Here are some conversation starters:
Get Rid of the Wait
Lines: We hate them, whether we’re waiting to buy groceries or standing with peers to register for a conference. Technology and plain old imagination could eliminate lines or, at the very least, make them somewhat enjoyable. Look for hotels with mobile check-in as a standard so your attendees can head straight to their rooms. Could technology streamline registration? Before you meet, read up on what industry tech expert Corbin Ball is touting and try out a few apps or technologies he recommends. If long lines for registration aren’t an issue, make the most of having attendees in one place with a “regiception.” The American Association of Cosmetology Schools conference described its regiception as “registration meets reception.” Have cameras handy to snap pictures; offer healthy snacks, like rejuvenating smoothies for those who’ve endured a long day of travel. Hire a couple of masseuses to give shoulder massages.
Remove the Ruts
Ah, ruts — we all fall into them, slipping easily along their familiar paths. Conferences that follow the same formats every year might make life easier for planners; attendees who favor familiarity don’t always mind the routine. But change makes brain synapses fire. Throw last year’s conference agenda on the table and study it as a medical examiner would scrutinize a body. Why are our sessions always an hour? What if we shortened them by 10 minutes? What could we do with that extra time? Should our motivational speaker talk at breakfast rather than lunch? Do we always have to sit at tables during our education sessions? Why not use sofas and chairs for breakouts or panel discussions? Should registration price options go beyond member/nonmember rates? What if we offered sessions a la carte so that attendees could choose sessions to attend based on their schedules and interests? By the way, one group that did so saw an impressive uptick in conference attendance.
A New Way to Recycle
Twitter, webinars, e-books, guest blogs — there are many ways to repurpose the educational and inspirational messages disseminated at meetings for members who could not attend, for those who attended but couldn’t attend every session that interested them, or for those who want to share information with others. Find more ways to use the wealth of information that your conference creates.
Keep Tech Top of Mind
Being plugged in means that you literally need plugs, so think about how to better support your audience’s tech needs.
While you are thinking about technology, talk about new apps that might make your conference more effective, such as real-time surveys for attendees, which allow problems to be corrected now instead of next year.
Why Are We Here?
Why do you meet where you meet? If you return each year to the same place, is this a healthy habit or an easy way out? Many cities that couldn’t handle conferences very well a few years ago have added meeting venues. For example, in Durham, North Carolina, the number of downtown hotel rooms will triple this year; topping it off will be the opening of a 21C Hotel. By 2016, Albany, New York’s capital, will have a new convention center, a boon for a town that has had good air access for many years. Attendees like to be among the first to experience a new destination and to talk with authority about a place few of their friends or peers have visited.
Vickie Mitchell is the former editor of Small Market Meetings. If you have ideas for future columns, contact her at email@example.com.