As you shift from a focus of a short-term, one-night stand conference experience to a long term relationship (LTR) with potential and registered attendees, you need to plan things differently.
A LTR view means you look at each year and think about how you can begin to develop, build and maintain a community experience all year long with conference participants. Not just at the annual meeting.
So how do you create a LTR strategy with your conference participants?
Six Steps To Develop A LTR Plan For Your Conference Participants
1. Transition from the conference as an information-transfer experience to a relationship building experience.
Stop seeing your attendees as a monolithic audience and consider them individuals that you, your presenters and other registrants can develop relationships with. This means thinking about all the conference communication pieces differently. Does your message point them to content that helps solve their problems? Does your message help them connect to others that share similar interests? Does each message build or detract from the relationship building experience?
2. Consider every touch point with potential attendees as relationship building experiences that can provide two-way interactions.
When you consider a LTR, you think about a variety of ways to engage people before they arrive onsite. Potential attendees are invited to help co-create the conference experience. You invite them to share their wants, needs and problems with you early before designing the conference schedule. You let them help you develop the beginning, middle and end of the conference narrative. You see mass emails differently. You think about customization to different niche groups and how to allow them to connect with other likeminded peers.
3. View the conference experience as an overall, umbrella narrative that has three parts: before, during and after.
Think of your conference experience as a big pie. The focus of your pie is the conference narrative. The onsite content is only one slice of the conference narrative. Blog posts, eNewsletter articles, short videos, organization magazine articles, webinars and web resources from conference speakers and leaders are all pieces of the conference narrative pie. When you shift the center of the universe from the onsite conference experience to the conference narrative, you create new possibilities to extend the reach and range of the conference.
4. Find ways to tell the conference big story in different formats at different times throughout the year.
Extend your thinking form a one-time a year format with stand and deliver presentations to providing content in different formats and places where the conference community lives. This means building an integrated experience all year. Think of the TED model for an example.
5. Package your conference narrative and the slices of pie for spreadability.
How easy is it for your potential and registered attendees to share the conference narrative and slices of pie with others? Are pre-and post conference webinars, blog posts, eNews articles, videos and web resources spreadable? Is your conference content locked-up to a one-time experience onsite or behind the registered attendee wall? Or is it shared throughout the year and continuously fuels the LTR with conference participants. Are conference participants talking about you all year long or just a few weeks before and after the event?
6. Create a living conference community experience.
Where do your conference participants go to maintain their conference relationships? Do you provide an online community gathering place? Or are you only providing a conference eCommunity that is temporary, much like their hotel stay? Your conference participants want a place where they can build an online home together. Give it to them and seed that home with the slices of the conference narrative all year long.
What other steps would you add to this list? What are the implications for meeting professionals when thinking about building LTR with conference participants?
Ian McGonnigal says
I. Love. This. Post.
One thing to add. Its not about the conference, its about the relationship. The conference is a point of time in the greater conversation and relationship you have with your audiences. Think about how you can best exploit that moment in time to broaden and deepen relationships, accelerate sales, and tell your story. Consider the overall relationship and what other touch points continue that engagement throughout the year. How does your conference fit within the overall engagement ecosystem?
Jeff — You’re absolutely right — nurturing relationships via the conference is what will make the difference between whether individuals attend more than once.
I’d add that our tendency to think (and plan) the conference as a standalone event is the result of habit: don’t most associations do that with all (or most) of their programs, products, and services (PPSs)?
How well-integrated are most PPS? Probably not very… Many organizations suffer from a culture that’s entrenched in silos; I’ve even seen situations where the conference planners operate independent from the rest of the education staff.
Strategic thinking and planning gets a lot of bashing, but backing away from an individual event can provide the distance needed to see it as a part of a whole. A strong education strategy can identify loose or missing connections and provide a design that unifies what might otherwise seem to be disparate PPSs.
Yes, it’s about relationships. It’s also about what we might already have in place (as well as what we need to put in place) to strengthen those ties and connections. How that’s possible without a good strategy is a mystery to me.
Christine Melendes says
Jeff – great great great post. The relationship is at the center of everything – the sooner we get to this conclusion the better everyone is going to be. You can build richer learning when you have richer relationships with the people attending.
Thanks for the post!
Jeff Hurt says
I really like your statement, “The conference is a point of time in the greater conversation and relationship you have with your audiences.” Great point and thank you for adding it!
You’ve added some fantastic thoughts about integrating programs, products and services. Two words from your comment that struck me as gold: Integration and relationships. Thanks for adding to the discussion.
Yes, it is all about relationships. We can so easily get caught up in the details and logistics that we forget its about people, for people and by people for relationship building. Thanks for reminding us that.