20 Ways to Modernize an Annual Meeting – Part 1

Most annual meetings have used the same template agenda for decades. They just replace the filling each year. If you want to breathe new life into your conference, and increase relevance for next-generation attendees, start with this kill/change list. Part two of this series will include the remainder of the list.

1. Annual Business Meeting

Don’t do this as part of a general session. Publish committee reports and financials online. Transparency is critical for growing trust. Meet bylaw requirements by having a 30-minute session (max) that can be attended by those interested.

2. Annual Meeting Brand

Consider changing your brand to not include the words “annual meeting.” 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. Attendees

Change the vernacular to participant. Attendance is passive. Participation is active. Greater value is received by participants.

4. Audio Synced to PPT

It’s just not a viable product or attendee benefit any longer. Metrics have been declining for years. Rip the Band-Aid off. Instead provide a link to handouts, video capture as budget allows, schedule session replays and have journalists pen session recaps.

5. Awards Banquets

The majority of your participants aren’t inspired. Speeches thanking the academy and photo shoots while the audience is held hostage need to go away. It is, however, important to recognize excellence and celebrate the profession. Expedite and chunk these elements throughout the program. Publish videos of the recipients that can be shared beyond the live audience.

6. Bag Inserts

No one has ever changed their opinion of a brand through this ineffective marketing tactic.

7. Branded Key Cards

See bag inserts. Also, key cards will not exist at many hotels in a few years.

8. “Everyone Wins” Posters

Sure it helps grow attendance and revenue, but it doesn’t help your profession. Innovation and breakthroughs are lost in the masses. CVs are not improved by poorly vetted properties.

9. Exhibition and Exposition

The way people buy has changed. It’s a much better idea to rebrand these experiences to Solution Centers. The more trade show floors can be learning and nurturing destinations, the longer they will thrive as a component of your program.

10. Invitation-Only Events

It’s OK to have a handful of these, just don’t publish them as part of the main program or sessions at a glance. Participants are alienated when access is denied. If you must, publish these in the back of your program with other non-program activities like committee or board meetings.

Have you ever tried to kill a sacred cow and met with resistance from leadership? If so, what strategies did you use that helped create change?

Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2017.

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  1. Kate Hawley says:

    Overall, great comments and recommendations. I disagree with the comparison of bag inserts to key cards and eliminating them. Bag inserts should be eliminated. Agreed. However, currently, hotel key cards are required in enough hotels that it is a NEED for participants. Bag inserts are not a need but rather garbage that gets in the way that participants don’t care about. That said, it is important to be aware that this the room key sponsorship will eventually become a obsolete when key cards are no longer required to access rooms. Thanks for this article!

    1. Dave Lutz says:

      Thanks for adding your thoughts Kate. The biggest question that any sponsored property should answer is “does this make an emotional connection that will move the sponsors target market closer to their brand?” For most organizations, key cards fail that test and are provided at no charge by all hotels. We believe it’s best to be consultative and steer sponsors to investments that will have a more positive impact on their target market.

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