Last week I attended the National Speakers Association’s (NSA) Annual Meeting, Influence 2023. As a 25+ year member of NSA, I was eager to see how they would weave in their 50-year anniversary and deliver on a promise to elevate the education and main room experiences. They did not disappoint.
Below I’ve highlighted five strategies NSA implemented that resulted in achieving pre-pandemic attendance, record high sponsorship and highly valued education and networking experiences. Many of these can be replicated for improving your annual meeting results.
1. Personal Outreach to High Influence Members.
Your long standing, highly influential members who may have pulled back or left your organization during the pandemic can be recruited back with a phone call! NSA’s board of directors divided up a “hit list” of their CPAE’s (hall of fame speakers) and made personal calls to invite them to attend (and in some cases rejoin). This strategy worked. The presence of these industry rock stars added to the overall vibe and networking.
2. Prioritize Your Organization’s Strategic Goals.
Know what goals your annual meeting best amplifies and use it as a filter for your content strategy decisions. All of the main stage and concurrent education offerings at Influence were curated to achieve the top two organization goals; help members book more business and be better on the platform (stage). If the session didn’t align with those two outcomes, it was rejected.
3. Leverage Association Milestones.
NSA celebrated their 50th anniversary in Orlando. Instead of just throwing a big party, they intentionally looked for ways to weave their history (and future) into all aspects of the conference. Archived live video footage of founding members was skillfully edited and played during transitions or openings of general sessions. Those videos combined with a focus on the future generated great buzz and strengthened the pride members have in their affiliation with NSA.
4. Give Attendees the Power of Choice.
NSA sold multiple breakfast and lunch time sponsored session slots but that wasn’t the only way you could eat. The same food was offered to everyone and attendees could choose if they wanted the additional education opportunity (with full transparency that it was sponsored) or eat with peers in the connection zone area which was in the same room as the exhibits.
5. Create a Welcoming Conference Culture.
Like most meetings post-pandemic, NSA had over 350 first time attendees out of their 1,100 total. In addition to their first-timer welcome session, they had an “Ambassador Program” where they connected first-timers with veteran attendees and encouraged virtual meetups prior to arrival. They ran a strong campaign with the ambassadors around “paying it forward” and “no one sits alone” messages. As a result, many told me they felt like VIP’s and their experience was so positive they can’t wait to come back next year!
There has never been a better time to look at your annual or high stakes meeting to see where you could implement some of these low or no cost ideas to improve your attendance acquisition, revenue and most importantly, the overall experience of your conference.
If you want to talk about how we might be able to help, send us a smoke signal.