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Association Meetings & Events
Many of the cars we drive today have turbocharged engines and there is an excellent reason for this. Turbocharging allows smaller engines to produce more power than naturally aspired engines of the same size. In the same way, turbocharging your association’s semi-annual and annual meetings increases the benefits your association members receive without significantly increasing the meeting cost.
Today, many association executives are under pressure to hold the line on meeting costs and yet deliver higher value to their association’s members. This can seem like a Catch 22 position for the association executive and board, but it needn’t be so.
There are a number of simple, straightforward strategies which association executives can employ to achieve both of these seemingly contradictory mandates. One highly effective means which I rarely see utilized has to do with with content integration. Certainly your annual or semi-annual association membership meetings have an event theme, but how well is this theme integrated and fostered by the totality of the event and the content presented?
Relevant, High Quality Content is Essential to Association Audiences
Providing relevant, high value content is more important to your association members than ever before. The days when business and trade association meetings where primarily social and party times are past history. Business association members expect to leave with new information and insights which they can immediately put into practice in their businesses. In our increasingly competitive world this is no longer an option, but rather a survival reality.
The vast majority of the association meetings at which I speak provide excellent content through their plenary sessions, BUT, and here is the problem, most often this highly valuable content is not well integrated. What do I mean by ‘not well integrated?’ Simply put, the content, presented across the two, three or four days of the meeting may all be in keeping with the event theme, but it is not highly cohesive and therefore, difficult for members to apply to their businesses in an comprehensive manner.
The content and insights tend to come in bits and pieces and not as a cohesive ‘thought stream.’ This results in the participants grasping individual ‘tactics’, but missing the larger ‘strategies’ which could have a far greater positive impact on their businesses. Think of it in terms of a panel discussion, which many association events incorporate into their meeting agenda. Such panel discussion can be moderated or unmoderated. If you are familiar with both, you know from experience that moderated panel discussions are far more likely to produce succinct, on topic panel responses where participant builds upon the previous comments, whereas unmoderated panel discussions tend to wander and provide far less ‘take-away’ value for your association members.
The same principle holds true for your entire event. Most events are essentially ‘unmoderated.’ In other words, there is no ‘single voice’ for the content provided during your event. Now you may say, ‘Of course not! We have a dozen or two or even three dozen speakers over the course of our event. How can there be a single voice?’
The Value of a ‘Single Voice’
By a ‘single voice,’ I am referring to one overarching message that your association members leave with. Another way to think of it is providing a context for each of the individual keynotes delivered by the various presenters. This context ensures that your desired theme is reinforced and built upon through each plenary session.
Most of the association meetings at which I speak include at least two presentations by nonmember professional speakers, typically the opening and closing keynotes. And almost always, these are presented by two different professional keynote speakers. Thus, your members hear one keynote speaker and topic at the beginning of your event and another at the end and numerous industry speakers in between. Diversity of topics and speakers may make your event interesting, but does it produce the most beneficial outcomes for the attendees?
Cohesive and Integrated Association Meeting Content
I believe that there is a better way which will result in a far more optimal business outcome. That is to have the same professional keynote speaker present the opening and closing keynotes and to introduce your other plenary speakers. In doing so, they can also provide a brief segue between speakers which ties the individual presentations together, thereby providing that flowing context which integrates the individual presentations into your overall conference theme and objective. An experienced professional keynote speaker should be able to listen to the other plenary presentations and contemporaneously create those segue’s on the fly.
Additionally, this accomplishes a second goal. You want your meeting to open with a BANG! That is one of the primary responsibilities of an opening keynote speaker. To excite the audience about what will follow over the course of the event. You want a strong start. A speaker who will actively engage your members and create passion about the meeting, revving them up!
What should happen next? Following the opening keynote, each presentation should build toward the conclusion. You don’t want your audience experiencing peaks and valleys as the event progresses. Instead, you want a great start, followed by growing anticipation and a steady build-up to the culmination, that point at which the closing keynote speaker draws together everything your association members have heard over the course of the event and concludes with a rousing call to take action and implement the knowledge and insights gained for your association members maximum benefit.
Unfortunately, this rarely happens! Instead, your members hear a series of loosely related or as is more often the case, unrelated presentations with no cohesive message or call to action. They then leave for home with a basket of great bits and pieces which soon fade away without action being taken, as the press of business as usual envelops them back at their business.
As an Association Executive, You Work Hard Planning Meetings
Is it any wonder why all of your hard work and exhaustive planning over the course of six or twelve months results in so little positive forward action on the part of your members? They left the event with information and good intentions, but without a roadmap for implementation. The event presented many great ideas, but those ideas lacked integration and cohesion. And you shouldn’t expect your members to invest the time to create that roadmap them self. That’s not their job. Truth be told, it’s your job to do so. And you can accomplish it without adding one iota to your own workload.
Hire only one professional keynote speaker. Task that speaker with both the opening and closing keynotes and also with segueing between your other plenary session speakers. If he or she is truly a professional, they not only can effectively do so, they will jump at the opportunity to help you create a cohesive learning experience for your members which will result in them being your event’s ‘single voice.’ In return, they will receive far more referrals to speak at other meetings and events.
Make Your Association Meetings a WIN – WIN – WIN Event
You will WIN for providing a truly integrated and cohesive learning experience for your members. Your association members will WIN, because they will leave with an integrated game plan of how to effectively implement what they have heard. And your professional keynote speaker will WIN, because they have opened the conference with a keynote that created audience passion and excitement and kept the momentum building to an outstanding event conclusion which greatly benefited the attendees.
That’s what I term a WIN – WIN – WIN and nothing could be better for all involved!
by John Di Frances
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