A successful meeting planner figures out ways to meet more of their attendees’ needs to increase retention and interest in the meeting. Here are 6 tips and examples on how other organizations have become more aligned with what their attendees need in order to create more successful meetings.

On this blog I’ve talked about how customization is an important trend and factor in engagement. Most meeting planners would agree customizing your offerings to what attendees want is a great way to make an impression and ensure they find it enjoyable, which leads to increased return rates. However, implementing customization can feel daunting to many planners. Where do you begin? How do you give attendees what they want without burning your budget or alienating others? Here are examples of how several organizations met the challenge to see results.

Meeting Industry and Member Needs

Many organizations host their meetings or conferences at approximately the same time each year, but industry and personal needs change over time. You may find your locked in date no longer suits your attendees or the industry. For instance, a state Parent Teachers Association may have hosted its first meeting the week before the children went back to school. Traditionally that was August, now it is mandated children will start in September, this will alter the conference schedule.

It’s necessary to keep an eye out on industry events that could impact your meeting calendar. Changes could come from a new law, a change in your industry’s busy time, or drastic government budget changes that would mean attendees have to choose between your event or another one. Listen to your attendees for scheduling adjustments that may be necessary.

Don’t Spread Yourself Too Thin

Some groups host multiple meetings across the country or world to make attending more convenient, but if numbers drop, it could become cost prohibitive to do so. You don’t want to spread yourself too thin from a resources perspective, nor do you want your events cannibalizing one another. You don’t want attendees to choose to go to the nearby meeting and forgo your annual one.

If you see numbers drop, it may be time to consolidate meetings. Some companies decide to eliminate its two meetings a year and combine them into one. This places a larger importance on your annual meeting and allows you to dedicate more resources to it. For attendees who used to have to budget for two meetings or decide which one they’d like to attend, this simplifies their finances.

Junkets Are So 1990

From government to corporate, organizations everywhere are slashing travel and professional development budgets. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the conference industry. Ultra-luxurious destinations are out for most organizations and many are cutting down on the length of their conferences. The International Association of Convention Centers asked its members their preference and found out, bigger (as in longer) is not always better. Their 2017 meeting was shortened to two-days and incorporated a one-day option for those looking for something more economical with less time away from the job.

Give Attendees a Jaw-Dropping Moment

Personalization of your meeting to your attendees’ interests and needs is a great way to engage conference goers, but personalization doesn’t mean you have to give them exactly what they want and expect. A savvy meeting professional will know to create what called a “jaw-dropping moment.”
Not only do attendees enjoy these magnificent surprises, they are also well-remembered. In a study, researchers found that emotional events are remembered much better than daily occurrences. They also found emotional events trigger the birth of new neurons inside our brains. These new cells are created and activated by the experience. That’s why those jaw-dropping moments have such a lasting effect on our attendees. Staying top-of-mind is essential to retention.

Virtual Options Keep People Connected When They Can’t Attend

Meeting planners know it’s easier to attract return attendees than it is to convince someone new to attend. Returning attendees are key to any conference planner’s success. But budgets and work sometimes preclude people from going. When this happens, there’s a good chance they won’t be back.
Attendance is a pattern, and sadly, skipping can become one too. That’s why it’s important to stay connected with attendees who aren’t able to come. The Higher Education Users Group heard their members’ desire to stay involved, even when they weren’t able to attend, and so they created a virtual option and made videos available (after conference) for free for their members. They want all their members to be able to be a part of the action and education.

Vendors Want to Be Heard Too

Vendors provide the basis for a lot of what you are able to offer at annual meetings and conferences. When exhibitor numbers decrease you have to secure a lot more sponsorships or increase attendee numbers by a large percentage to make up the difference. That’s why you shouldn’t think of customization as something

just for attendees.

Many vendors attend multiple conferences and trade shows on an annual basis. Requesting their opinions on what you’re offering, and then responding to it, is essential to ensuring they feel valued and feel they are receiving a return on their investment.

In Conclusion

The art of listening to your attendees is not about reacting and changing your offerings every time someone has a complaint. It’s about understanding their needs and realizing they are your greatest source of information on engagement. Together, you and your attendees (and exhibitors) can shape the future of your meetings and conferences. And this is truly proof of a great meeting planner.

(Social Coup LLC)