Monday, February 22, 2010

3 Pillars of Successful Meetings

Lots of buzz about the future of big meetings. Read Seth's blog. My take is that there is plenty of steam left in the big meeting. The big meeting just needs to get more personal.

For many associations, meetings are a non-dues revenue stream. Being successful means filling the seats. To fill the seats, pay attention to the 3 Pillars of Successful Meetings. Trademarked, all rights reserved, blah, blah, blah, with a tip of the hat to T.E. Lawrence.

Pillar #1

As in real estate: Location, Location, Location.

That means easy access by non-stop air, train, and car. And the promise of grown-up fun at the end of the journey. Think about a destination you’d spend your own money on for a good time. Then site your meeting there. Assuming 3,000 plus attendees: San Francisco, New Orleans, Boston, New York City,  Washington D.C., Las Vegas, Orlando, make the short list. Of these, Orlando is my least favorite (my kids are grown). These destinations come with a price. They are expensive. You’ll need big numbers to get the best return on investment.

If you can’t afford Tier 1, try Tier 2. Some of my favorite conferences have been in cities like Key West, Miami, Seattle, Austin, Nashville, San Antonio, Reno. These are best for smaller meetings where content is king and networking is queen.

Pillar #2

Irresistible content.

So you don’t have a Tier 1 destination. Your October meeting is in Philadelphia, Chicago, Boulder, Dallas. They are good cities, but no-one would spend their own money to go there in October. You need irresistible content. That content could be all the CEUs you need for your certification maintenance. It could be top industry speakers. It could be content that makes you money, advances your career, or keeps you out of jail. Regardless, the content has to be more than interesting. It has to be personally indispensable.

Pillar #3

Networking-- all your friends, and your future friends, will be there.

So your content is so-so and your destination is mediocre. Are you doomed to throwing a party that no one attends?

Your last play is to the human need for connection and belonging. Meetings are a chance for people to get together with friends they rarely see. If I knew that my friends, that I see rarely, would be gathering at a certain place and time, I’d be inclined to be there as well. Nobody misses a family reunion if they can help it.

My organization did some research on who goes to meetings. There is a predictable segment of membership that regularly attends meetings. They value networking. They are connected to other members. They volunteer. They are social. The association is a hub for them and they look forward to meetings as a chance to get together with associated friends and colleagues. This is a huge deal. Your meeting should be the party that no one wants to miss because everyone will be there. Build in time for this. Anything you can do to foster connections between members further binds them to you, as the nexus.

Random thoughts

Anytime you start reducing a highly complex activity to a few simple ideas you are forced to leave out the secondary and tertiary factors that represent true excellence.

These are the Big Three that get folks to put there money down and fill the seats (and rooms).

Of course, if you are holding a meeting for <100 people, the world is your oyster. Pick a prime destination based on your knowledge of your attendees.

I’m not a meetings professional. I’ve managed meetings, but it really doesn’t suit my personality. Some people thrive on the attention to detail in preparation, the crisis management, the haggling with facilities at the end. They are called meeting planners and they are golden.