Your Annual Meeting Is Boring – Refresh it with These Smart Ideas

Skift Take

When someone sees an old picture of you and remarks you look the same, that’s a compliment. When it’s said of your event, you have some work to do. Here are a few tips to help.

You’re boring.

We hate to say it, but everything about your meeting is predictable.

You’re cutting-edge for a time machine set to circa 2000 (and for those of you who have to read that sentence again, it’s not a compliment.)

Could we be talking about you? Quite possibly, if you are following the same equation you have for a decade in putting your event together. If so, it’s time to open up to new possibilities and we have some suggestions for you.

LiveStreaming Your Meeting to Boost Engagement and Attendance

The formula used to be this: plan event, invite attendees, attendees come. In today’s world with travel budgets being cut and time away from the office becoming harder and harder to get approved, this scenario may not be working to engage all of your attendee base. The UK-based Racehorse Owners Association noticed that hosting their event in London every year made it harder and harder for their global members to attend, especially as they aged. That’s why the association embraced livestreaming and broadcast the entire annual meeting to its membership. But they didn’t stop there. They opened it to anyone who was interested, not just members. Members had the option of sending in questions for the chief executive and his staff to answer on camera. About 700 people tuned in.

Using Data to Shape Your Meeting

With today’s technology, we have a lot more to go on in shaping our annual meetings than we did years ago by merely using exit surveys from the previous year. It’s easy to look at data from a simplistic standpoint of deciding who likes what in analyzing past activity. This information can then be used to shape offerings and it’s a great place to start. But advanced data analysis can show us things we might not have realized before. For instance, the National Confectioner’s Association hosts its annual conference in Chicago every year. By analyzing their data, they realized a large number of members signed up to attend but never made it there. This was a consistent pattern and something they decided to address by working on engagement.

Using data effectively for your annual meeting means driving past attendee history and looking at patterns and “if, then” applications for a much broader view of preferences and actions that lead to other actions.

Shaking Up the Keynote and Other Sessions

Keynotes tend to look the same when you look at the speaker’s past presentations. In this Internet era, even the keynote speeches can be found online. If you select a well-known speaker, one who does that sort of thing for a living, s/he often has a tried and true performance that s/he gives. Yes, some things may be added or changed a little for your audience – if you give the speaker demographic and needs information – but in most cases, it’s possible to find some version of their “talk” already online. The speakers aren’t being lazy. It simply doesn’t scale to do new presentations for 35 different organizations when they’re on the road as much as they are.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s nothing in the event planners’ rule book that dictates that you have to hire a well-known keynote. Instead, you can invent an option that works for you. Some of the most dynamic choices include ways to get the audience involved in shaping the kind of discussion that matters to them. These could include “ask the speaker” sessions, smaller session roundtable remarks, and intimate explorations of topics of interest. You can also employ hands-on, smaller learning sessions where attendees would come away with something they created that was of benefit to them professionally or beneficial to their business.

Using Social Media in a Dynamic Way

Sure, you should encourage your attendees to post to social media. It cultivates interest and word-of-mouth marketing for your event as well as increases the learning potential as an attendee in one session can benefit by seeing tweets in another. But there are much more dynamic ways to use it through things like:

  • live polling during sessions that actually influence the direction of learning
  • customer service, allowing your staff to be everywhere at once rather than simply creating a “help desk”
  • providing assistance to first timers or solo attendees who don’t know anyone
  • online communities for engagement before, during, and after the meeting
  • entertainment with broadcasts of tweets
  • podcasts, snapchats
  • leaderboards for top tweeters or sharers
  • Facebook Live broadcasts from the floor or special events

Events today need more than a hashtag. Social media must be a major part of the event.

Using Event Technology and Apps

There is so much event tech out there that provides services and engagement opportunities for all stages of your event from reaching out to attendees when they first sign up, to meeting engagement, and beyond. There are apps with gamification that help drive desired actions and reward it. If you haven’t auditioned software recently, you owe it to your attendees to see what’s out there.

Concentrate on the Experience

Your meeting shouldn’t begin with the opening session. That’s boring and expected. Instead, concentrate on creating an experience around your theme. From the airport to the hotels, from attendee rooms to the outside of the venue itself, look for ways to welcome and delight them long before they enter the room.

Vary Your Openers

Along that same line of creating an experience, don’t begin your session in the same tried and true way. You know – silence your cell phones, bathrooms are here, breaks right after this session. Instead, look for ways to surprise your attendees with an energizing start and not just the same old boring housekeeping message. Energizing the crowd will get them more tuned in earlier and keep them that way.

If you absolutely insist on giving them the same old instructions that they can find on your event app, then do so in a way that is memorable such as rapping them, creating a soap opera vignette with the information, or some other attention grabber. The information may be boring but the delivery doesn’t have to be.

In Conclusion

While most people have a nostalgic view on things in their childhood or adolescence, they don’t feel that way about their meetings. Stagnation is a fast train to dwindling attendee numbers. You need to freshen things up periodically. Use data to discover hidden desires of your attendees or recognize patterns in what drives registration. Remember, boring is never a compliment.