And Now for Something Completely Different – Re-inventing and Re-energizing your Events!

To keep members coming back and to bring new people to your events requires that you exercise your creativity.   Since you can’t think of everything yourself, the best way is to get ideas from others.  At this year’s AENC Annual Meeting, we did a session which generated lots of great ideas and there are more to be found by simply asking, looking and being open to trying new things.

Rather than the usual “sit and get” format, the session modeled a new way of providing information/content by having the session participants share ideas to questions they developed.  Based on the premise that the smartest “person” in the room is “the room” (all the people in it), the results were an outpouring of ideas on how to energize your events.  Each person wrote down a question.  The questions were shared with the group.  Each table took one question and 20 minutes to generate ideas.  Then the ideas were shared with the entire group.  Here are some of the results:

How do you keep attendees at the end of the meeting?
Have the most important information or best speaker at the end.
Conclude with a breakfast before checkout.
Give away the biggest prize at the end and you have to be present to win!

How can you change your event with limited budget and participants who may seem to like the status quo?
Making events more attractive requires exercising creativity… moving out of the comfort zone.  Jeff Hurt of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting has suggested that you reserve 10% of your conference content 6 weeks out to fill with breaking issues, need-to-know information, etc.
Start with changing 25% of your event; tell attendees that you are going to try something new and that you want their feedback.
Get input from event planners.
Look at programs that similar associations have done and talk with their staff.
Ask the property for suggestions on budget saving items; they want you to have a good experience and can work with you.
Can’t afford the great speaker; ask a vendor if they want to “sponsor” the person and then give them the opportunity to introduce the speaker (stage time).

How can I get more value from speakers?
Book multiple events with the same speaker either at different times or have them do a keynote and then a breakout or special breakfast with your VIPs or board members at your event?
Check to see if they are speaking nearby and then share the travel expenses with another group.
Approach them directly.
Inquire about whether they would be willing to do a YouTube video to help promote your event.
Ask if they would be willing to have their presentation taped and archived for a future audio conference (and get a sponsor to pay for this —with of course their ad appearing in the audio/video),
Offer them a display and opportunity to sell books, tapes, etc.
Since speakers attend many events, ask them for ideas of things they have seen work at other events.
Be honest about your budget.

How do I get buy-in from all generations to attend one meeting?
Regardless of the generation, everyone has to see value in the meeting.
Use a variety of media to promote the event:  traditional brochures – plus Facebook; YouTube; Twitter; LinkedIn; Email.
Have a younger member responsible for tweeting prior to, during and after the event.
Pair a seasoned member with a new younger member at the event.  Have them connect before the event and attend the first session together.
Have an event that teams them “conference buddies” with some type of award of acknowledgement for the winner.
Have a variety of breakouts that appeal in content and format to the different generations.
Have special separate events for each group.
Be aware that the younger generation would likely want to involve their family so have events/options for spouse and children.
Have a “kids night out” during the banquet so that the spouse can attend the event while the children are having a great time/dinner on their own.
Re-define success:  if you have an event and 10 people participate (assuming that it is financially viable) if those 10 found something of value; then it was a success.

How can we re-invent food and beverage at our events?
Ask the property if they have a signature drink and feature it perhaps during the registration or at a reception.
Ditch the menus – give the chef your budget and let them use their creativity to present something new.
Popcorn machines are great items to have available during registration, in the exhibit area or at a break.
Have breaks themed and use props – tropical, circus, sports, etc. (Be sure to determine if there is a charge for use of the props above and beyond the cost of the food and beverage).
Change the location of food & beverage events if possible.  Have them in the exhibit area; have snacks delivered by committee members to the tables where participants are sitting during the break (snack attack!)
Served food in unexpected containers!
Ask the catering department what other groups have done that worked well.
Save the dessert at your banquet and have a Dessert, Coffee & Conversation party immediately following the banquet.  (Get a sponsor).  It gives folks an opportunity to network.  Maybe have a piano player if possible.

Other than another band, how can we change or incorporate new “entertainment” into our event?
If you are going to a new destination, incorporate a “scavenger hunt” into the event at the property or even in the city.  Make the prize something of value (free room nights, etc.)
Take advantage of local events like sports teams/festivals.
A caricaturist is always a great hit.  Use them in exhibit areas, long receptions or during registration.
Suggest that an exhibitor put a chair massage or close up magician in their booth to attract people.
Play upbeat music in seminars as people enter and leave the sessions.
Use TED videos before/during/after seminars or run them in the exhibit area to generate attention.
Consider team building events – good for generational bonding
Ask the Convention & Visitors Bureaus for suggestions.
Ask the property for suggestions.
Do a talent show with your members.
Have something for the non-golfers during the golf outing:  bridge tournament; volley ball; croquet; tennis; tours; tethered hot air balloon rides; wine tasting
Try some “kids” games on the adults.

What are some new ideas on promotional items and/or giveaways?
Make it something they will use like jump drives, lens/screen cleaners.
Know your audience.
Consider local items.
Give away a bag and then during the event add items to it rather than put everything in the bag first… (think Trick or Treat!)
$5 Gift Cards

Exercise your creativity by constantly monitoring other association events; festivals; and by asking your colleagues for suggestions!   Something as simple at the “alter ego” fun ribbons at the AENC Annual gave folks  “something to talk about”… so go and have fun!