When I’ve run event departments in associations I have always found success from events came in many forms. Large conferences and exhibitions can be successful association events but so too can events where every speaker session is paid for by sponsors and exhibitors. Association events with a long lead in-time and massive pre engagement from delegates can be a hit but so too can association events covering the latest topic, advertised six weeks out and simply providing a few choice speakers. And the reason? Value is what is perceived by attendees not what the organiser thinks they are delivering. You need a pragmatic approach to innovation within your association events portfolio. 

Value = the value perceived

Many people view events as the only way to get information; some people will always want content delivered verbally and will place tremendous value on this: as an industry we are very, very fortunate. Not all audiences are the same and I think this is a very important point for anyone who is advising any client or any organiser who is putting together an event. Every audience member has a perception of what an event should be and they equate a value to that perception. A vast majority of events, especially in the association sector, have a history of delivering information to members. When looking at innovation within association events we should not lightly remove that history.

Meeting Design

Sometimes information dissemination is all that your association attendees want

I have created many events within associations off the back of some particular piece of regulation affecting the particular association I was working in at the time. I’ve had the discussions with clients who said “All you are doing is covering what people can read in the paper / on our website. So why would they come?”. But guess what, they did come, in there 100’s and 1000’s, and the reason was that we focussed on and delivered value. Even when it appears that there isn’t much added value in what you are doing if it delivers then there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!

Traditional Speaker

The broadcast format is still a valid template

The reason delegates attended the broadcast format events which I organised was that they perceived value from hearing the information rather than reading it. They also wanted some structure and the wanted the information put in context. They didn’t want to discuss the content with others in the audience and they didn’t want to network: just hearing the information was the value the event delivered.

Within many associations there is still a large demand for this type of event. So if you have an association event where you believe their is a value for your attendees in a broadcast style event here’s a very brief outline of what you can do:

– Keep the event short, normally a half day

– Keep them cheap

– Be very clear about the format tell and your attendees exactly what to expect

– Don’t add much event technology


The broadcast format is an option for association events

When I organised these types of events the principles of “Engage 365” and meeting design really were superfluous to those delegates to attended but we still delivered a huge amount of value at these types of events. What we did of course was make sure that those who wanted to attend more innovative events for those attendees who demanded to be more involved with the content had opportunities to do that in other events on the calendar.

Understand what the customer wants and to structure your event to that end

It is about using the tools at your disposal when and where they are needed. Sometimes it’s OK to look at an event, set a low expectation for it in terms of innovation or engagement from your audience and be happy that it delivered value. Not all of our learning events have to use all the wonderful formats that great meeting designers have given us. Sometimes good content delivered verbally, cheaply and conveniently is what delivers that value. And within the world of association events offering this option will be a solid option for years to come. 

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