Category Archives: Successful Conferences

Failing Fast, Hard and Often – How to use strategic risk strategies to succeed

FailChange is critical. It’s also risky. There are 4 inescapable facts to keep in mind.

  1. We cannot succeed without regular, meaningful change
  2. Some changes will fail
  3. Some changes will fail at first but become successful over time
  4. There will always be a vocal contingent of opposition

There are some changes that are simply essential. You have to do them on an ongoing basis.


Don’t keep serving the same meal. No matter how good it is, people will tire of it. Even if your event is awesome in every way, it will die if you don’t keep it fresh. Also, don’t forget to keep your event price current. Make sure you know your costs and that your price at least ensures break-even.

Member Programs

Keep ahead of the curve. The content, format and delivery of your member programs must continuously position your association as the leader in your sector. Take a chance on radical new ideas for content. Borrow ideas that are working in other industries and professions.

Member Discount Partners

These are the companies you partner with to deliver their services to your members at a special member price. Are your partners working with you to deliver great value to your members? Or not? It’s better to have one great partner that values their relationship with you than many who deliver sporadic, inattentive service to your members. If a member is disappointed with their first call to a partner, they’re not likely to continue down the list. They’ll just assume the whole program is of no value.


As your industry or profession evolves, it’s important to ensure your membership categories are keeping up with the changes in your sector. Are they still relevant or do they need revisions? It’s also critical to increase member prices on a regular basis. Remember, your costs go up every year. If membership prices do not go up by at least the cost of living each year, you’ll be forced to make a large price increase down the road.

Tips for Pricing

  1. Communicate increases well in advance
  2. Use association leaders as advocates
  3. Keep increases regular, to keep them small

Tips for Member Categories

  1. Keep it simple: No more than 3 categories
  2. Do market research in advance: Where is there potential confusion? Who will be impacted?
  3. Get feedback
  4. Communicate, communicate, remind

 Managing the Opposition

There will always be opposition to change and often the most vocal opponents are long-term, highly influential members. Sometimes they fear losing the comfort of a known quantity. Sometimes they resent the dismantling of a program or event that they helped initiate years ago. How do you deal with the opponents?

  1. Bring them inside the tent. Invite them to be on a task force or committee that’s driving change. If they feel they have input to the future, they are more likely to want to be part of it.
  1. Keep communication open. Don’t hide from the opposition. Keep the lines of communication positive and open and build relationships on common ground.
  2. Nothing works better than success. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Every successful change weakens the opposition to change.

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Filed under Association, Association Management, Association Management Issues, Event Planning, High Performance Organization, Issues Management, Member Engagement, Member Value Proposition, Successful Conferences

Get Rave Reviews by Hiring the Right Speaker

Summary: In this environment it’s often difficult for your members to find the time and the money to attend events. You need to make a compelling case for them to attend, and then wow them. The major drawing cards are your keynoters and session speakers. You need to ensure that your budget is being used effectively and that your delegates are receiving demonstrable value for their investment. Cathleen Fillmore of Speakers Gold, a speakers bureau, has 10 Questions that you should ask of prospective speakers:

There’s a lot riding on the shoulders of speakers at conferences or meetings; they can single-handedly make or break the event that you’ve put so much work into.  If you’ve ever hired a big name and paid big bucks only to be disappointed with the delivery and content….well, you’re not alone.

One meeting planner talked about hiring a speaker (who was paid $500,000) to lead a series of meetings across Canada on behalf of a financial services company. He emailed her his itinerary a day before which showed he’d be arriving late for his speech kicking off the entire event and she had to re-arrange the whole day’s schedule.

When you do hire a celebrity, ensure that he or she is also an excellent speaker who can not only draw in a crowd but also deliver on the promise with a message of substance and also inspiration.  Speakers need to educate, entertain and inspire all at the same time.  It’s quite a hat trick and when it’s done well, it’s absolutely unforgettable.

Read more……

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Filed under Association Management, Association Management Issues, Event Planning, Successful Conferences, Zzeem Speaking Engagements

Are Your Members Having Trouble Getting Funding Approval to Attend Your Events?

Are your events suffering a drop in attendance because members can’t get funding approval to pay for the conference or the travel or both?

In our discussions with membership organizations we’ve found that this has been an issue for several years. Even though membership numbers are recovering from their depths, conferences are still feeling the pinch because many employer budgets are still in the deep freeze when it comes to travel and continuing education.

And the problem is that you’re relying on your members to be sufficiently tenacious and brilliant at sales to convince their managers to loosen the purse strings.

Why not make it easy for them?

Here’s an idea from the Canadian Payroll Association. So simple and so brilliant. In the conference section of their website they have a menu item “Getting Approval to Attend”.

The page is entitled “Getting Approval from Your Manager to Attend the CPA’s Conference and Trade Show”. Here’s the URL:

The content covers all the bases:

  • Why You Should Attend
  • Top benefits of Attendance
  • Ideas on How to Overcome Objections to Your Request
    • This conference is too expensive
    • What will the organization gain from your attendance?
    • The organization cannot afford to have you away from the office
    • How to Create a Successful Proposal

And finally it includes a sample memo that the member can alter to suit. See the link at the bottom of the page.

Events are one of the five pillars of the Sustainability Model for membership organizations.

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Filed under Association Management, Event Planning, Successful Conferences

Why Are Some Conferences Successful While Others Struggle?

We recently had a question from one of our clients about  conferences. A director of a national organization asked “Why do some conferences attract the same large crowd year after year when similar conferences struggle to attract attendance?”

We have been managing conferences for our clients for years and we have had a chance to observe what works and what doesn’t.

All good conferences offer an opportunity to learn, to network  and to socialize. Often a conference with a great agenda doesn’t attract a  crowd. But some conferences sell out every year, even during a recession. I was talking to one of our clients yesterday and she has attended the same conference for 5 years running. Even during the recession years in 2008-2009 the conference has always sold out. Why is that?

A successful conference provides elements of value that cannot be found anywhere else. When this is true, the conference becomes a “must-have” instead of a “nice-to-have”. There are 5 key reasons why attendees keep coming back to a conference every year. These are by no means all of the reasons why people attend a conference but they are the differentiators between a good conference and a sell-out.

These are listed in order of priority:

1.       Accreditation. If the conference provides a good chunk of thecontinuing education credits required to maintain a professional certification, there is a huge incentive to attend. People often leave CEU requirements to the last minute and the conference is a fast, easy way to pick them up.  TIP:  If your organization does not have a certification program, find one that many of your attendees have, and apply to them for CE credits for your conference.

2.       Peer/Supplier Congregation. If the conference is the only event that attracts all of the major industry players it is a huge draw because this is the only opportunity that attendees have to see everyone they need to connect with, in the same place, at the same time. This allows them to justify the cost of the conference because it’s a fast, easy way to preserve relationships, make new connections, create alliances and negotiate deals. TIP: If you are not attracting the key players right now, make it a goal. Contact them directly and make it worth their while to be there. A pre-conference roundtable for heavy-hitters can be a huge incentive to get them to the conference.

3.       Scarcity of Seats. If the conference sells out every year, people know they must make a commitment early. They are more likely to attend an event that they know will sell out. TIP: Ensure that early-bird financial incentives offer a significant discount. Offer pre-conference booking at high demand, limited seating workshops and advertise immediately when they sell out.

4.       Location. If the conference is in a major urban centre it will attract more registrants for two reasons:

  • There is a larger pool of local registrants who do not have to incur travel costs
  • Out-of-town residents usually have other business they can conduct in the city and this helps to justify the cost of the travel.

5.       Ease of Purchase. If attendees know it is going to take them hours to arrange the details they will put off the buying decision. If they know it is going to take them minutes to arrange the details they are more likely to buy immediately. TIP: Invest in a top-notch online registration system that is designed for events like yours. It will save you time and money.

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Filed under Event Planning, Successful Conferences