Tag Archives: continuing education

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

3 Tips to Keep Your Professional Education Program Fresh

Association-Fresh-Is it time for fresh thinkingA friend of mine has a dog that needs to lose weight. The vet recommended a simple strategy that guarantees weight loss. Just feed your pet the same meal day in, day out, he said. It doesn’t matter how good the meal is, over time it will become so boring that the dog will get no pleasure from it and he will reduce his consumption.

Membership organizations often put their members on the same diet. The result is reduced member engagement and ultimately a drop in membership.

If we keep feeding our members the same meal, no matter how excellent, they will look for variety elsewhere – and we will lose them.

So how do we keep our professional education programs fresh and interesting for our members?

We know from working with our clients, that most association leaders do not see professional development programs as events. An event is something that is engaging and entertaining. A professional development seminar is something we do because it’s good for us.

Most associations see an invisible line between an event and an educational seminar.

This is a mistake. If we focus on making learning more of an event there is a subtle but important shift in focus. Treat your learning program as a series of events.

The only thing that must be predictable is that you are providing value. The way you do it, should be a creative process that is constantly evolving.

So here are three tips to keep your professional education programs fresh:

1.  Make it fun.

  • Choose speakers and trainers who are adept at engaging their audience.

2.  Make it interactive.

  • Make sure that the learners have an opportunity to interact with the speaker and the other learners.

3.  Try something new.

  • Add a new networking game to get your members outside of their cliques
  • Bring in a speaker with a controversial view
  • Change the order of the agenda
  • Change the time of day
  • Change the venue

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Filed under Association Management, Member Education, Member Value Proposition