Get enough chapter leaders together and eventually you’ll hear them complaining about low attendance at chapter events. But this gripe doesn’t jibe with what the research shows. ASAE’s Decision to Attend study found that 43% of Gen Y and Millennials are attending more association events than ever. In fact, the propensity to attend events is high across all generations.
So, what’s going on? During one of our most popular webinars ever, Adding Snap, Crackle & Pop to Chapter Events, Peggy Hoffman, executive director and president of Mariner Management, identified the culprit behind the attendance challenge: events aren’t providing what people seek.
Members are driven by a desire for continual learning. This desire is understandable and necessary. As jobs and required skills change faster than ever, the need for lifelong learning grows.
However, people don’t attend events just for professional development. In many industries, countless organizations provide professional development both in person and online. It’s even a commodity in some professions—whoever offers the lowest price wins the sale.
Besides high-quality education, your events must provide two additional ingredients…
Event goal #1: Interaction, connections, and community
“As humans, we crave interaction and connection. When opportunities for connection are well orchestrated, it makes an event special… groups of people interacting face-to-face and creating shared experiences that stimulate all five senses—that’s the creation of memories,” said Chris Preston, managing director of Freeman EMEA (Europe, Middle East, & Africa).
Sure, educational content is important, but interactions are what attendees remember. They’re more likely to digest, take away, and recall information when they can talk about it while connecting with others who have a similar need for and interest in the content. Chapters shouldn’t only focus on content when planning an event, they must also design an interactive, connection- and community-building learning experience.
“…we crave interaction and connection. It’s groups of people interacting face-to-face and creating shared experiences that stimulate all five senses — that’s the creation of memories.” Peter McGrath, FreemanXP
Event goal #2: An experience to remember
The new E word in association management is Experience. It now rivals Engagement for mentions in headlines and session titles. No surprise given the increased attention by association professionals to User Experience (UX) as well as Customer (CX), Learner (LX), and even Member Experience (MX). An exercise in member journey (or experience) mapping was a huge hit at the 2018 Association Component Exchange.
The increased focus on experience is also due to the ‘experiential economy.’ An Eventbrite study found that 78% of Millennials would rather spend time and money on experiences—like concerts, travel, festivals, and dining out—than products.
Chapters should pay attention to the preferences of Millennials, the largest generation in the workforce, who are entering their prime earning years. Coming of age during the recession, they’ve dealt with stagnant wages and student loan debt. This generation is the catalyst for the sharing economy—think Uber and Lyft, Bird and Lime, Rent The Runway, and Airbnb.
A luncheon lecture isn’t going to wow them. Besides the desire for interaction, connection, and community, event attendees want a memorable experience.
Give chapter event attendees an experience to talk about
Peggy shared an example of an event experience that made a huge impact on its attendees and community. The Pittsburgh chapter of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) hosted a two-part program: a private family event with two world-class Sumo wrestlers and a public fundraising event for local charities including the Greater Pittsburgh YMCA.
At the private YPO family event, attendees learned about the history, rituals, and basics of Sumo wrestling and kids enjoyed one-on-one wrestling time with the two wrestlers. At the public event in the evening, four YPO members donned their own Sumo wrestling belts to wrestle Sumo-style against local celebrities. The event raised nearly $60K with $40K going to the YMCA.
The chapter learning officer said, “I really wanted to accomplish three things: stay true to YPO’s mission of lifelong learning, push our members and their families outside of their comfort zones, and give back to the community.”
Chapter events must be memorable learning experiences that facilitate relationship-building. The goal should be to elicit an attendee testimonial like this one:
“I attended the convention this last week and it was amazing. I learned a lot of teaching methods for all instruments and even things for just life in general… [it] was worth the 19-hour drive crammed in a 15-passenger bus with 12 people and no trunk space.”
Now, that’s a memorable and valuable event.
In our next post, we’ll share five strategies for creating events that provide what members seek—interaction, connections and community as well as memorable learning experiences.