Chapters with low event attendance aren’t providing what their members seek—interaction, connections, and community as well as memorable learning experiences. Peggy Hoffman, president and executive director of Mariner Management, shared five strategies for adding new life to chapter events in our recent webinar, Adding Snap, Crackle & Pop to Chapter Events.
Peggy also suggested five ways your association can coach chapters on improving the event experience.
5 ways to coach chapters on improving the event experience
#1: Show chapters how to map the event experience.
Once members are involved in planning events, it’s natural for them to forget how it feels to be a normal event attendee. They become too invested and naturally biased against seeing it like a ‘normal’ attendee would.
Mapping the event experience helps chapter volunteers understand the event journey from the attendee’s perspective. In this rewarding exercise, you first list all the major touchpoints in the event lifecycle, for example:
- Seeing the first and subsequent announcements and promotions
- Registering and receiving information or interacting before the event
- Arriving on site
- Passing time before the event begins
- Participating in all facets of the event
- Leaving the event
- Receiving information or interacting after the event
The best way to capture this journey is to assign a group of people to take notes before, during, and after an actual event. For each touchpoint, identify opportunities for creating a memorable experience. For example, when can you add moments of power or opportunities to get people into small groups for conversation and connections?
Encourage volunteers to forget everything they know about typical chapter events and think of little touches and big elements that could surprise and delight attendees. What about interesting ways to use the event space? One of the webinar chat participants suggested having a large screen in the registration area showing photos from previous events.
One of Peggy’s chapters is adding free valet parking to an after-work winter event—a sponsor is covering the expense. Parking is available but it’s a cold walk from the lot to the venue and attendees appreciate spending that extra time inside with their peers.
Look at the branding and messaging around each touchpoint. Is it aligned with your goals for the event? Does it reinforce the value of the event? Talk about more tangible ways to communicate your brand and bring your organization’s culture and ethos to life.
Identify any technology that can enhance the attendee journey at each of the touchpoints, maybe a better registration process, a list of registrants so attendees know who else is coming, or an event app. The association event technology marketplace offers lots of options.
Make the journey mapping exercise as simple or comprehensive as you like. You could also map journeys for speakers, sponsors, and exhibitors. Read how we mapped a chapter member journey at the 2018 Association Component Exchange.
#2: Demonstrate creativity in action
During chapter leader training events, let them see creativity in action. They’re more likely to try something new that they’ve already experienced or heard about.
Experiment with different training formats at your chapter leadership conference and throughout the year. If you haven’t experimented with videos, podcasts, or webinars, start with those. You’re bound to find something new and interesting in this list of 292 training activities.
#3: Look outside for new event formats
Half-day sessions, luncheons, webinars, yeah, been there, done that. How about looking outside the association world for different event formats? A great place to start is the Meetings category on Associations Now.
Peggy and the webinar chat participants shared these ideas:
- Hackathon: Someone brings a problem and the group solves the issue together.
- Ted Talk-style event: 18-minute presentations are long enough for a speaker to flesh out an idea, but short enough for a listener to digest and understand the most important information.
- Pecha Kucha: In this storytelling format, the presenter shows 20 slides accompanied by 20 seconds of commentary on each, for 6 minutes and 40 seconds total. The slides automatically advance, making the presentation lively and suspenseful.
- Simulcast the meeting so members and their colleagues can participate remotely.
One chat participant suggested asking young professionals for event format ideas: “Give emerging professionals room to run and they will amaze you.”
#4: Teach chapter leaders how to facilitate meetings
Most people have never been trained to facilitate meetings—a skill that makes a big difference to the event experience. You could offer training in three formats:
- In-person workshop
- Online learning program
- Flipped or blended learning
In a flipped or blended learning approach, chapter leaders attend a webinar on facilitating meetings before the leadership conference. At the conference, they attend a session on practicing the skills they learned.
#5: Change the chapter mindset
One of the webinar participants brought up a common problem. Chapter leaders are happy if they just get the same number of attendees each time and don’t lose money. How do we shift their mindset so their goal is to provide a memorable experience, not just maintain attendance?
Peggy shared three ideas for shifting that mindset:
- Offer a different definition of a successful meeting as well as a meaningful metric for them to track. Give chapters an event evaluation form that includes this critical question: ask attendees to describe and score their event experience. Tell leaders the measure of success is the experience rating and not the number of people in the seats. A highly rated experience will lead to higher attendance.
- Hold leaders accountable for new event idea execution. At your chapter leader training, divide them into groups and ask each group to create a new event. Display their ideas like a poster session. Give them time to walk around, take pictures, and discuss what captured their interest. Ask each leader to commit to one of the ideas they saw and report back next year on the results.
- Add innovation awards to your chapter awards program. Give chapters award points for everything they tried to do differently in the past year. Incentivize them to think differently about metrics and reward them for their experiments.
When chapter events become ho-hum predictable, busy members can easily find excuses not to attend. Help chapters understand the need to provide what their members seek—interaction, connections, and community as well as memorable learning experiences—and to think more creatively about the event experience, one that adds Snap Crackle and Pop to their attendee’s day.