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Amid Live-Event Uncertainty, Some Guidance For Moving Forward

Amid Live-Event Uncertainty, Some Guidance For Moving Forward

The novel coronavirus pandemic has changed a lot about the way business is done. Arguably the largest change has a direct impact on the association world: the strict limitations, if not outright cancellations, of large-group gatherings. In the membership world, this means conferences and meetings.

Like it or not, associations are beholden to local regulations at their venues. If you’re headquartered in a state that is opening quickly, your event still may not happen as scheduled if it’s in a hotspot. Even if you happen to be ready to go, attendees may have other ideas. If there’s international travel involved for your attendees or your event site, you have even more hurdles.

Suffice it to say that the events world is not going to be the same for a while. ASAE conducted a snapshot poll in early June, asking several pertinent questions about planned events. Among the eye-opening results: 50% of association executives believe their next in-person conference will be in 2021 or later, or have no idea. Nearly 25% of them said their associations canceled at least four in-person event slated for 2020. The major takeaway: uncertainty reigns.
Grassroot Communication | In Person Events

But events will happen, and when they do, associations and event planners have to be prepared. The International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) has taken the lead in developing a best-practices guide for safely reopening events to attendees and exhibitors. The guide is not prescriptive, because every event is different—from number of attendees to the venue layout. But the 35-page guide runs event planners through big-picture basics on how to assess risk, establish protocols for ensuring physical distancing is practiced, and—perhaps most importantly—how to communicate it all to audiences.

Much of the guidance relies on existing protocols, such as using event-specific apps to supplement communications efforts. But other things are completely new to the events world, such as health screening.

The 35-page guide is available at IAEE’s website at https://www.iaee.com/covid-19-resources/. The first version was released in early June. IAEE plans to keep updating the guide as protocols change, so bookmark that page.


Grow Your Association.
Get More Members. Keep Them Longer.

MemberTrends uses your member data to develop a step-by-step plan to increasing both retention and new-member acquisitions.

MemberTrends Data Analysis

Your data holds the keys to your membership-campaign strategies. GRC MemberTrends analyzes your data and reveals immediately actionable strategies that you can use to drive renewals, new-member campaigns, and other efforts aimed at strengthening your organization. And you won’t have to break your budget in the process. Using GRC MemberTrends, you will learn:

  • Learn more about why your members lapse
  • Identify members at risk for lapsing and learn the steps to help keep them
  • Gain insight on how to target new member candidates
  • Per-member revenue insights that help identify upgrade and ancillary-sales opportunities
  • Common attributes that can be used to target new members
  • Member-acquisition and retention costs
  • Members’ lifetime values and attrition rates
  • Snapshot of members by your organization’s categories
  • Historical growth trends and future growth projections
  • And much more.



Each GRC MemberTrends report is delivered with both in-depth analysis and easy-to-digest charts and graphics that summarize the major takeaways. They also include recommended action plans based on the specific results generated from your data. This sample report gives you an idea of what to expect, but remember–each GRC Member Trends report is customized based on results generated from your data.

Ready to gain new, actionable insight from your data? Contact us today






5 Things the Right Event App Will Do for You

A well designed mobile app can be an invaluable tool for your annual meeting. It can simplify everything for attendees, get rid of the need for loads of paper, and  turns your 3-day event into a year-long conversation. Wow.

The key phrase there is “well designed”. A poor app (and there are too many of them) is a waste of money because it won’t be used. Here’s what the right app will give you:

  1. A personalized experience

You can use your app as a platform for attendees to tailor their own experience of your event, according to what is most interesting and relevant to them. They can create a personalized schedule with built-in reminders, register for sessions and make changes on-the-fly, network with like-minded attendees, and more. As organizer, it also gives you the ability to communicate with them throughout the event by text messages and push notifications. Have to change the venue for a breakout session? Let the people registered for it know instantly.

  1. Better networking

One of the great benefits of attending an event is to meet peers. In-app messaging allows individuals and small groups to chat before, during and after the event, and arrange meet-ups.

  1. Interactive sessions

It can be intimidating to raise your hand and ask a speaker a question, and, depending on the session format, it may not even be appropriate. But using the event app they can ask their questions at any time, and also participate with features like live polling and on-the-spot surveys.  These abilities alone have the potential to transform an impersonal event into an experience that your attendees will never forget.

  1. Invaluable promotion

The right app will integrate seamlessly with your attendees’ preferred social networks. This makes it simple and quick to post quotes, images and video (a lot of which you can provide for them), spreading your message to a much larger audience around the world.

  1. Fun

Apps don’t have to be just digital manuals of event information and session content. “Gamification” is a buzzword today, and we are learning that building some fun features into your app adds another level of excitement to your event experience. Attendees can compete against each other for prizes, discounts or even just the top spot on your leaderboard.

Your app developer can work with you on all of the above. Spend a little more money to get the right expertise, and when you sit down to brief them have a clear idea in mind of exactly what you want to achieve.

10 Trends in Annual Association Events

Annual meetings or conferences continue to provide enormous value and opportunities for associations. By their very nature, associations exist for the education, stimulation and intercommunication of their members. Big live events are an obvious vehicle to dole out these benefits in spades.

And let’s not forget one big reason why these gatherings are not going away anytime soon: many associations rely on them as a main plank in their fundraising model. The budget moves from black to red at the annual meeting.

At the same time, however, there are pressures.  For one thing, there is increasing competition; members have more meeting options, more ways to learn and network than ever before. There’s also the challenge of catering to multi-generational audiences that have very diverse tastes when it comes to what they think a big event should offer them.

GRC Annual Events

All these factors are driving the continual reinvention of big meetings. Here are some of the big trends you should be aware of:

  1. Extending Meeting Life

Why put all of your eggs in the basket of the big event that lasts for just a few days of the year? There is now a concerted effort by association event organizers to extend the impact of the event by designing it to be a catalyst for an ongoing conversation.

This is not a new idea at all, but it has been an under-implemented idea. Especially when you consider that we now have the technology available to make this easier than ever before. Mobile apps, webcasts and social media have given us the ability to create a community that starts before the event kicks off, and continues well after it’s over — and then builds toward the next event. The goal is continuous engagement, supported and invigorated by occasional live events.

The hurdle to making this a reality is not any lack of tools, it is the challenge of the time and planning required to manage the community. The potential benefits, however, surely warrant making this a priority and staffing for it.

  1. Welcoming & Orienting New Attendees

Once you’ve attended a few of your association’s meetings, it’s easy to forget how daunting it can feel to be a newcomer. There’s the overwhelming feeling of not knowing anyone, or how things work, or what sessions will be most beneficial.

Wise meeting planners are strategizing better ways to roll out the red carpet for their new attendees. It often begins with hosting a special first-timers’ reception immediately before the big event convenes. Don’t leave this until later in the schedule, because first impressions can set the tone for your guest’s entire meeting experience. It’s great if you can have board members or executives at the reception, and recruit some volunteers who are willing to connect with a newcomer and help personally navigate them.

Then there are all kinds of special welcome gifts and helps that you might consider providing. And finally, be sure to follow-up at the end of the event with a feedback survey; it shows your ongoing interest, and helps you to keep improving your orientation strategies. If you can, it’s worth putting together a small team of people to focus exclusively on the newcomer challenge.

  1. Providing an Experience

Our culture is being shaped by the media and entertainment industries, and they target the senses and emotions with their messages. As a result, your attendees are not just looking for an education but an experience.

The big trend in this regard is toward event personalization. It’s about creating a platform for the attendee to do this for themselves by making choices — accommodation options (both onsite and off), sessions to attend and key issues to focus on, networking opportunities, dining preferences, and the ongoing conversations they will participate in longer term.

The most valuable conference someone could attend is one they have had input in shaping for themselves.

  1. Increasing Engagement

A critical part of creating powerful experiences is to move beyond mere one-way presentations; to engage attendees through personal involvement with the content. We are seeing a continuing trend toward interactive groups, collaboration and networking.

Some are calling this approach “flipped learning”. The Flipped Learning Network (flippedlearning.org), founded in 2012, is just one group providing resources to create learning environments “where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter.” One increasingly popular methodology is to provide content ahead of time in formats that participants can access at their convenience. Then time at the live event can be more powerfully utilized in group response, discussion and hands-on problem-solving activities.

You might consider including role-playing exercises to get attendees immersed in important issues. Create an imagined (though realistically possible) problem scenario, and then divide the audience into small groups charged with finding a solution and reporting back.

  1. Tracking Attendee Behavior

This is one of the latest big tech trends, and you can expect to see the use of BLE technology (bluetooth low energy) and iBeacons being deployed at more and more large events. They can be set up so that attendees receive a personalized welcome message when they enter the venue, and push notifications throughout the event. This makes a great impression and can be very helpful, but it is also a two-way flow of data; attendee movements can be tracked to provide you with information about the popularity of sessions, crowd flow throughout the facility, and so on. With such instant feedback, it will be increasingly possible to respond with real-time program adjustments.

  1. Integrating Social Media

Social media is now so ubiquitous that incorporating it into your association event is not likely to make you stand out as innovative. In fact, you’ll raise more eyebrows by NOT having a social strategy; and worse, you’ll be missing a significant opportunity.

Static image posts on Twitter and Facebook are the tip of the iceberg. Video gets far more attention now, through the rise of platforms like Vine, Periscope and Snapchat. Spend some time choosing a simple, unique and memorable hashtag that you can promote heavily everywhere at your event. Run some contests with prizes that get attendees uploading images and video clips, and posting and tweeting (and retweeting) content quotes. As you do, it’s another way of both creating engagement and extending the reach of your event.

  1. Considering Families

Time is at more of a premium today than ever before, and it takes a toll on family life. Your annual meeting may provide outstanding value, but for many of your members the deciding factor about whether to attend may be that it simply represents another sacrifice of being away from home. For this reason, many associations are finding ways to make their events attractive for members to bring their families along.

The biggest factors that will influence family attendance are location and timing. Consider holding your event in a venue close to tourist attractions, and on dates that are as family-friendly as possible. Then think about what you can offer to spouses and children. T-shirts for the kids? Theme nights? Group excursions?

  1. Being Intentional About Diversity & Inclusion

Your association core values probably include a statement on diversity, but is your commitment to it confirmed or undermined by the lineup of people who appear on the stage at your conference? Today, an all-white, all-male, or all-one-age lineup is likely to draw criticisms that can become a PR nightmare across social media.

Being intentional about this begins with an understanding of the demographics of your membership. You may discover that a subgroup is not well represented in the general attendance at your events, so you need to find out why. For example, are you unwittingly excluding a section of people because your chosen venue is not well-designed for those with disabilities? (Tip: Have your venue professionally evaluated; promotional materials that say “wheelchair accessible” can mean very little.) Are travel or economic factors a barrier for underrepresented groups, and if so, how can you help?

The goal should not be merely an appearance of D & I, but a culture of respect and of celebrating the enrichment that every perspective brings to your association.

  1. Going Greener & Healthier

For a socially conscious generation that is trying every day to live better for their own health, and the well-being of our environment, the thought of attending a conference can be discouraging. It can seem almost inevitable that it will be 3 to 4 days of “falling off the wagon”. The traditional big meeting format meant lots of time sitting motionless, punctuated by fast-food meal breaks, while collecting bags full of redundant paper to be thrown in the hotel room trash can.

As Dylan sang, “the times, they are a changin’” — and so are your members’ expectations.

Today you need to consider how your event can promote holistic wellness. That means thinking through a number of issues:

  • The food choices that are readily available.
  • Lighting and airflow in all meeting rooms.
  • The length of sessions in which the audience is sitting.
  • Alternating the schedule to incorporate regular physical movement.

Event mobile apps have made it easy to go completely paperless. That’s not only better for our planet, but it’s so much more convenient for attendees and it has the added benefit of promoting post-event engagement (see point #1 above!)

  1. Evaluating for Improvement

Ernest Hemingway gave the all-time single most quoted piece of advice for good writing: “Kill your darlings”. He was talking about editing out things that you may personally love in order to improve what you finally publish. This is advice that should be adapted for meeting organizers too.

Thorough post-event evaluation is critical for ongoing improvement. You need to be brutally honest about what worked and what did not, about what continues to be effective and what is getting “tired”. Kill your darlings.  Even newer ideas may need to be ejected — just because it’s cool or trendy doesn’t mean that it’s effective. If it’s not adding value to your audience, don’t keep doing it.

In conclusion:

The big annual meeting is not going away any time soon, but it is rapidly evolving and will continue to do so as our cultural tastes change and as technology advances. Associations that embrace innovation and invest in building large events as an asset for their membership are going to continue to reap great rewards.

Websites and Blogs Mentioned in this post:




9 High Value Membership Benefits to Improve Retention

Nothing beats acquiring a new member – except retaining an existing member.

We get it – the influx of new members can be thrilling; but it’s not a true indication of growth or stability. Are you pouring your resources into a brilliant acquisition strategy – but still not moving forward? Maybe your churn rate exceeds the number of people you’re bringing in!  Read more ›

Who Is My Most Valuable Member?

Not all members are equal.

Well, they are – but the reality is that one particular group of members is going to require more of your attention, more of your resources, and more of your effort to retain. Not only that – if you don’t retain these people, you’re going to work tirelessly just to keep your association afloat. Can you guess who we’re talking about?

A half-decent marketing plan can get newbies through the door. A concerted and collaborative effort, however, is needed in order to get through to your most vital group – the first year members.

Here are 3 reasons why your first year members are the most important to engage:

  1. They’re the hardest to impress

Your new acquisition thinks you’re “the bee’s knees”. Your long time member knows what to expect from you and trusts you. But for the first year member, the honeymoon period ends after a few months as that person begins to see what he or she is getting from your organization.

Before you know it you’re just 3 months away from your member’s renewal date without knowing whether or not that individual will renew his or her membership. How can you know?

Know them. Invest in that relationship.

Issue surveys to your first year members. Find out what they like and what they want, and make adjustments as needed. Check in with them regularly. Learn what will put your association in the best position to retain them.

  1. Once you have them, you can keep them

Unfortunately, you’ll never be able to leave a member alone and expect that person to sign up year after year.

After a member renews his or her membership for the first time, however, your job gets a little easier. You have earned that individual’s support for another year – so keep doing what you’re doing. That member is likely happy with the value he or she is receiving in exchange for the annual dues.

Check in with your second year member (yay!) now and then, and it should be relatively smooth sailing from there.

  1. They set your trends

Your first year members are likely to be your largest group of association members. Unless you acquire less people each year, this is usually the case.

Since your first year members represent the one of the largest subgroups of your membership, take their feedback seriously. Use their input to help navigate where your organization is headed.

First year members join with a fresh perspective and an open mind. They may have envisioned something different prior to signing up and it’s important to manage your association relative to their expectations.

Always be building towards your first years members’ “ideal” organization.