Year over year, is your conference attendance down? For many associations, the answer is yes. But what’s interesting is this: At ASAE’s 2017 Annual Meeting & Exposition, I attended a session hosted by Eric Goodstadt, President of Manifest, a full-service marketing agency, who stated the following: On a macro level, conference attendance has actually grown - for six years straight! In fact, 205 million people attend 1.8 million conferences every year.
So if people are still attending conferences overall, the real question is, why are they not attending your conference?
Goodstadt went on to explain four things that hinder conference attendance:
1. Variety deficiency
What this is: The state of lacking any drive or interest due to the absence of new or exciting experiences.
In other words, people assume they don’t need to attend this year’s conference because it will be the same as last year’s conference.
Solution to the problem: Switch things up! Make the experience different for attendees.
Goodstadt gave a great example of how one company (whose audience is primarily male) did this. To make their trade show more interesting, they turned their vendor layout into a virtual golf course. At each booth, attendees could take a swing at the ball (virtually, via their phone). But depending on how long they were at each booth and how much they engaged with vendors determined how many shots they could get. Brilliant, right?
In this case, the company didn’t have to reinvent their trade show - they just had to find a way to make it different.
2. Connected dysfunction
What this is: The malfunctioning element of conferences where you’re present but never really there.
In other words, attendees are so busy checking their email and taking calls that they’re not really paying attention to the content and experience. They’re not really getting their money’s worth because they’re too distracted.
Solution to the problem: Help your attendees block out those distractions. Goodstadt recommended using some kind of technology (like the “Do not disturb” feature on iPhones) in your conference app. Attendees wouldn’t have to use it - but they could if they wanted to (even for just a short block of time).
3. “Cat chasing the laser pointer” syndrome
What this is: A familiar pattern of symptoms where we constantly chase the tiny objects around us and never focus on one thing.
In other words, attendees are trying to get so much out of your conference that they end up not really getting anything (or anything that sticks, rather).
Solution to the problem: Help your attendees stay focused. Goodstadt recommended using technology to help your attendees select a path - a very focused path tied back to one or two topics/goals. Your attendees could select a path via your conference app and then the app could recommend sessions based on that desired topic/goal.
4. Impractical application
What this is: The process of having an insurmountable amount of information dumped on you while being expected to immediately retain and apply it.
In other words, attendees are so overwhelmed with information that they can’t hone in on a few key takeaways.
Solution to the problem: Simplify things for your attendees. Don’t overwhelm them. Goodstadt gave a great example of how at one museum, visitors could scan QR codes next to each item on display. If they scanned the code, they would later be emailed the information about that item (the history of it, etc.). This was beneficial because people can only absorb so much information at one time. By emailing them more info, they could get max value from their visit - on their own time.
Is this something you could incorporate into your conference sessions? Could you record your sessions with an iPhone (nothing fancy) and then email that to your attendees upon request? You likely already allow vendors to scan badges at booths. Why not use that technology in your sessions to boost engagement and overall conference value?
As you can see, Goodstadt touched on technology A LOT. But one of his big takeaways was this: “Don’t worry so much about having a digital strategy. Instead, focus on have a digitally-powered people strategy. It’s all about the experience!”
For more tips on engaging your members and prospects at events, check out our Complete Guide to Association Event Planning below!