In-Person Business Events: Resetting Bravely.

Rebuilding: Anticipate. Experience. Remember.

Colleagues and members are longing to reconnect in person. They miss seeing each other like long-lost high school buddies thinking misty-eyed about old times. You miss seeing your customers, media partners and sponsors. Getting the band back together will be good for the soul and good for business. Warm up your coffee and get ready for an exciting journey — then forward this blog to your event planner or Executive Director.

While we may still be in the land of virtual, face-to-face events are around the corner. Many organizations will be offering hybrid (part virtual, part in-person) for the foreseeable future while advance planning for big, signature events. We offer some advice for how to re-create business events with non-dues revenue and impact.

Forecast your numbers for explosive growth.

You can be conservative with the Board on revenue but not on programming. It’s time to take all that data from your Zooms, Google Analytics, social media engagements, opens and click throughs to reset the agenda for your Annual Conference.

Offer professional development to further the profession and advance careers.

With 10,000 Boomers retiring each day, it’s time to take the long view. Your events can attract, join up and retain young professionals right out of college or grad school. Contemplate your industry or profession’s future and pivot your upcoming event with a future focus as the catalyst to maximize workforce development.

Help members make their market.

If your event’s programming doesn’t include helping your members better serve their customers and the market, rethink everything. Professional development must incorporate consumers, clients and constituents your members serve. Think as broadly as the market, supply chain partners and media see your industry. Think wide. Then go even wider and ask your exhibitors, sponsors and members’ customers to weigh in on your 3-4 day agenda.

Iterate with “agile development” to develop your event’s content.

Sprints of cross-functional teams brainstorming your event’s content will boost innovation, and through iterations you’ll laser in on success. Here’s the framework: Gather requirements. Design. Develop. Get feedback from select customers. Then repeat for Iteration #2. Gather requirements. Design. Develop. Get feedback from select customers. It’s exhilarating to scan and plan from the outside in. Be brave and listen to the market.

Use your event to recruit non-members and grow boldly.

Now is the perfect time to knock their socks off with “lightning” programming. Incentivize newcomers. Welcome them. Ensure the President and Board members go out of their way to meet and thank them as a first timer. Swag them up with a special hotel room drop. First impressions can turn into lasting relationships.

Bolster your value proposition to existing members.

Your network and event programming can cement why members joined in the first place. Shatter what they’ve seen in the past to recast a new way of doing business. If they want to grow their networks, be like eharmony and use 5-star matchmaking to connect members and the market. If they want a great social hour, hire Emeril Lagasse or a James Beard-nominated restaurateur. Don’t worry — the hotel will make room for a celebrity chef (for a fee). Buy their latest cookbook and give this out.

Consider a destination you’ve never experienced.

Look for the “craft” and that wow factor. Places that are so unique, they will have attendees making memories and plans to revisit: Portland, Nashville, Austin, Pittsburgh, Louisville, or Charleston. Regardless of what CVENT or history tells you, attendees are looking for a great experience before, during and after your conference. And if your meeting is going regional instead of national, consider “tier 2” cities and markets. Like Avis, they try harder to earn your business.

Have fun.

Your members are so over with Zoom-only, Google Meets and breakout rooms. However, consider some of the things that have worked during COVID-drama. Technology created immediacy, distanced engagement and chats galore. Consider how to make your next event as engaging as the Cubs World Series and how to gamify your upcoming conference. There’s a reason experiences like Kickstarter, TikTok and Animal Planet kitten and puppy cams attract crowds. Ask the youngest people on your staff or volunteers for tech that walks the talk.

And one last nugget.

Rebrand using any name other than “conference.”

Consider using the word Connect. CON for short. Or Network. Convene. Meet. Gather (yes, that’s short for together). Join. Google, Tesla and Amazon stay top of mind because of their brands and the services they dominate. Find your remarkability, as Seth Godin advises. It’s time to reposition your approach to your next THRIVE. The business event you implemented two years ago has evaporated from your rearview.

It’s time to fly.

If you’d like to explore some blue sky ideas for reinventing your events, Agency McKenna is your agent of change.

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Warren McKenna, MFA, CAE
Principal & CEO


Are you looking to make a huge splash when your events return to in-person?

Send us an RFP for your event branding and marketing and we’ll offer your organization a 10% discount, good through 2021!

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