This month’s guest blog post is by Samantha Whitehorne, deputy editor for Associations Now. Contact Whitehorne at email@example.com.
As the weekly blogger (and deputy editor) for ASAE’s AssociationsNow.com, I write about some of the innovative things that associations are doing for their meetings and conferences. While it can be stressful to come up with something new each week, it gives me a chance to spotlight association meetings, which sometimes are wrongly perceived as unable to keep up with the likes of bigger conferences such as SXSW or TED.
Here are five ideas executed by associations throughout the past year that I think are the best of the best.
Have Staff Wear the Latest Technology
In April, the Washington Restaurant Association outfitted its onsite staff with Google Glass to provide a live video feed of the event.
During the two-day event, WRA staff wore Google Glass while walking around the show, producing a video feed that streamed on its web site to give people an idea of the event’s layout and provide additional exposure for exhibitors via “on-camera” interviews.
“It allows us to go to a lot of the exhibitors and industry experts who are part of the trade show and interview them in a casual manner,” Lex Nepomuceno, WRA’s director of communications and technology, told Associations Now.
Keep Attendees’ Health in Mind
More associations are helping to keep attendees on track when it comes to their health and fitness while they’re onsite. For example, the annual conference and exhibition of the Health Information and Management Systems Society offered a three-day Wellness Challenge this year.
Here’s how it worked: Attendees had to sign up through the meeting web site and were required to have a fitness tracker to participate. They could either purchase a Misfit Shine activity tracker for $59 through HIMSS, which they picked up onsite, or use their own.
Each of the three days featured a different challenge. Participants used their trackers to calculate each day’s measurements and then posted their numbers online to qualify for daily prizes, which included two $300 gift cards and an iPad mini. To ramp up the competitive spirit, participants and other attendees could visit a booth in the exhibit hall to see who was in the lead each day.
Perfect the First-Time Attendee Experience
Conference newbies can be just as anxious to attend a meeting as they are excited, especially if they don’t know anyone, which is why the first-time attendee experience is so important.
The Society of American Archivists, with the help of its Students and New Archives Professionals Roundtable, put together a first-timer’s guide for its 2013 joint meeting with the Council of State Archivists. It includes a list of what to pack and a guide on how to best network at the conference. In the latter section is a breakdown of networking opportunities made specifically for first-time attendees, including the Navigator and Lunch Buddy programs. SAA also has two other resources on its site for first-timers: One has interviews with three previous attendees highlighting their tips and tricks for making the most of the conference and the other focuses on how to best navigate the meeting.
The American Homebrewers Association also has a fun first-timer’s guide for the National Homebrewers Conference on its site. My favorite tip — written by “AHA Conference Veterans for Fun” — is this: “As delicious as it is, beer is not really food. Don’t get carried away with your conversation on hop glycosides and hot side aeration and forget to eat.”
Design a New Learning Experience
Well-known keynoters, high attendee numbers and hundreds of education sessions are nice, but they don’t guarantee a successful meeting. What does? Designing a learning experience members can’t re-create or find elsewhere.
With member feedback in mind and a desire to create a more engaging learning experience, the National Association of Secondary School Principals made a fundamental shift in how knowledge was acquired and delivered at the NASSP Ignite 2013 Conference.
The backbone of the strategy was the Connected Learning Center, located in the middle of the exhibit hall. The center featured a technology showcase to demonstrate new tools and included a place for speakers to hold mini-sessions to dive deeper into concepts and topics they presented on during their larger, 75- to 90-minute learning sessions held earlier the same day.
To further encourage this dialogue, presenters also were able to hold “office hours” in the center. These open-door meetings gave speakers and attendees the opportunity to discuss the work they’re doing.
Let Members Do the Planning
In an effort to get members more involved in the meeting-planning process, the National Association of Plan Advisors — a sister organization of the American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries — let members select session topics for its NAPA 401(k) Summit, which took place in March in New Orleans.
The best part was that it was inexpensive and simple. ASPPA used the free, open-source platform All Our Ideas for the voting process. The tool was easy for members to navigate. They were given two session ideas, and they could either pick their favorite or add their own idea into the mix for others to vote on. The process was then repeated. The platform’s algorithm sorted and ranked the ideas in real time, allowing members and ASPPA staff to see what topics were in the lead.
What other cool and innovative things do you think are occurring in the meetings space, association-related or not? Share in the comments or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.