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Can Meetings Solve My Problems?

“Getting people talking or interacting in some way in your meeting is a sure indication that you’ve captured their interest – the ROI for the planner will follow.”

Cultivating engagement to help associations recruit and retain member

RogerHaskettBy Roger Haskett and Jenny StanfieldJennyStanfield

On the heels of the economic downfall, it’s become clear that the two biggest problems facing Canadian associations today are member recruitment and retention. So, how can meeting planners and professional speakers work together to solve these problems?

Many planners and speakers tend to throw around the word engagement as the magic solution. The trouble with this is that engagement manifests itself in many ways and means different things to different people. Definitions range from something as simple as getting members out to events, to keeping guests happy and involved during the event, to getting members to come to the next event, renewing memberships, or even to simply fill out the planner’s feedback form post-conference.

As a professional speaker, recruitment director for MPI B.C./Vancouver, past membership director for CAPS B.C. and president and founder of Actors Unlimited Entertainment, I am constantly faced with the challenge of both helping planners cultivate engagement in their programs and delivering on engagement in my presentations and entertainment solutions.

Successful meetings and conferences allow audiences to feel in control of their experience, and this includes heightened participation. More and more, meetings and conferences reflect the range of participa

nts and their unique engagement and learning needs. Getting people talking or interacting in some way in your meeting is a sure indication that you’ve captured their interest – the ROI for the planner will follow.

To facilitate this process, professional speakers have been forced to transition from the dusty, old 1.0 “Talking Head” model to a shiny, newly upgraded 2.0 “Living, Breathing Interactive Resource” model.

Beyond the world of meeting trends, it makes sense in a cultural context to think of stakeholders in this way. Social media and other emerging technologies are not only increasing connectivity, but also interactivity. People don’t want to sit and listen any more, they want their content to be personalized and they want to talk back and make their voices heard… or they will vote with their feet. Two extreme examples illustrate the challenge facing planners and associations.

Speaker 1.0 – “Talking Head”

You are sitting theatre-style in a darkened auditorium; the only light is on the keynote speaker on stage. You’ve been sitting on a question you’ve had for 25 minutes, but there has been no opportunity to ask it, so you forget it altogether. The content, while sort of interesting, isn’t exactly relevant to your specific association or you. The minute you get up and leave, you forget 99 per cent of what was said, and there’s no opportunity to discuss it with other attendees.

The meeting is over and you’re dreading attending the next one. You might even cancel your membership because you see no value in it any more.

Speaker 2.0 – “Living, Breathing Interactive Resource”

You are sitting in a comfortable room with non-traditional sofas and plush lounge chairs. Your speaker is presenting on a topic relevant to you and weaving in specific examples that directly relate to your career or personal life. Questions are taken as they come from outgoing participants, and more questions are sent to the speaker online for discussion or in breakout sessions. You are given breaks to discuss the main issues affecting you, and the speaker is available for the rest of the afternoon to address anything on which you need clarification. You leave armed with new ideas and feeling refreshed and connected to your fellow members.

Professional speakers should make a point, (when appropriate) to promote the events they are speaking at to their fans and followers online. This can create great exposure for the association and help the planner anticipate attendee numbers, room blocks, food and beverage, etc.

Similarly, when associations provide their members with the speakers’ contact information and social media channels pre- and post-event and then actually engage with the speakers online, their members benefit. It’s win-win-win for the planner, the association and the speaker.

Ideally, follow up discussions are also captured post-event by Facebook, through hashtags on Twitter and through apps like Storify that turn your meeting or conference into an online scrapbook of photos and comments from members.

Meeting planners can also advise the association to consider more ways to use professional speakers when they bring then in. Have the planning committee hold a raffle where the winners get to sit at a table with the speaker at dinner or meet with the speaker to network for an hour or so. Consider asking the speaker to mingle table to table after the keynote instead of standing at the back of the room waiting for people to buy their book or ask questions. Or, ask the speaker to attend other presenters’ sessions as a method of engaging with conference participants.

As a meeting planner, you know that most audiences and association members are keen on this evolving participatory learning style and want to be actively involved in the learning process. This means you need to ensure that your speaker covers all learning styles in their presentation.

  • Discovery – what’s new and how does it affect me?
  • Experiential learning – how can I put the concepts you’re talking about into practice right now?
  • Bite size information – one idea per slide, one major thesis per presentation, and
  • Interactivity – talking and having participants talk back.

Planners and speakers also should work together to create a program that accommodates introverts who may not want to be the centre of attention and auditory learners who actually excel when they learn by listening rather than doing.

The more the planner can help the association shape the context of a speaker’s presentation and the format in which it is presented, the better for all parties. You are all partners in the planning process.

More than anything, if the speaker is having fun in front of a group, then the association members will have fun too. As the planner, you will leave your attendees wanting more – and the association itself will benefit.

Meeting planners can also work with the association before the event to ensure the tone of meeting invitations, registration and member renewal campaigns evolve with emphasis on “pulling” people into voluntary, enthusiastic participation rather than “pushing” them to buy into a chapter event, conference or membership.

The next time you book an association meeting or conference, remember the ways planners and professional speakers can work together to actively help the association solve their recruitment and retention challenges.

  • Consider all parties as part of the planning and content development process;
  • Customize content to the association and its members;
  • Create channels for communication pre- and post-event;
  • Speakers – charge up your presentation to make it more participatory; and
  • Planners – creatively use the speaker’s presence at the event to engage delegates.

While engagement isn’t a magical solution, if all parties in the planning process work together to create the best program for their members, there will be opportunities to create magic at your meetings. Engagement can become a unified and tangible goal for planners, speakers and associations because it will significantly boost member recruitment and retention in the long run. In that way, meetings can, quite literally, solve your problems!

Roger Haskett is an award-winning writer, director, actor, teacher and speaker. He holds a BFA in acting and a M.A. in education from the UBC and has acted in more than 150 films, TV shows and commercials.

Jenny Stanfield is a creative event professional and social media consultant. She holds a BA in Communications from Simon Fraser University and recently won a scholarship to Event Business Academy in Oxford, England.

Appeared in Speaking of Impact, Summer 2014 Edition

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