Sector and AuSAE News

  • 04 Mar 2022 4:41 AM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)

    At this point in the pandemic, we have a good sense for what protocols we’ll face at in-person gatherings. But what about the more nuanced social aspects of meetings? Use these tips to acclimate to meetings etiquette in 2022.

    By Michael Hickey Feb 22, 2022

    Things that were no-brainers in meetings two years ago are now fraught with public health and etiquette concerns. How do you ask whether someone is OK shaking hands? How do you indicate that you yourself aren’t comfortable—or that you are? How do you indicate someone is too physically close for comfort?

    Before walking into what might be your first in-person meeting in a while, consider these insights to draw your own safety standards without impinging on why you’re going back to the conference space: connecting with others in real time.

    Be Polite, But Speak Up

    Just because you’re comfortable enough to return to in-person meetings doesn’t mean that you’ll be comfortable with acting like it’s 2019. What felt like an appropriate personal distance back then might feel unsafe to you now, and you could be put in a situation where your fellow attendees don’t give you enough space. It may be uncomfortable to ask others for more space, but with your safety in mind, it’s best to push through this awkwardness and say something. The Emily Post Institute offers a few phrases you can use to speak up without ruffling feathers, such as:

    • “Sorry, I’m trying to keep 6 feet away.” (While stepping back)
    • “I’ll wait and catch the next elevator.”
    • “Do you mind giving us just a little bit more space, please?” (Hopefully followed by a: “Thank you so much.”)

    “You want to have an upbeat tone to your delivery, no edge whatsoever,” the Emily Post Institute wrote.

    Follow Cough Etiquette

    Sneezing, sniffles, and coughs certainly carry more weight than they used to, and will raise more concerns and turn more heads than the last time you were at an in-person gathering. So, if you’re unmasked during the event, remember to follow proper coughing etiquette, which includes:

    • Covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
    • Coughing or sneezing into your elbow, not your hands, if you don’t have a tissue.
    • Throwing used tissues in the trash.
    • Immediately washing your hands after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

    While following cough etiquette has always been the way to conduct yourself, being diligent with your hygiene will go a long way toward making everyone comfortable during in-person meetings in 2022.

    Ask—Don’t Assume—When Greeting Others

    When greeting fellow attendees, keep in mind that some will be OK with hugs and handshakes, while others might still be uncomfortable. Don’t assume that the person you’re talking to has gone back to pre-COVID greetings. Instead, say something like “Hi, nice to see you. [Are we shaking hands/Can I hug you?]” If this feels a little awkward, it might help just to acknowledge that awkwardness with the person you’re talking to.

    “It makes the person feel better,” said Vanessa Bohns, a professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “When the other person feels better, they like you more.”

    Why Is Punctuality Important?

    The event’s organizers have probably gone to great lengths to put together a safe in-person meeting. Don’t be late! Of course, attending an in-person gathering takes more prep than a virtual one, where you could just open your laptop from home. Now that you‘re back in person, give yourself enough time to arrive, park, check in, find your room, go through any safety protocols, and grab a seat.

    Originally posted here

  • 02 Mar 2022 8:33 AM | Sarah Gamble (Administrator)

    New Zealand will be showcasing its new venues and activities to the Asia Pacific meetings and events industry with a new hybrid stand at this year’s AIME trade show.

    Tourism New Zealand will be anchoring the stand with an increased number of New Zealand partners, both in person and via a virtual hub on-stand, to showcase the country’s latest business events developments.

    Representatives of the three new generation convention centres in New Zealand - Te Pae Christchurch Convention Centre, Tākina Wellington Convention and Exhibition Centre and the New Zealand International Convention Centre in Auckland - will be physically on stand.

    There will also be in-person attendance from key destinations Auckland Convention Bureau, Business Events Wellington, Dunedin Business Events, and Queenstown Convention Bureau, as well as industry body BEIA, and hotel presence from Cordis Auckland and Millennium Hotels and Resorts.

    Show attendees will be able to live chat virtually with Hamilton & Waikato Tourism, Southland Regional Development Agency, and Destination Rotorua, as well as venue operators CPG Hotels - Terrace Downs and Auckland Conventions, Venues & Events.

    Tourism New Zealand General Manager Domestic & Business Events Bjoern Spreitzer says:

    “We want to be present and meet the buyers at this event to discuss what New Zealand can offer for their events and make those genuine connections that in-person can bring. We’re also aware that face-to-face isn’t an option for everyone currently, so wanted to demonstrate our hybrid capabilities and extend our reach via a virtual component.

    “New imagery and on-stand activations will provide an immersive, welcoming New Zealand experience for attendees."

    Australian hosted buyers who book a Pre-Scheduled Appointment with the New Zealand team (either in-person or virtually) at AIME are also in the draw to win a return trip for two from Australia to either Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, or Queenstown with Air New Zealand, aligned with New Zealand’s border reopening timings. This will include four nights’ accommodation and experiencing two excursions in their destination of choice first-hand.

    Spreitzer adds: “With new venues and activities coming online, plus flexible, competitive and business-specific funding and support on offer, there’s lots for us to share with event organisers from across the region.”

     ----------------------

    NOTES:

    The Asia Pacific Incentives and Meetings Event (AIME) is the leading trade event for the meetings and event industry in the Asia Pacific region. AIME 2022 will be held at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre from 21 – 23 March.

    For more information on holding a business event in New Zealand, head to: businessevents.newzealand.com

  • 01 Mar 2022 11:04 PM | Sarah Gamble (Administrator)

    The Australasian Society of Association Executives (AuSAE) today announced their Association Influencers of 2022, a program highlighting the outstanding contributions of individuals in the association community across Australia and New Zealand.


    An independent judging panel of experienced and passionate association leaders selected 12 Association Influencers for 2022 from a group of fifty-three (53) peer nominated professionals.

    Influencers were selected based on how they demonstrated influence, exemplary leadership, unrivalled guidance, strength in resilience and service to the sector over the last 12 months. An eclectic mix of CEOs, directors, advocacy and marketing leaders, and innovators from a diverse range of industries are showcased, including health, retail, employment, finance, and telecommunications.

    Speaking proudly about all the nominees, Toni Brearley, Chief Executive Officer of AuSAE, said, “To display such inspiring examples of leadership and influence balanced with resilience is a testament to the strength of association sector in Australia and New Zealand. We are proud to provide a platform upon which leading individuals can be recognised for their significant and lasting impact within our tribe and set the benchmark for association professionals into the future – kudos to such a thriving community”.

    “We thank all our nominees for their continued support and commitment to the community over the last 12 months and congratulate our Association Influencers of 2022.”

    AuSAE’s Association Influencers 2022

    • Lyn Brodie, Chief Executive Officer - Optometry Australia
    • Dr Rosalind Bullock, Board Member - NSW Rural Doctors Network
    • Dante De Gori, Former Chief Executive Officer - Financial Planning Association
    • Dr Kate Dempsey, Executive Officer - Australian New Zealand and Asian Creative Arts Therapists Association
    • Alan McDonald, Head of Advocacy & Strategy - Employers and Manufacturers Association
    • Damian McCrohan, President - Rail Trails Australia
    • Bill McKinley, Chief of Staff -  Australian Trucking Association
    • Paul Nicolaou, Executive Director – Business Sydney
    • Sophia Rose, General Manager - Brand Marketing & Communications - Institute of Directors in New Zealand
    • Emma Watson, Program Team Leader – Scouts Australia
    • Craig Young, Chief Executive Officer –  TUANZ, Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand
    • Paul Zahra, Chief Executive Officer - Australian Retailers Association

    In its second year, AuSAE’s Association Influencers Program, recognises individuals in Australia and New Zealand’s Association sector as they stood front and centre - supporting, protecting and advocating for their members as the once in a generation global crisis unfolded.

    To meet the AuSAE Association Influencers 2022 and nominees, visit: www.ausae.org.au/association-influencers-2022-winners

    ABOUT AUSAE:

    AuSAE is the home for association professionals – a place for Association professionals to belong, connect with others, advance their career and be inspired.

    The Australasian Society of Association Executives (AuSAE) is the leading association for current and future association and not-for-profit (NFP) leaders in Australia and New Zealand. AuSAE is focused on fostering a strong and robust association sector in Australia and New Zealand through providing professional development, support, and networking opportunities for existing and emerging leaders. As a not-for-profit organisation, AuSAE has a unique understanding of the opportunities and challenges association professionals face, and they utilise the knowledge to strengthen the wider industry.

    www.ausae.org.au

  • 25 Feb 2022 4:29 AM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)

    Advances in digital marketing strategies make it easier to define and find target audiences. But just because we can more readily identify prospects, does that mean we should immediately target them with marketing efforts using specific calls to action to join, attend, or make a purchase?

    Maybe… or maybe not! While it’s easier these days to find an audience through profile targeting, even if they appear to be a perfect match, your organization may not be on their radar and they likely aren’t informed, much less ready to commit to a purchase.

    Years ago, MGI was running lead generation and nurture email campaigns for most of our clients. These programs faded with the emergence of new digital tactics that took away the need for prospects to show interest by “raising their hands” through a content offer and opt-in. However, sometimes what is old is new again: we’ve seen renewed interest in and use of lead generation as more clients look to build their membership pipeline.

    Not sure if returning to lead generation is a wise test for your organization?
    Consider an MGI client who is reporting a 10% conversion rate from lead to membership in only three months after launching a lead gen campaign. Using digital targeting to attract prospects and a segmented three-part cultivation email series based on experience and qualifications, we’re successfully moving qualified prospects through to paid membership in a remarkably short time.
    Results may vary, but if you’re looking to increase your prospect database, now is the time to retest or launch a lead generation campaign. Here are a few steps to help you get started:

    1. Develop Your Content Offer. Make sure the content is of interest to your audience and valuable enough that they’ll be willing to give their contact information in exchange for the content.
    2. Define Your Target Audience and How You’ll Reach Them. Consider cold email lists, profile targeting through paid social media campaigns, search campaigns, and, of course, retargeting visitors to your website who haven’t converted to membership.
    3. Develop a Multi-Touch Email Cultivation Series. Warm up prospects to your organization by introducing them to the benefits and value of membership throughout the course of the series, with the ultimate goal of converting them to membership.
    4. Establish Campaign Tracking. Because multiple touches are used throughout the campaign, results-tracking is essential to assess campaign success. Make sure you’re tracking each step and touch along the way. That will allow you to follow a person from lead to member.
    For more ideas and information on how to grow your prospect list and ultimately your membership, contact MGI’s Vice President of Account Services, Jana Darling at jdarling@marketinggeneral.com


  • 23 Feb 2022 3:14 PM | Sarah Gamble (Administrator)

    The question we are being asked more than any other: "Why is it so hard to fill roles right now?"

    Perhaps, you've recently advertised a role with only a few applicants. Or maybe you've found a great candidate only to find they've been offered a generous package to stay in their role. You're not alone!

    The answer to the question is simply, yes, it's a really challenging time to recruit in the association and membership sector now. Many businesses are struggling. It's not just associations and NFPs; it's across the board.

    Louise Roper, the Principal Recruitment Consultant at Beaumont People, shares her insights about recruitment struggles the association and membership sector are facing right now. Take a look at the video below.

    Next month, Louise will provide tips on improving the process, finding people fast, and successfully recruiting and filling the jobs.

  • 18 Feb 2022 5:03 AM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)

    Welcome packets and emails can offer a good starting point for new members, but that may not be enough to keep them around. Here are some tips to help supercharge your member onboarding process.

    When someone joins an association, they’re often looking for a path forward as a new member—a little help to find their way, a compass that they can follow.

    Associations can offer that help—or they can be a little more passive and do something minimal.

    But doing the minimum at the beginning might just cost them the chance of keeping that member around. A 2018 report from Dynamic Benchmarking and Kaiser Insights [PDF] found that associations that implemented an effective onboarding strategy were able to increase their member retention from 62 percent to 68 percent.

    Plus, there are other benefits that come from stronger onboarding, including more usable feedback, more detailed information about members, cleaner member databases, and easier identification of potential volunteers.

    “Immediate value received upon joining prompted a high level of life-long engagement,” the report stated.

    In other words, a little TLC goes a long way. So what does that engagement look like? A few ideas for effective member onboarding upgrades:

    1. Personalize early. Often, the first way that members interact with your organization is through some sort of welcome message. Problem is, personalization is desired but not always offered in member communications, according to research from Community Brands—just 18 percent of associations offer it. Welcome emails can be a great area for personalization, as it can help members feel heard. The hard part, as noted by YourMembership, is getting the next set of data to allow for further steps into personalization. A measured approach can help. “If you need new members to complete an online member community profile or set up their communications preferences, send them a specific email communication about that action,” the firm’s Michelle Schweitz explains.

    2. Instead of an onboarding packet, consider drip marketing. Member welcome packets can be done well—Personify’s Wild Apricot has plenty of ideas on where to get started. But an email drip campaign can supply that information in a more careful manner over a longer period. Chamber of commerce expert Frank J. Kenny suggests that drip campaigns can replace onboarding packets entirely. “This way they get bite-size tips they can read quickly and start using immediately,” he writes.

    3. Lean on your chapters—but not too hard. Chapters can be effective in building a new member base, as they can put a friendly face within proximity of a member and give a local spin to a national or global association. However, Billhighway’s Charlotte Muylaert warns that putting too much pressure on local chapters does not a good chapter strategy make. “You have membership expertise, but they know the day-in/day-out challenges of running a chapter,” she writes. “Instead, collaborate with components on your new member onboarding plan so it’s both practical and sustainable.”

    4. Integrate your social strategy. It’s important when building your onboarding strategy to stretch beyond the inbox, as fundamental as it is. Sharing welcome messages for new members on social media is one thing—introducing them to a broader conversation is another entirely. Lia Zegeye, senior director of membership at the American Bus Association, told Associations Now last fall that she hosts onboarding webinars. During that effort, she highlights the organization’s social media platforms and encourages new members to engage—which has been particularly successful at driving members to the association’s Facebook presence.

    5. Don’t drop off too quickly with your messaging. As MemberNova noted in a 2019 study, 95 percent of organizations send a welcome email, but just 8 percent continued to send messages beyond the second week—and 2 percent beyond the first month. In an article discussing the survey, author Divya Tandan notes that cutting off the messaging too soon could strand new members during an important time. “The first 90 days are the most crucial for a new member, because it’s during this month and a half that they are evaluating you, assessing the value membership to the association offers them and trying to familiarize themselves with all the resources made available to them,” she writes.

    6. Offer special notice at events. It’s not just about driving messaging to the newbies, but giving special notice. As MemberSuite explains, it can help to direct some of that new member onboarding energy to first-time attendees as well—perhaps by creating dedicated first-time event pages, tip sheets, and signifiers that show others that this is an attendee’s first time at an event. “These first-time attendees aren’t likely to come back next time unless you make them feel welcome and help them get the most out of their event experience,” the firm’s Val Brotherton writes.

    By Ernie Smith

    Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun

    Originally Posted here 

  • 11 Feb 2022 4:08 AM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)

    Increasing dues is never an easy decision, but after many organisations offered hardship accommodations to members during the pandemic, it’s an even thornier issue. Membership expert Joy Duling offers some guidance.

    When the pandemic hit, a lot of organizations immediately offered reduced dues or dues breaks to members who were experiencing financial hardship. Now, two years in, people are wondering: Is it the right time to raise membership dues?

    “When organizations made the decision to adjust prices, they didn’t necessarily give a lot of thought to what would be on the other side,” said Joy Duling, founder and CEO of the Joy of Membership. They did what was needed at the time, but there was no playbook for what should happen next.

    “They have to approach it the same way they would approach raising prices at any other time,” she said. The best place to start is to look at all the different benefits that you offer and, knowing that some have been offered in the past year others have not, break that into chunks.

    For example, if your live conference didn’t happen, did you offer a webinar series, industry report, or online networking event instead? Break those out into pieces so you can assess what’s been delivered, what’s been put on hiatus, and what you anticipate you will be able to deliver going forward.

    “I do believe that hybrid activities and doing more digitally driven activities are here to stay,” Duling said. That means organizations need to think about how to weave those into their value proposition, which will help make the shift in price feel like it’s in alignment with the value that’s being offered.

    Messaging Tips

    Any time an organization increases prices, they should talk about why the price increase is happening. For example, explain that to provide members relief during the pandemic, you reduced prices by a certain amount, but going forward you are going to step back to the normal pricing structure.

    Duling recommends pairing the announcement of the price increase with an enhanced benefit that will get people excited about what lies ahead. It will take the sting out of the price increase, so it won’t seem like you’re just increasing prices and members are getting the same-old, same-old.

    “It’s more like: Hey, it’s time to increase our prices, and we’re really excited about what we’re rolling out in the next few weeks and months—and we think you’ll be excited too,” she said.

    Messaging for any membership benefits must focus on the value proposition. What is the outcome members want, and how is this new suite of benefits going to help members achieve the outcome they are looking for?

    For example, if your members are looking to increase their awareness of industry issues, connect the benefits you’re offering with what they want. Talk about the value of your networking meetings, accreditation process, and how all those things have a financial and professional benefit.

    Incentives like locking in pricing for a certain period are also a good option. Or a fast-action bonus like an early bird or VIP admittance to an upcoming event. And the incentive could help with the technology headache of asking members to renew. You’re asking them to jump through a hoop, but you’re making it worth their while by making it fun. “The pleasure has to be greater than the pain,” Duling said.

    Despite all the difficulties of the past two years, Duling is philosophical about what’s next. “The collective experience that we’ve all been through has given us all a new perspective on how to create value for members,” she said. “We will all be doing business a little differently going forward.”

    Originally posted here 


  • 11 Feb 2022 4:03 AM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)

    Association staff often assume board members know how to be effective right out of the gate. That’s not always the case, which is why an orientation is a good idea.

    Alot of times people join association boards because they are committed volunteers and passionate about the organization’s mission and goals. But, unless they specifically seek out governance education, “no one trains you how to be a board member in school,” said Stephanie Cory, principal at Stephanie Cory Consulting. “Sometimes they aren’t experts in board governance, and they aren’t familiar with the fiduciary responsibilities of tax-exempt organizations.”

    That’s where orientation that covers the board’s role and what it means to be a good board member comes in.

    How Does It Work?

    A good onboarding should include information on understanding the association’s bylaws, setting an organizational direction, ensuring the organization has necessary resources, and providing oversight on the three legal duties a board member has: duty of care, duty of loyalty, and duty of obedience. It should also cover financial management.

    Why Is It Effective?

    It makes sure the CEO is supported by a board that understands what its role is. And it also ensures the board is focused on the right areas and that the group is thriving and best serving the association’s mission.

    What’s the Benefit?

    For the association’s members at large, it allows them to feel secure that the board is doing its job and there is strong volunteer leadership in place for the organization. “Trust is a big factor,” Cory said. It helps members know they have a well-governed organization, resources are being spent appropriately, and their dues is being used in the best way possible.

    Board members will be aware of avoiding any conflicts of interest and when to recuse themselves to prevent any private inurement. Overall, it enhances the reputation of the association.

    Originally posted here  


  • 11 Feb 2022 3:53 AM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)

    As many associations are looking to shore up nondues revenue, a new survey reveals sponsors want to be back at in-person meetings. Experts say mixing in-person events with year-round content options will lead to more productive relationships between sponsors and associations.

    Prior to the pandemic, association events—and the sponsors they brought—were a mainstay of nondues revenue. While sponsors gave virtual a try, many had lackluster results—making them wary of such offerings.

    And now “State of Sponsorship Engagement [PDF],” a new survey by the Partnership Professionals Network and Dynamic Benchmarking, reveals just how eager sponsors are to return to live events: 81 percent of respondents want to sponsor in-person meetings.

    Part of the appetite for face-to-face meetings is related to nostalgic memories of past conferences, along with the realities of what virtual conferences were like, said Dan Kowitz, CEO of JSB Partnership Consultants and co-convener of PPN.

    “What companies will say is, ‘If we were live, and I had a product theater, people would stand around and talk, and you might get some leads and conversation right afterward,’” Kowitz said. “People aren’t hanging around virtually to do that.”

    While sponsors want in-person meetings, the reality is that they are coming back slowly, with attendance often lower than pre-pandemic levels. “If they used to sponsor a meeting at $50,000, and they decide to test the waters and come back at $50,000,” said Kowitz. “And if you have half the attendance [as pre-pandemic], I guarantee you they’re not going to be happy and asking for money back.”

    Use a Year-Round Strategy

    Kowitz said the best strategy is giving sponsors a good return on investment. Only 21 percent of sponsors surveyed said they are achieving their objective most of the time. That means associations need to do a better job understanding what sponsors want to achieve and tailoring packages to those needs. Offer more than conference sponsorship, even if that seems to be high on the sponsor’s wish list.

    “When you start your conversation, say, ‘Look, we market 365 days a year in our association to our members,’” Kowitz said. “’You market 365 days a year. If we can have a conversation around your goals and objectives, I think there are many points in the year where we can make your relationship to and with the members come to life.’”

    That way, if event numbers don’t reach pre-pandemic levels, sponsors aren’t left feeling dissatisfied. “If you package other ways to reach members during the course of the year for your top spenders, that’s where they’re not going to be quite as concerned if the meeting is down,” Kowitz said.

    Though, he added that giving sponsors some of what they want will be helpful. “Since companies are itching to get back to in person, the more that we can have in person this year, the more we’ll see spends come back and go up in those areas.”

    Mix in Content Targeted Marketing

    One area where sponsors are clamoring for more is content. Seventy percent want to be considered thought leaders and educate members. “Sponsors want to be in the conversation, not sponsor the conversation,” Kowitz said.

    However, associations should have standards for content to assure it is valuable to members, not a sales pitch. Many sponsors have been creating content themselves and are looking outside of associations to share it, said Bruce Rosenthal, principal of Bruce Rosenthal Associates, LLC, and co-convener of the PPN. He noted, they might not come back to associations if they find other avenues to share content.

    “It is a competitive environment,” he said. “Companies have choices, and as part of that, companies are looking for value.”

    When offering value, Rosenthal suggested targeted marketing. He gave the example of a webinar an association hosts that 300 people attend. Rather than marketing to all 300 people, find out which attendees sponsors are most interested in—such as a specific title who live in a certain region of the country—and send only to those people.

    “The association can say, ‘There are 25 attendees that meet that profile,’” Rosenthal said. “Then the company can say, ‘Can we send those 25 a white paper on this topic?’ Those 25 people could be more valuable than the 300 people in an in-person session.”

    Rosenthal noted that organizations who have policies not to give out registrant info could send emails on behalf of the sponsor. Targeting also makes it more likely that the information is valuable to the recipients.

    “This avoids the problem many associations have of people complaining to the CEO, ‘Why am I getting all these emails? I don’t have anything to do with this product,’” Rosenthal said. “By doing that targeting, it’s much more member beneficial.”

    What are your sponsors telling you they want more of in 2022? Share in the comments.

    By Rasheeda Childress Feb 09, 2022

    Orginally posted here 

  • 09 Feb 2022 5:37 AM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)

    Niche Conferences: Is it the future of assocation conferences

    We’ve noticed a topic cropping up in event planner communities: a growing interest in smaller, niche conferences. Is the lack of enthusiasm for mass gatherings a result of pandemic anxiety? Or are planners realising that many people in their virtual audience aren’t all that thrilled with large one-size-fits-all conferences and are seeking different options?

    At large conferences, many attendees felt lost amidst the crowd. They found it difficult to connect with people on more than a superficial level. Having attended a virtual conference, they discovered how much easier it is to watch presentations online from the comforts of home than take the time to travel and watch them in person.

    However, another issue is now getting lots of attention: digital exhaustion. People are becoming more selective about which virtual events they attend. The shine has gone off large virtual conferences that merely offer a webinar-like educational experience with no opportunities for breakout rooms and small group discussions—the chat box is no substitute for meaningful conversations.

    The appeal of virtual niche conferences

    Many people rather gather with a smaller group of attendees who belong to the same niche. They prefer to be in a crowd of hundreds, not thousands, or dozens, not hundreds. In a smaller crowd, they feel a sense of community as they encounter the same names and faces throughout the experience.

    You can still have your big in-person event—it serves a valuable purpose for many attendees, sponsors and exhibitors. But consider offering smaller, specialized virtual events for niche groups—attendees who have a similar job or specialty, or who are interested in the same topic. People are more likely to make the effort to attend a virtual conference when every session is geared to their specific interests, and every attendee does the same type of work or deals with the same issues.

    Because they don’t require additional time off and a travel budget, virtual niche conferences also attract people, including recent graduates, who want to explore a new specialty or position. They’re a more affordable option for employers. Employees who don’t have a large professional development budget are more likely to attend a virtual conference targeted to their position or specialty. They get a better bang for their buck when every session is relevant.

    Which niches hold potential?

    You may already know which niches have promise, but if you don’t, your ability to find out depends on the type of the data you capture in your AMS/CRM, LMS, event platform, email platform, and/or website analytics. If you have data related to a person’s job, specialty, and interests, you can segment your database to see which groups are large enough to merit a niche conference.

    Then you need to find out if there is an interest for a niche conference with any of these groups. You also have to assess whether you have the resources to plan and host a niche conference.

    •    For which niches can you offer strong, deep content?
    •    For which niches can you find content support from sponsors?
    •    Which niches would attract enough exhibitors?

    What can you do differently with a virtual niche conference?

    Because of their size, you have more flexibility when planning a niche conference.

    Rethink the schedule

    What kind of conference experience does the niche prefer? Don’t assume, ask them. We’ve seen a trend away from all-day virtual conferences. Instead, many associations schedule sessions on a series of afternoons, which is better for west coast attendees.

    Try a mix of session lengths—express, regular, and deep-dive. We’ve seen niche conferences that only offer one track of sessions for everyone, and some that schedule an occasional slot for a few concurrent mini sessions.

    You could spread out the afternoons over a few weeks, and host discussion groups and social meetups in between. If the conference is a success, consider starting a series of niche “summits” with time in between to promote related online educational programs.

    Build engagement into session content

    Because of their size, large conferences are generally passive experiences with the session chat box serving as the only source of “engagement.” I think you’ll agree, that’s hardly engagement. With a smaller audience, you can take advantage of breakout rooms and other tools to offer the interactive exercises and discussions that lead to effective learning.

    You can aim the conference at a specific level of career experience. With hyper-relevant content, a more advanced niche can go deeper into the nitty-gritty. Virtual allows you to bring in higher caliber speakers at a lower cost. For an early-career niche, you might provide introductory content, personal growth sessions, and coaching and mentoring services.

    Keep it interesting by playing around with session formats:

    •    Solution rooms
    •    Thought leader Q&As
    •    Research briefings
    •    Roundtable discussions
    •    Product case studies
    •    Ask the expert sessions
    •    Brainstorming or ideation sessions

    Focus on facilitating connections

    This is where niche events excel—conversations. At large virtual conferences, names scroll by quickly in the chat. Only the truly proficient networkers leave a large virtual conference with a handful of new connections. Most people close their laptop and rub the exhaustion out of their eyes.

    At a smaller niche conference, attendees keep bumping into the same people in chat boxes and breakout rooms. By the time the conference is over, they have truly connected with people and their faces, not just seen their names.

    You can facilitate these relationships by hosting a pre-event meetup. Share the attendee list before and after the conference. Open virtual lounges for coffee chats, lunch breaks and end-of-day meetups. Offer matchmaking services, both one-to-one and group. Schedule topical discussion groups for eight people max in each.

    You could also host a backchannel between sessions, either on Slack or your event app, in your online community, or wherever they already hang out. If non-member attendees can’t access your community, you won’t want to do it there.  

    Invite the most appropriate sponsors and exhibitors

    Find sponsors and exhibitors who will receive value from associating with the niche’s market segment. Some niches will be an easier sell than others, so price accordingly. Collaborate with sponsors on ideas for sharing their expertise with attendees, perhaps in sessions and discussion groups, or just sharing their budget via conference scholarships.

    If attendees aren’t purchasing decision-makers, it will be a tough sell for exhibitors. Participation will be about brand awareness and relationship-building for the future. Think beyond virtual booths to case studies, demos, and other ways to share expertise.

    Plan post-event activities

    What other programs and events would interest this niche audience? Provide a promo code for relevant courses or certificate programs. Schedule exclusive “alumni” webinars and social meetups. See if there’s an interest in learning cohorts or communities so they can continue growing together. Ask some of them to participate in an advisory group that helps you plan future conferences and programs for that niche. If you continue to host programs that keep attendees connected with the people they met at your niche conference, you will keep them coming back to your website and education catalog.

    With artificial intelligence driving so much of what we see on the web, the world around us is becoming more personalized. With niche conferences, your association can deliver a more relevant and personalized education and relationship-building experience to your attendees—a place where they can share and celebrate their collective intelligence

    Originally posted here



The Australasian Society of Association Executives (AuSAE)

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