December 14, 2015
If you manage an organization or belong to an association that meets regularly, meaning one or more times per month (12 or more times per year), you have probably experienced some level of monotony. You may have even thought to yourself “geez, not this meeting/event again.” Routine and structure can be great for associations, but it can also easily get stagnant, boring, and tedious for both you and your attendees. It’s good to change things up, if you can find a balance between trying new things and keeping the essence of your meetings intact.If you’re planning events for a group that meets regularly, below are some simple tips to help.
- Keep the format fresh – As stated above, be sure to maintain the core goal of your meeting (e.g. networking, regulatory issues, education, etc.) but think of ways to structure the time differently or even shake up the format. My client, the Executives’ Association of NYC (EANYC), is a networking association that meets two or more times per month for networking luncheons. The bread and butter of their luncheons is what they call “table discussions,” where 6-10 EANYC members network and give/get business leads over lunch. We’ve been able to incorporate panel discussions, member spotlight presentations, and guest speakers into our networking luncheons. These new formats add variety, but we still keep a part of our regular format and allow time for our members to network. If you have a meet-and-greet component usually before the meeting, consider switching it to after the program. These types of changes seem small but you’ll be surprised how they can add a new sense of energy to the meeting, if well thought out. If your group represents multiple industries or even niche industry sub-groups, think about separating them into small groups to speak about related topics, specific to them.
- Deliver relevant content – Look for current issues and topics that would be appropriate for your group to discuss, or for a guest speaker to address. Depending on the type of group, fresh topics can be anything from current events, major happenings in your industry, or even lighter topics like sports and entertainment. During the World Cup a few years ago, we showed the USA men’s soccer match at one of our events. It boosted attendance and gave the event a fun and current feel, even if it wasn’t strictly related to our group’s mission. During tax season, you could have a financial planner speak to the group. Consider what would work for your group. I’d advise that you shy away from political topics since members can have a wide range of views, unless that is a focus of your organization.
- Add variety – Mix up the locations. A simple change of space can really help boost attendance and room energy. Consider hosting your next meeting at a restaurant vs. a board room, or maybe an outdoor space. Potential attendees may see a new venue and be intrigued. If you pick the right new place, it’s almost guaranteed to boost attendance. You should also consider changing up the time of day. If you meet most of the time at 5 p.m., maybe host a meeting at lunch or breakfast once a quarter. This could also allow members that have commitments at the regularly scheduled time to finally be able to attend. Sometimes working parents aren’t able to attend evening cocktail functions, but they could do a working lunch instead.
- Incorporate interactivity – The meetings and events that I personally feel have the most value are ones where I felt engaged and participated in the discussion. Think about ways to engage everyone at the meeting and get people out of their comfort zones. Ice-breaker activities can be great for this, or if you have an appropriate topic, you can assign pre-assign “homework” for attendees (e.g. “write three sentences on how you view X topic, and be prepared to explain to the group”). There are also some companies that offer real time/live polls such as https://www.polleverywhere.com/. That is also a fun and relatively inexpensive way to add some interaction.
Make an effort to think about ways to liven up your regular events. You should start slow when rolling out new ideas, and remember if you’re meeting very regularly it’s OK to try and experiment with new things because you’ll find out very fast what works and doesn’t work. As association leader planning these types of events, I’ve found it personally makes my job more exciting and I have the chance to use my creative thinking. I’d love to hear your ideas and what’s worked well for you. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me what you’re doing!