Organizers of association events know that event attendance can be a major pain point. But over the past 15 months, many are finding that an uptick in attendees is one of several silver linings of going with a digital format.
In 2020, ASAE did just that, and saw its annual meeting and exposition hit the highest number of registrants ever in its 100-year history. So when it came time to plan for the 2021 event, to be held the August 13 -18, the ASAE team kept the digital format, working with partner Intrado Digital Media for the second year in a row, and added a series of live, in-person Community Pop-UP events in nine cities across the U.S.
“Fortunately, we’re in a position now where things are looking up and obviously the economy is beginning to open up,” said Robb Lee, chief strategy officer for ASAE, who spoke with Convene in early June. “The point of this [annual meeting] was to be able to connect with the community in a way that would be meaningful to them but also representative of what they could do at the moment that the annual meeting was going on.”
Oftentimes when we talk about hybrid, it’s always from the perspective of, ‘Here is what we’re going to do in order to provide an experience.’ And our perspective was really … let’s make it as easy as possible for you — as a stakeholder, as a member, as someone who cares about this community — to engage in way that is relevant for you.”
Washington, D.C., Charlotte, Dallas, Cleveland, Columbus, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach, and San Juan, Puerto Rico are among the cities hosting the half-day Community Pop-UPs, which will include livestreams of ASAE’s keynotes, live speaker sessions, as well as networking opportunities and industry discussions.
To make in-person and digital attendees feel connected, “we’re doing a New Year’s Eve–style check-in with each city each day,” said Courtney Robinson, CMP, director of meeting operations and event experience at ASAE, “so that the virtual world can see what is going on at these Community Pop-UPs.”
Each participating city will also have a dedicated lounge within the virtual event platform, powered by Intrado Digital Media. “That allows the virtual attendees to pop in … and it’s kind of an extra bonus for cities to connect with the virtual attendees,” Robinson said.
Not only does this hub-and-spoke-style program help to effectively market the annual meeting to a wider in-person audience, it also allows attendees to customize the experience to their needs and comfort level. And the team sees this hybrid format as a path forward to creating greater engagement and flexibility for their attendees.
“Our community loves to get together, period,” Lee said. However, “there are so many different individual layers and choices for people to make as it relates to congregating. Let’s create an opportunity for people to engage — they’ll decide how much.”
Challenges and Solutions
For 2021, the ASAE team has also reworked the annual meeting’s digital components, scrapping the traditional exhibit hall and adding a suite of more tailored offerings designed to encourage one-on-one interaction between industry partners and attendees.
“This is one of the lessons learned from last year,” adds Robinson. “You can’t just take an exhibit hall and put it into the virtual world. To drive attendees [to partners], you really need content in order to engage. We’re trying to take the industry partner and make them content experts and engage with association executives that way.”
In addition, the new Association Solutions Marketplace will offer a landing page for documents, links, and other digital collateral from industry partners. Within the marketplace will be more opportunities for connection — live chats where partners can answer questions directly from attendees as well as the Association Exchange, which has been designed to allow association executives and partners to meet one-on-one to discuss their topic of choice.
With Intrado Digital Media’s platform designed to fit the needs of association meetings, Robinson and her team will be able to rely on a suite of tools to make these experiences feel seamless. For example, Intrado Digital Media’s second-screen technology will allow in-person attendees tuning in from host cities to participate in polls and surveys, displaying the results in one place. And integrated Q&A functionality will make one-on-one communication between industry partners and attendees a breeze.
“We all saw last year what happened … in regard to the number of people that we engaged, it was incredible,” Lee said. However, “a lot of people aren’t able to engage each and every year, even if they want to. We’re building towards something, not knowing exactly what the footprint will look like in the future, [to] meet people where they are.”