Do You Have an Attendee Succession-Plan Strategy?

This is the first of two columns that are intended to be a helpful resource for conference organizers as they develop their attendee succession-plan strategy. While every association and profession has its unique issues, I’ve picked up on a few key indicators/principles that apply to the majority. For organizational and product sustainability, you must:

1. Own  the mid-career professional demographic. These are usually the most active practitioners who are 10 to 20 years into their career. While it’s helpful to plot attendance by age, years in the profession is likely a better indicator for sustainability.

2. Understand that labels and actions matter. Instead of using terms like “young professional” or “beginner,” consider “early-career” or “future leader.” Next-generation audiences want community, not judgment; conversation, not doctrine; activity, not bureaucracy; and participation, not dictation. Transparency and trust are the future currencies for engagement.

3. Have leadership that is present. Don’t schedule committee, board, or invitation-only events during your main program. Hierarchy, cliques, and exclusivity are turn-offs for future attendees.

4.  Avoid putting people into boxes. Segmenting by age — like “Millennials” — can be divisive. Instead, consider mapping out societal trends and behaviors that are rapidly changing the world. It’s not just Millennials who are changing, most of us are — and it turns out most of us like what they like.

As you reimagine your conference for future audiences, there are four areas you need to consider: engagement and community strategy, learning experience design (LXD), user experience design (UXD), and purpose and passion alignment. We’ll cover the first one here and the next three in December.

When it comes to engagement and community strategy, some top approaches have included:

A seat at the table This usually involves placing a Millennial or two on a board or committee, or assembling a special task force. This can be extremely effective when voices are heard and action follows.

Get ’em while they’re young  Some associations o er free or discounted registration to students or early-career professionals. We’ve found that this strategy has a poor conversion rate for future attendance. You need to get ’em young, but betting big on your premium conferences is unlikely to pay o as well as other forms of engagement.

Mentor programs  These can be extremely effective when mentors go out of their way to help new attendees. Well-intentioned, connected mentors can do wonders for two or three early-career practitioners. Don’t worry about doing this for supplier attendees.

CROWDSOURCING AND MICRO-VOLUNTEERING Co-creation and participation are growing in value. The call for proposals will be replaced with a call for ideas. Peer review and committee decisions will be improved with more active engagement from conference participants. Opportunities for micro-volunteering will accelerate loyalty.

For more, read “3 Workforce Mega-Trends for 2017” at

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