How Do You Make Your Annual Event a Success?

Author: Don Neal       

Annual Event Brainstorm

Here are the top five things you can do to position your annual event to thrive, including aspects from registration to design. (Photo Credit Adobe Stock/denisismagilov)

Don Neal

Don Neal

For associations, I recently read, the Net Promoter Score (NPS) — a number ranging from minus-100 to 100, measuring customers’ willingness to recommend an organization’s products and services to others — averages –14. (Yes, that’s a minus sign.) This doesn’t bode well for the association sector overall, or for the events that they produce. Nothing projects a strong, vital organization more than an indispensable and irresistible annual event, conference, or trade show. It’s your calling card to everyone you care about.

As we enter the 21st year of the 21st century, association executives can be better prepared for uncertainty by ensuring that the top assets ensuring their reputation, relevance, and revenue — their events — are well positioned to weather whatever storms come their way. And 2020 surely will feature its share of political, economic, and societal uncertainty.

Here are the top five things you can do to position your annual event to thrive:

1 Appoint an event CEO. The top challenge I see with association events is a siloed organizational structure that perpetuates “better sameness” across the entire event portfolio. Specialized expertise is a must, but having one owner of an event’s vision, strategy, objectives, overall design, and P&L is the No. 1 thing you can do to make your key event more successful next year. Do you have the right person for the job?

2 Know the economic value of your most valuable organizational asset. How does your event stack up in an era of event consolidation, new event startups, and big, for-profit media companies looking for growth to satisfy investors? The best way to ensure your event is strong is to know what it’s worth. When media- and meeting-giant Informa acquired UBM for $5.2 billion in 2018, they knew the landscape was primed for opportunity. Would your event be strong enough to compete if someone decided your sector is their next target?

3 Determine how modern your event needs to be to compete. With Dreamforce dropping meat from its menu, Shoptalk announcing a 250-person, women-only speaker lineup, and more members of the scientific community not flying to events to reduce their carbon footprint, what trends do you face in your ecosystem? Nonprofit event expectations are being redefined by for-profit events, festivals, and experiences far outside of your members’ relationship with you. Open the aperture and see which trends are likely to impact your community.

4 Make it easier to register. In an era of Amazon Prime and one-click expectations, does your event-registration process take five, nine, or even 12 steps? Speed and convenience are more important than ever to your members, yet we see an average of seven clicks before a potential attendee can register for an association event. Evaluate your event to see what changes will make it easier to buy from your organization.

5 Design with intentionality. Large-scale meeting planning may be great for efficiency, but it’s bad for intimacy — a mass-market mindset comes at a cost. Every guest at your event expects a little individual TLC and at least a small dose of a customized experience. If you’re not “journey mapping” your event for your top five-to-10 audience cohorts, 2020 is the year to start. This one move will make a big difference in your event’s NPS.

Don Neal is founder and CEO of marketing, strategy, and experience agency 360 Live Media (

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