Managing a major national association event like a convention, symposium or annual conference can be a challenge for any event manager. Usually such events are the largest an association can offer to its members, and they provide opportunities for new business connections, professional development, networking and more.

It takes a lot of work to plan these events, and this is no easy feat for an event manager to accomplish! However, when association members come together from across the country, the association can grow stronger, and that makes it worth all the work.

We recently planned and executed the annual national convention for one of our association clients. This convention is a three-day event in September that includes Canada’s largest trade show of the promotional products industry, professional development sessions, networking events, and a national promotional product awards show.

The Trade Show

An annual convention like this provides the opportunity to take the pulse of the association, and as the event manager you are at the centre of everything, where everyone has a stake in the success of the event and of the association. At this event the trade show is central, lasting two out of the three days, where industry players come together to promote and learn about the latest trends in their product lines.

At this convention trade show, the exhibitors are association members, the Board of Directors are all association members, and even the attendees, the distributors, are association members. To make this a positive experience for all members, there are several things we did to make sure it ran smoothly.

What to Provide Members

For the members who were there to display their products, we ensured:

  • Easy registration with a user-friendly online advance registration site and an onsite team to assist with registration
  • The booths exhibitors purchased were the correct size and in the correct places
  • A clean, safe space to exhibit, with aisles clear of debris and first aid teams on standby
  • Quick and efficient responses to problems. We were available during the set-up, the show itself and tear down, in case of any issues. This could be anything from not enough coffee being available to the wrong booth being assigned.

Other Perks to Provide

We also provided complimentary transportation between the hotel where association members were staying and the convention and trade show.

National events are also about networking. We made sure there were social events each evening because the best connections occur after the day’s business is completed.

Members also did not have to wait until evening to have fun. We had a  games station with air hockey, foosball and ping pong. Distributors and visitors alike could take a break from the trade show floor or the professional development sessions.

Planning Professional Development

One of the key reasons association members attend national conferences, symposiums, and conventions is for professional development. It is where you, the association event manager, can ensure that the association gets stronger year in and year out.

When planning an event like this, make sure the sessions address the needs of the membership. Think carefully about who the speakers should be. Ask yourself, Do they represent the diversity of the audience? Will they challenge and educate the attendees?

Growing Attendance

It is essential that associations reach out to new audiences to grow continually. Don’t just attend to the needs of current association members; do what you can to entice the people attending the events for the first time to join the association.

This year’s event provided a space where potential members could learn about the benefits of being part of the association. It had great success: the association received a good number of membership inquiries and even some applications!

While there are many things to consider when planning a major annual association event, focusing on providing opportunities for members to build business connections, to network, and to take part in professional development are all key to ensuring member satisfaction and growth. By focusing on the growth of association membership, you can ensure its major event gets bigger and better every year.