Our virtual events were good, but we wanted more for our attendees, our exhibitors, our sponsors, and our association partners. We wanted to take our events to another level. This demanding process required strategy, patience, and a lot of energy. It also required teamwork, brainstorming, and listening to others. Finally, after balancing deadlines with conversations about the purpose of our events, the following steps helped move our virtual events from “good to great.”

1. Name your event

A name offers identity. It may also pique potential attendees’ curiosity and attention. Remember, 70 percent of people who see this new name should understand who the association event is for and what will take place there.

2. Survey your stakeholders

Offer opportunities for stakeholders to explore the various components that are typical to your association event and ask them to prioritize the list. We conducted an online survey offering the 15 components typical of our association’s event. We were pleased to get responses from 75% of those surveyed and they were pleased to be asked for their input. Listening to your stakeholders will build trust and relational collateral.

3. Develop values 

Use the survey results to develop values for the event. Review the survey results for nuggets of valuable tips. These values will serve as the filter for every new idea that comes up. If it doesn’t pass through the grid, it doesn’t happen. Results from one survey revealed that our stakeholders’ top three priorities were: 1) community building; 2) hearing the vision of the organization and making decisions that shaped its work; and 3) education. This was exciting because we can now build on these as key success strategies.

4. Communicate with your stakeholders

Everyone likes to be heard. Write a news release that provides information about the survey, what you learned from it, and the values that will become the filters for everything you do at your next association event. Plan all event promotion — advertising, news releases, and registration forms — so that it builds momentum and inspires people to attend.

For more information on maximizing communication through social media, read my colleague’s article Social Media for Associations – Maximize Engagement and Visibility!

5. Develop a team

Find staff and volunteer leaders who will take on key strategic leadership roles. Be clear about these roles, including the necessary responsibility, authority, and means. Great leaders delegate, so spread out the workload. This also creates opportunity for greater effectiveness and buy-in from your staff and association volunteers. Invite, encourage, and empower everyone to bring their best to the table. It is more fun to work together than to work alone. Remember to share the glory with your team when things go well and to take the blame for your team when they don’t.

6. Cast vision

“Vision leaks,” so people need to be reminded and re-energized with the vision. Paint the vision clearly and often.

7. Develop goals

Develop SMART goals for your association event with your planning team, staff, and volunteers. SMART goals are:

  • Specific goals have a greater chance of being accomplished. To create specific goals, answer the five “W” questions – who, what, where, when and why.
  • Measurable goals must have criteria to measure progress. When creating measurable goals be sure to quantify your goals by asking how many/much? How do I know if I have reached my goal?
  • Achievable goals must be realistic, attainable, and within reach. Stretch your goals so you feel challenged but define them well so that they can be achieved. To create achievable goals, consider your means (resources, capabilities, and time) to achieve each goal and examine any gaps in these means.
  • Relevant goals offer a real benefit that is easily reached. To set relevant goals evaluate why the goal matters to you and your association then define the key benefit.
  • Time Bound goals must have a start and finish date. Deadlines provide a sense of urgency and a target for completing the goal.

8. Execute!

Plan and execute your association or virtual event knowing that the groundwork for excellence has been set.

For more information on maximizing your experience at a virtual event, read my colleague’s article Maximizing the Potential Benefit of Attending an Association’s Virtual Conference.

9. Evaluate every component of your association event

Taking events from good to great is an ongoing process. Invite attendees to complete an evaluation. Debrief your association event with volunteers, staff, and the planning team. By creating an opportunity for honest feedback, you learn from what was done and how to improve the event next time. Clear, objectified data will allow for better planning, better decision-making, and the ability to evaluate better. Listen to the evaluation facts. What are you hearing? What will you do differently next time? What did you and your team learn?

10. Celebrate!

There are plenty of things to celebrate after an association or virtual event. Celebrate that you all survived. Celebrate the goals you achieved. Celebrate together with your volunteers, staff, and planning team.