It's a numbers game, right? Meeting planners want to drive as many attendees as possible to their meetings. This is especially true today with hotel space at a premium and increasingly onerous cancellation policies poised to punish those who can't meet their targets. And the Internet, with its virtual trade shows, virtual conferences, distance education, and constantly burgeoning array of innovative services and low-cost alternatives, looms as another potential threat. But we all know that any threat, when turned on its head, becomes an opportunity. So let's look at how the opportunities of the Web can drive real attendance to our meetings.
First: From now on, meeting planners need to think of all their meetings as consisting of both a physical and a virtual component. These components, when designed properly, will both complement each other and drive traffic to each other. To use today's buzzwords, the two components will create a positive feedback loop constituting a new electronic value chain. For simplicity, we'll call this an e-loop. Let's look at an example of a virtual educational session that demonstrates this idea.
Suppose we're giving a presentation on a popular topic at a large industry trade group meeting. And let's assume that we can get a list of registrants' e-mail addresses a month or so before the session. We can use that list to solicit input from the potential attendees about what they'd like to see covered. By doing this we create a dialogue with the prospective attendees before the session. We can then structure the actual session around the types of questions and issues raised during the pre-session buildup. In effect, attendees start to shape the session before it even happens. After the session, the audio or video tape and presentation slides can be put up on the event's Web site using streaming media so attendees can replay the session in its entirety, or search for specific segments using keywords or an outline. We can further enhance the post-session Web site by providing a discussion forum, an e-mail listserv (moderated by the speaker, if possible), and a library of useful links (updatable by session attendees) to other Web sites offering related information.
Creating Momentum By following this strategy, the session itself changes from a one-time, one-way lecture to an ongoing, interactive exchange among all the participants, both instructor and attendees. The on-site session becomes only one part (albeit the central part) of an ongoing educational event.
So how does this drive traffic? Here's how--the e-loop. If a session of this type is successfully mounted and marketed, then visitors coming to the Web site will see that they don't have to wait for the actual event before they can start getting value. And if they start to get educational value from the Web site before the physical event takes place, then they'll be that much more likely to attend in person.
This creates the positive feedback loop of bringing people to the event Web site, providing value at the site that entices them to attend the physical event, and then bringing them back to the Web after the event to continue the educational experience. Once you get your attendees into this electronic value chain, this e-loop, it's much easier to entice them into coming to the next event, and the event after that. Web traffic drives event attendance which drives Web traffic which drives event attendance, and so on.
Creating e-loops requires a shift in thinking for planners, and it will entail an additional and non-trivial management effort to coordinate and maintain them. But technology brings both challenges and opportunities, and we are rarely offered an opportunity without first accepting a challenge.