A wallflower. A bystander. A fly on the wall. When an association management team is doing its job, these types of meeting attendees are a thing of the past. Attendees demand more value out of face-to-face meetings. Now more than ever, associations need to make meetings more interactive to enhance attendees’ conference experience and keep them coming back every year.

Follow these steps to ensure an engaging and interactive meeting experience for your participants:  

1. Take networking to the next level.Don’t assume everyone knows how to network. Even the best networkers need a little structure to guide them to their next great sales lead, mentor, or other type of connection. Consider incorporating roundtable sessions throughout the meeting, led by dynamic moderators who are experts on the session topics. Attendees can switch tables in a “speed learning” format to maximize their educational experience, too.

Also, ice-breaker sessions that group attendees based on the region they are from, their level of experience, or some other commonality can lead to a good crowd mixup not otherwise achieved. Or, take the ice breaker to a new levelwith an interactive game show complete with music and an emcee for members to show off their industry or association knowledge. 

2. Use social media in creative ways.Associations that have incorporated an on-site contest tied to their social media networks often see a boost in participation off site as well. Offer a prize or incentive for participating in a social media contest, such as free conference attendance for next year’s event.

Recently, an association client created a Twitter scavenger hunt to encourage member interaction and social media participation. Members sought out other members who had something in common with them, tweeted pictures of host-city landmarks, and snapped shots of other key items on the scavenger hunt list to win prizes. This resulted in a fun bonding experience for on-site attendees and a way for them to get more accustomed to interacting with the association via Twitter.

3. Engage the audience.There’s nothing worse than the uncomfortable silence after a speaker asks for questions post-presentation. Perhaps audience members would feel more comfortable using interactive polling devices to query the speaker. Mobile meeting apps are another way to encourage two-way communication between the association and convention-goers.

4. Think outside the exhibit hall.Is there an opportunity for attendees to interact with suppliers outside of the regular exhibit space? Consider designing a specific supplier networking activity that facilitates conversations between attendees and suppliers who may not meet otherwise, such as a speed-networking cocktail party or separate one-on-one sessions based on preferences identified prior to the event.

No matter what enhancement you choose, remember that your audience is now made up of many different generations—most of which do not want to be “talked at” in a lecture-style setting. Associations need to add new features to keep audiences engaged and, perhaps more important, show value to budget-conscious conference-goers.  

Lynn McCullough is the director of meetings and association management at CMA Association Management. She oversees all association management activity including membership growth strategies, meeting planning, technological implementation, and non-dues revenue programs. She has over 15 years of experience in event management and has developed growth programs for more than 50 professional associations. Reach her at lmccullough@cmasolutions.com.