The American Society of Association Executives and The Center for Association Leadership will offer a virtual component to its 2010 Annual Meeting and Exposition, just one of the several new twists at the event, scheduled to take place at the Los Angeles Convention Center August 21–24. The annual conclave will also feature a scaled-back expo floor, a new business appointment lounge for exhibitors and attendees, free registration for meeting planners who accompany their CEOs, and two major music stars to open and close the conference.

The blended meeting component will provide an opportunity for those not able to travel to the live meeting to attend virtually. ASAE will stream live all three general sessions as well as 24 other sessions throughout the conference, explains John Graham, ASAE’s president and chief executive officer. The sessions will be archived and available for viewing for 90 days, says Graham. The fee to attend virtually will be about 20 percent less than the regular registration fee. Since this is the first time it’s been offered, Graham has no concrete expectations for registration numbers.

As for the live conference in Los Angeles, Graham believes attendance will be higher than last year in Toronto. “We are seeing increased attendance at our other face-to-face meetings in the last several months,” he says. The Great Ideas Conference in Colorado Springs, March 7-9, saw a 20 percent increase over last year; ASAE’s Association International Conference in Washington, D.C., March 24-26, had a 10 percent increase; and registration for the association’s Technology Conference, planned for Washington, D.C., in February, also was up 10 percent. (The event, however, had to be canceled due to the record snowfall over the planned dates.) Graham also believes that because so many people had to miss last year’s conference in Toronto due to the economy, there will be pent-up demand to attend this year.

With the slow economy still affecting associations and business travel, ASAE is offering 60 full meeting scholarships, twice the number it usually offers, says Graham. (Learn more about the Member Assist Program).

And ASAE is offering another new promotion that will directly benefit meeting planners. If the CEO of an association brings his or her meeting planner to the conference, the meeting planner receives complimentary registration.

Expo Shrinks, Lounge Opens
At this year’s conference, the expo hall, called the Association Solutions Marketplace, will run for just two days—Sunday and Monday—instead of the usual three days. The hours will be slightly longer on the two days it is open. A new feature—the Business Connection Lounge—will be open Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. Exhibitors who want to participate in the Business Connection Lounge will have an opportunity to schedule one-on-one business appointments or demonstrations with attendees, either to be scheduled in advance or on site. The details of what it will look like and how it will be implemented are being hammered out.

The voluntary, pre-scheduled appointments do not involved any kind of hosted-buyer program, says Graham. It’s voluntary for the exhibitors and it’s completely up to the attendees and exhibitors to make their own appointments. “We’re going to try it out and see what happens,” he says.

While ASAE did consider a hosted-buyer program, the association decided not to introduce one at this year’s meeting. It may be something that ASAE looks at in the future, but on a small scale and as a complement to the expo, not on a large scale as at IMEX Frankfurt, the European trade show that is adding an American show in Las Vegas in October 2011, adds Graham.

Two factors prompted the shift to a scaled-back expo, says Graham. One is the economy. Exhibitors don’t have to spend money to be at the show the extra day, unless they want to participate in the Business Connection Lounge. Also, the traffic in the exhibit hall has slowed down on that third day. “I think it makes sense and we’ve certainly got positive feedback from the exhibitors,” says Graham.

With the elimination of expo hours on Tuesday, the closing general session takes place after lunch on Tuesday, and most of Tuesday afternoon is open for community outreach programs.

As another first, ASAE will have opening and closing night entertainment. Grammy winner Melissa Etheridge will open the conference with a performance, and multi-platinum recording artist Cyndi Lauper will close the event with a show Tuesday night. “It’s the first year we’ve ever had front-end and back-end entertainment like that,” says Graham.