Meeting planners are always on the look-out for tangible ways to enhance the quality of meeting attendees' experience. Have you thought about how pre-framing your participants' perception and leveraging the meeting agenda can work to supercharge the emotional excitement before they arrive at the meeting site or walk into the meeting rooms?
It's important to ask, "What can I do that would make me, if I were an attendee, more excited about attending the sessions? What would make the meeting more interesting than going out to see the sights?" You may be able to force people to attend mandatory meetings, but wouldn't you rather have them want to be there?
A little advance selling is all it takes to bring your meetings to the next level. Great things happen when speakers and meeting planners work together: They can create anticipation of the tremendous value each and every session is going to deliver to each and every participant.
Professional speakers understand how swamped you are with details about travel, coordinating with the hotel, and arranging spouse and leisure activities. They know that you are stuck in the middle trying to please your organization's leaders, the attendees, and everyone else. What you would really like are ideas to help you to pump up the excitement level without taking up more of your time, right? Here are a few problems we have observed at various conferences - and solutions that have worked for us.
Problem 1: Boring agendas. Often meeting agendas are nothing more than factual accounts of the day's activities and their times. What the attendees truly want to know is if they will really accomplish something by going to the meeting, or if their time would be better used staying at home spending quality time with their families.
Solution: Give them some reasons why this meeting is a good use of their time. Show them in your agenda that you understand what is important to them, both personally and spiritually, and that your meeting can give them what they need to reach their next level.
Put the responsibility of writing an enticing description for the session on the shoulders of the speaker for that session. If the presenter isn't willing or capable of providing a brief, benefit-oriented explanation of why the participant should want to be in the session, maybe you should reconsider having this person on the agenda. (Even organization leaders who are on the program will appreciate this idea and will usually help you out.)
Bios are not enough! Don't rely on someone's biography to sell a session. They obviously know more about their session and why people will want to attend than you do - delegate.
Problem 2: Titles that don't fit the theme of your meeting.
Solution: Again, this should be up to the speaker. If you have hired a speaker who can't (or won't) modify a title to present an image consistent with your meeting theme, how will he or she adjust the presentation to do the same? (You'll have a good clue about the speaker's capacity to do this by seeing if a comprehensive pre-program questionnaire is used.)
Problem 3: Attendees have little or no advance idea of what the value of the program will be to them. Sure, the recognizable names of well-known inspirational speakers are exciting, but are big names alone enough to give your attendees the most value for the time they spend?
The most important thing to the majority of attendees is that they are able to walk away from the conference with tangible ideas they can immediately use to be a better person and have a more balanced life. If it's not clear to them that this will happen, they may make other plans while they are at your meeting, or even not plan to attend at all. The outside activities of your great conference destinations can be very enticing. It's not much of a consolation when their colleagues tell them what a great session they missed.
Solution: How about having your speakers send a personal letter to each attendee? Sometimes this isn't logistically possible, but in most cases, if you provide the speaker with a computer disk containing a file of the attendee list, he or she can send a professional, personalized invitation to the session, naming specific benefits of being there. You also could mail the information with a regular/special mailing that you send. Most of your speakers would do the same.
What an impression you would create if each attendee got several personal letters detailing what to expect at the conference! We have used this technique with great success, particularly when the meeting isn't mandatory, as is the case with most religious conferences. This approach is particularly useful when your audience has seen a lot of presentations and wants to know, "What's different about this that I don't already know, and is it worthwhile for me to attend?"
You may sometimes be reluctant to provide that list of attendees to a speaker. However, if you don't trust your speakers enough to handle the participant list professionally, you may want to re-think including them in your program.
Professional speakers usually have the program content and the skills to capture an audience, regardless of whether the audience has been prepped. But every advantage helps! Try a few of these ideas so you don't leave the participants' advance perception to chance. There are others.
When you keep your audiences guessing as to what great concept you will come up with next that will benefit them, they anticipate your next meeting. It will make a difference.