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4 Tips for a More Impactful, Modernized Association Event

Phil Tretheway February 7, 2023

Events are your most immediate tool for ensuring members remain connected, educated, and inspired. The future of your association depends on its ability to demonstrate value to members. 

Whether your association will host a gala, conference, or convention in the coming year, you ultimately stand at a crossroads. Do you apply the same, tried-and-true approaches to frame this vital connection with your audience? Or would your association and its members be better served by a more contemporary approach?

1. Ditch the Printed Program for Your Conference or Convention

Printed programs have their place. For example, black-tie galas and awards dinners that are more formal experiences benefit from the more upscale tactile experience of a printed program or menu. But how many times have you walked around the ballroom after the first day of your conference to find countless programs left behind?  

For a multi-day event, it’s more convenient to have a digital program. This option is easier for staff because last-minute changes can be made on the fly without the need to reprint anything. Plus, it’s convenient for the members because they can access the information at any time on their phone without having to carry around a printed program.

Today, smartphones are the most common source of information. Your members may forget your event program on a table — but they’ll never be without their phones.

Bonus idea: Place multiple phone charging stations around your conference. They’ll create “water cooler” moments amongst your members. 

Event Apps and Websites Offer Flexibility and Functionality

Annual conferences, summits, and conventions present ideal opportunities to replace printed programs with a digital app or website. Your stakeholders may worry about the missed opportunity to sell ads in your event’s program, but often these ads are grandfathered in as part of an antiquated sponsorship package with your association. By eliminating the printed program and therefore the printed ads, you gain alternative opportunities that often create more value for your sponsors and members. 

Even if your board remains set on a printed program, you can minimize its footprint by combining it with a digital companion piece, where members can read complete speaker bios, program descriptions, or schedule updates. At one time, cryptic QR code badges looked like a joke. Now, their increased adoption enables these codes to provide an efficient way to guide members to more information.

2. In-Person Events Take Priority Over Virtual Alternatives

The pandemic forced every association to rethink its events. Now, with virtual conferences no longer the only option, organizations and their members are understandably excited to meet again in person.

Virtual events still offer benefits. They provide your association with a broader reach and a more accessible experience that also eliminates travel costs. But they require a lot of production to be successful. 

If your organization is staging an in-person event, your team may struggle to present a virtual counterpart at the same time. Instead, consider the aspects of your program that you can offer virtually. For example, keynote addresses or high-profile presentations can be recorded and posted on your website for current and prospective members. Along with granting your event a second life, you build buzz for next year by teasing the value of your event.

3. Digital Signage Amplifies Your Event’s Message

At one time, foam core signs on easels provided the baseline for how your association greeted members at the event venue. Now, flatscreen monitors offer a cost-effective way to modernize your event with signage that’s colorful and flexible. Better still, they don’t wind up in the trash after your event closes.

Many event facilities offer a way for your association to rent large monitors, which you can place on stands around the venue. Through a Wi-Fi link, you can connect these TVs to a laptop and broadcast a branded PowerPoint deck that welcomes your attendees. As your event progresses, you can change what’s displayed on these monitors to reflect the latest updates.

Digital signage doesn’t just offer more flexibility to post schedule changes; they also allow you to draw a closer connection with members. For instance, if you have a mixer on night one, you can use these monitors to display photos from it on day two. Instead of seeing the same static logo, your members begin the next day with a vibrant display of upcoming programming and their fellow attendees having a good time. Plus, the monitors offer the possibility for an additional sponsorship opportunity by incorporating ads into your association’s visual content.

4. Mixing Things Up Is Crucial for Modernized Events

Part of the excitement that comes with staging your association’s event is the ability to change your approach. If you opt against printed programs, you free up your budget to make an impact elsewhere. Or, by rethinking your approach to a printed asset, you can create something different that makes an impression on current and future members. For example, money previously spent on programs could fund elegant, die-cut invitations that point to the caliber of your upcoming event. Or, you could rethink your program to incorporate a show-stopping asset that folds into a poster that elevates its value. After all, if you’re going to print something, you might as well leverage it into something special.

Emerge Summit program folds out to full-size poster
Custom scarves for event swag.
Welcome wall at the Los Angeles Outlook Forum
Branded banners in the Los Angeles Outlook Forum

Your event space is another area rich with opportunities. Working with the right creative team, you can create attention-grabbing activations like large-scale wall graphics that allow you to own the space. Dynamic activations encourage members to interact and engage with your event and join the conversation on social media. 

No matter your association’s industry, events offer a chance to connect with members in a way that’s inspiring and energizing. With a modernized approach, you can strengthen that connection in a way that reflects the past while looking toward the future.

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