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Annual Member Conferences: 10 Ways to One-Up Last Year's Event

Today's guest post is by Besa Pinchotti, marketing director at Capterra.

If you had to describe last year’s conference in a word, what would it be? Unforgettable? Remarkable? Phenomenal? If this is how you’d describe your event, great! But the more important question is … what would your members say? And even if you did wow them, now what?

Here are 10 ideas to make your next conference even better:

1. Everyone’s an event planner. Let your members co-create the conference experience by allowing them to have a say in the topics, speakers, and even the food. Install a voting feature on your event Web site, and use it to collect member preferences in your membership management software for future events.

2. Make every e-mail count. Now that you’re storing all this information, use it! But don’t send everyone the same event e-mails. Segment your members into e-mail lists based on their profiles, and tailor your messaging to their interests.

3. The pre-event is as important as the event. Incorporate social sign-in to your registration page so people know when their connections register for your event. Or create a user forum on your Web site where people can start discussions prior to your conference.

4. Business cards are played out. Sorry if you love yours, but they’re so 2000. Ask attendees to share their LinkedIn profiles when they register, and distribute that information (with permission, of course) to other registrants. It’s a great way for members to connect before and after the conference.

5. Have your own triple-coupon Wednesday! Everyone loves a deal. And every membership organization needs members to pay dues earlier—or at least on time. Incentivize members to attend your conference by giving them a discount on their dues if they process payment at the same time that they register.

6. It’s not "The King’s Speech." That was a great movie—and a great speech—but speeches get old. Don’t give any member who wants to an opportunity to speak just because they’re a member. Be selective with keynotes, and use the saved time for break-out sessions, smaller group work and networking.

7. Be a tree-hugger. People don’t want to carry a bunch of papers, and you don’t want to spend money on printing. Why not encourage attendees to access docs electronically? Instead of handouts, e-mail presentation slides. Instead of agendas, text members where their next session will be.

8. Photo booths aren’t just for weddings. You don’t need a photo booth per-se, but how about a mascot? A Justin Bieber cutout stole the show at the last tradeshow I attended. With apps like Instagram and Pinterest growing rapidly, it’s important to not only provide great content- but also great picture opportunities attendees will want to share.

9. #winning isn’t just for Charlie Sheen. Turn your conference into a game that starts right after the last one ends. Use your membership management software to track things like events attended, donations, and actions taken at the conference. Honor the winners with prizes and public recognition.

10. Have their back, and they’ll have yours. Let your members know they’re your top priority by assigning an attendee advocate. Your advocate should evaluate your event through the attendees’ eyes and ensure that you keep every marketing promise.

Follow these tips and you won’t be the only one calling your conference unforgettable. Your members will be singing your praises right on up to next year’s event.

Besa Pinchotti is marketing director at Capterra, a free service that helps people find and compare software for their nonprofit or business organization. Besa is a regular contributor to Capterra’s blog. She writes about marketing and membership management software.

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