Some of those best trips are those that end with the people we love and enjoy most in this world. Today I’m going to share how conference planning is really a journey, and hopefully provide a few ideas for how you can get your delegates excited about joining that journey with you. And if conference planning is the journey…the event itself is the destination! Which means attendees who take part in the journey are likely attendees who will show up at your events again and again. 

The hidden power we’ll be tapping in to is relationship – people are more motivated by (and committed to) this than almost anything else!

For example, several of my friends take annual trips to visit their extended families. I always know that they won’t be available for anything else during that time. No matter what comes up around here, they’ll choose to miss it. The relationships at the end of their journey are worth it! But if the only contact they ever had with their families was the few days of the trip, it would be easy for their commitment to weaken.

Instead, the time between gatherings is used to reaffirm connection and build anticipation.

There are email chains and text messages filled with a mixture of “remember when” and “I can’t wait until”. That sort of connection during the in-between times is what ensures there will continue to be a next time.

Similarly, I’ve known colleagues who block out time for certain annual conferences year after year. They willingly set aside the time and money needed to attend, register early, and arrive enthusiastically. In fact, it seems they wouldn’t let anything get in the way of attending!

When we’ve discussed it, they almost always mention the same two things, again and again: connections and relationships.

They, too, stay in touch throughout the year, mentioning social media platforms, email updates, behind-the-scenes glimpses of what’s to come. They engage in a slightly more professional (but still highly engaging) version of a family’s “remember when” and “I can’t wait until”.

They’ve put up with extreme weather, unpleasant red eye flights, less than ideal accommodations, and surprise budget setbacks – and still found a way to make it to a certain event they simply refuse to pass up. These people aren’t attending every conference in the country this way. They have a very strong loyalty to certain conferences, and that loyalty stems from the sense of connectedness and belonging they associate with those events. 

This tells me that whoever is conference planning is serious about including them on more than “just” the destination. They’ve been brought in to the journey itself, and it’s making a world of difference!

When you’re doing your conference planning, take a moment to consider your most active guests.

  • What has connected them to your event?
  • Why do they always come back?
  • How can you widen the circle to include more attendees on this “die hard” list?

And if you can’t think of many repeat attenders, dig a little deeper.

  • What am I doing to help people create relationships at my event?
  • How am I building relationships between delegates and my organisation?
  • How do we maintain those relationships throughout the year?

Is it time to rethink your conference planning strategy?  

I describe a business event as a destination, a specific point in time at a given location where people come together, usually to learn, be inspired, make new connections, and revel in the sense of community. The human-to-human connection of like minded people that a conference provides can make us feel like we’re in exactly the right place. It can also be the force that brings us back to the same event again and again. 

Usually, a well crafted conference is a great party. We leave with a full heart and reinvigorated levels of energy. 

But getting people to the destination can be a struggle. It’s all well and good for people to have a good time, and even genuinely enjoy and benefit from your event. It’s just that it isn’t enough. The world is a busy place, and it’s too easy to forget an experience as we move on to the next thing.

Gaining the sort of regular delegates that a conference planner dreams of comes down to one thing: the journey you take your attendees on between events.

Ask yourself:

  • Have you simply been inviting delegates to your party when it rolls around every year? 
  • Or have you created relationships that brings everyone in on the journey?

I’ve been looking at conference promotional materials, and the two things that the marketing strategy seems to be hung up on is pricing and programme. And while those things do matter, they’re not the primary reason people choose to come to your event.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter what the price of your event is.

Whether it’s $100 or $900, whether you offer early bird or loyalty discounts, whether your flyer is more inspirational or well designed than anyone else’s. Those things alone is no longer enough for people truly commit to attending your event year after year. During the conference planning process, you have to think beyond just “the party” and actually consider the journey.

I truly believe that people will come to your event if you’re willing to include them on the journey in between. How can you find ways to build up a community that engages in “remember when” and “I can’t wait to…” in between every event you host?

Some of this will come more easily if you shift your mindset a bit.

Instead of thinking of your annual conference as being something to benefit guests, try to consider it as a privilege that grants you the opportunity to spend real, person to person time with them. This is a chance to hear your attendees, to find out what they really want, and to engage with them.

After all, it’s hard to get people excited about “remember when” moments if you simply pushed through and handled the business of planning and putting on an event.

Effective conference planning doesn’t start a few months before your next conference.

Ideally, it’s a year long process that establishes connections and builds anticipation between each and every event. Of course you’ll need to do the work of strategising and organising. You’ll set your venue up just right, and select your vendors with care. But hopefully you’ll take a step further!

How are you going to engage with your delegates? How will you make them feel like your talking directly to them, valuing their presence, and creating relationships?

When your conference tickets go on sale, guests who have been on the journey have no hesitation. They’re going to attend because they want to celebrate the relationship you’ve created and see what comes next.

How do you foster relationships in between your annual conference to keep delegates coming back year after year?

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