By: Shelly Sobol
Since I was a kid, I remember being dressed in Florida State University outfits/colors and would even ask for new FSU stuff for holidays and birthdays. Even though I grew up seven hours south of Tallahassee, the Seminoles were always my favorite team.
Fast forward to 2003 and my freshman year at college. I went to every single home game… but it wasn’t always about the football. Yes, I loved the exciting plays and yelling about bad calls. But outside of that, the reasons I went every week, and the reason I have hardly missed a home game in the 11 years I’ve lived in Tallahassee is for 3 reasons (in no priority order).
1. Tailgating: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this. It’s not about just adult beverages! Just like any GOOD networking event it’s about camaraderie, making new friends and getting excited for what’s to come. These chances to catch up with friends from out of town and share my enthusiasm for the upcoming game should mirror the same enthusiasm held at your annual conference. If the spirit at your opening reception isn’t like this, what can you do to change it?
- Create a theme. You can create a sense of ‘team’ by encouraging people to dress up (ie. luau, white party, Mardi Gras). Make them share more than just their industry passion.
- Find an engaging DJ. They don’t have to be only playing Top 40 music, but they shouldn’t be only playing light jazz. Find an appropriate mix for your demographics and keep them moving.
- Keep it flowing. Whether it’s food or cocktails, I guarantee you that if it’s all gone, your members will be too! Try to prepare your F&B quotes to best anticipate the needs of the organization or offer a cash bar after a two-drink ticket option to keep people around.
2. Tradition: I love that every game starts out the same way. The band warms up the audience with the War Chant, the fireworks go off, the team runs out, and Chief Osceola plants the spear in the center of the field. I look forward all year to watching those events happen. How are you engaging or making an emotional connection with your attendees?
- Make it annual. Whether it’s a fun luncheon, pre-event reception or closing, make it on-going. People will remember how much fun they had in the past and will look forward to going again in the future. But give it time to catch on with a trial period of three years. If you can, try to maintain the same sponsorship, eventually this can become their exclusive event- a win for everybody.
- Take it back. Show your members the longevity of your organizations by including the year you were established in printed materials, t-shirts, and signs. Make them feel a part of something bigger and older than they are (if you can).
3. Time of year: While sports are year-round, I know I enjoy football most because it occurs in the fall. It’s not quite as rainy, and I love bundling up in my favorite hoodie or blanket. Timing of your event makes a difference. It’s a lot harder to convince people they’ll have fun when the weather is miserable. Is your event planned for optimized attendance?
- Evaluate your options. Summer conventions are ideal for when you’re encouraging a member’s family to join in (since school is closed). But if that doesn’t fit your demographic (older or younger attendees) then review and see if a more enjoyable (or more inexpensive) date is available.
- GEM activities (greet, eat, meet). Create events that are based on regional or seasonal activities. If you’re in Vegas, have a trip to Red Rocks Canyon. If you’re event is in the fall, create an outdoor s’more activity at the hotel. Have events that people may not be able to enjoy otherwise.
The point is, make the effort to make your event memorable for your attendees at every opportunity. It doesn’t always have to be expensive, but it does require planning. Yes, your members are likely there for continuing education, but they keep coming back for the memories!