3 Ways to Reinvent Annual Meetings

Keep attendees coming back with an event refresh

Many organizations turn to annual conferences and events to boost brand recognition, engage with their communities and build customer loyalty. For planners hosting such occasions, achieving those goals often starts with growing attendance numbers. 

But while increasing attendance is the No. 1 goal, most events show flat-to-modest growth, according to the 2019 State of the Conference Industry Report.

So, where’s the disconnect? 

Unlike one-off meetings, annual events often come with the extra baggage of outdated legacy items, such as a particular meeting design or agenda structure. To engage new audiences and boost attendance numbers, planners need to offer something new. In other words, they need to reinvent annual meetings enough to where they are different from previous events but still honor their overall purpose and history.

Not sure where to start? Here are three ways to put a new spin on annual meetings: 

Revamp the agenda and design. 

A welcome breakfast followed by hours of presentations, and a networking dinner to seal the day. Sound familiar? 

The same old meeting structure and agenda can get tired year after year. So, what event elements can you add that will make the conference feel new, even for guests who have attended many times before? 

Switching up speakers is an easy way to diversify one event from the next, but challenge yourself to get creative with the meeting setup itself. For instance, try out different seating styles, lighting techniques and backdrops. Another option: Consider an event experience that allows attendees to personalize their schedule. 

As you dive into how to make your annual meeting better, it’s also important to look back on aspects from the previous year that maybe didn’t go so well. Was there a common response in post-event feedback to an area that could use improvement? Use this insight as a launching pad on event elements to upgrade. 

Theme it. 

It’s the age-old question of events: To theme or not to theme? But for annual meetings, the answer is clear: Go all-in on a theme. 

Why? For starters, many annual conferences have agenda items that are always required. And, as mentioned above, going over the same topics can get stale, fast. Theming the meeting gives planners the opportunity to offer a new perspective on those repetitive items you can’t work around. 

When done strategically, a theme also pulls together every aspect of an event—meaning that it’s a good way to market to potential attendees what the meeting is all about. For returning guests, a theme will differentiate from previous gatherings, while newer audiences will have a better understanding of what they’ll gain by attending. 

Switch up the destination.

Hosting an annual conference in the same venue or city every time? Consider selecting a new locale year to year. For one, travel is exciting, and the opportunity to explore a new destination will incentivize people to register and join in. In fact, research shows that location plays a big role in the future of meetings: Attendees want a clear sense of space and a deeper connection to the city around them. 

Studies also show that the anticipation of traveling makes people happy—sometimes even happier than the trip itself. That’s not to say that your event will drop the ball, just that providing a new adventure can generate a level of pre-meeting buzz that a recurring location can’t create. 

For planners, a destination can also provide opportunities to freshen up the meeting agenda. So find ways to honor your meeting location and give attendees the opportunity to do as the locals do. For example, maybe there’s a community program guests can participate in or a walking tour they can take advantage of during downtime.