As a professional motivational speaker, I speak at a wide variety of retailer conventions, associations of retailers and trade shows for retailers. Some meeting planners do really well at organizing compelling content for their retailer audience while others seem to be losing ground.
What is happening for many meeting planners is that the lack of impact of their last meeting has dulled retailers' expectations for any future meetings. And that leads them to stay home.
Much like the reason a headline only exists is to get the reader to read the next sentence, your meeting or convention exists to get retailers to come back next year.
To that end, I'm sharing some tips the best meeting planners do to maximize enjoyment and attendance at their annual meetings.
Host it in an exciting city.
If your headquarters are in Pine Tree, Vermont there could be a temptation to hold your meeting there. Don't do it! Your event may be your retailers' only vacation. The bigger the city, the more options your attendees have to build a longer time away from their store.
Don't overpack the agenda.
I know a meeting planner who started their meetings at 8am and went until 6pm - for several days. While you might feel this is the only time you have to talk to your retailers, as the day grows on, unless you have an amazing group of professional speakers, your attendees' interest and their ability to listen greatly diminish. Remember these are retailers – they don't work at a desk – they are people used to working on their feet all day so they are sure to get hiney-itis. Decide what are the most important takeaways you will have and provide plenty of breaks.
Hire technology professionals
The best meeting planners have a team of professionals who handle the lighting, sound, graphics - the works and create truly memorable events. You can't use one guy from the hotel to do all of it and expect it to run smoothly. While you can save money by using a small digital project you have in the office, you are compromising the graphics of every presentation. Fuzzy and underpowered slides compromise your convention. Memorable graphics projected with the necessary lumens keeps the audience interested and the speaker on-topic.
Make it an event.
When your attendees first walk in, transport them to another world, not just a ballroom. Use up tempo music, special lighting, custom gobos, the works. Unless you are passing out bonus checks, you have to build their desire to return next year. Your conference has to be more than a vendor fair where they see the same things they probably already saw online.
Give it a theme
Just like a party can work better with a theme, so too your convention. The Fabulous 50's, a beach party, the roaring 20's - all of them help you as a meeting planner create an event that will standout in your retailers' minds long after they've returned home because you can embed the theme in your graphics, table decorations and hall decor.
Give 'em hope
An over-emphasis on dealing with problems or here's our marketing for the next three quarters- often keeps participants in a passive mode. Ultimately, you bring your franchisees, association members or retail partners together to connect the dots to what you're trying to do: raise the awareness of your brand, invite trial, goose customers to come in more often or buy more when they do visit. Your job as meeting planner is to make sure your presentations always connect back to how this will make them more money, not give them more work.
Give 'em a break
The limit for most people is 90 minutes maximum without a break. Yes you can just say they have to deal with it but once people start leaving, it distracts the rest of the audience. Take frequent breaks and make them long enough - 20 minutes is good- for people to go to the bathroom, check email and talk to other attendees in the hall. Then give them an additional five minutes to take their seats.
Make it friendly
Convention badges should have the first name on the name badge three times as big as the rest of the text so people can quickly see who they are talking to.
I would also suggest hiring a professional speaker whose craft is engaging attendees in a memorable way. I'd humbly suggest you take a look at the programs I offer here.
Meeting planners, when you pay attention to these details with an eye to how memorable - in a good way - your event is this year, it will build interest in how you will top it next year.
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