To host successful meetings, you have to present attractive content.  If potential attendees look over the list of speakers and topics and say only, “Been there, heard that,” they will not plop down their hard-earned sheckels to attend.  By contrast, having engaging speakers and intriguing content catches the eye of not only members originally intending to come, but brings in others that might not have been planning to attend.

            The first step is to research what your attendees want and need.  If post-event surveys were held after the last meeting (and they should have been), review those first.  If necessary, create and administer a new survey to members just to ask what they want, need, and would like to see for the next meeting. Just make sure to do it far enough in advance of the event itself to give you time to book the appropriate speakers and gather or create any needed materials.

            Create a schedule of events next, based on feedback from members.  Explore different session formats and use the one best suited for the culture and style of your association. Some options are lectures, discussion groups, panel discussions, workshops, or interviews.  A mix of formats can also keep attendees interested and involved, but don’t use more than about three for any one conference, to avoid confusion and distraction.  Also make sure the schedule allows for time for networking and recreation, and maybe, depending on type of meeting and venue, a chance for outings or sight-seeing.

            The last step before locating speakers, determine the dates, times and budget, so you know where you can bargain.  Identify the types of speakers best for the session formats you’ve chosen, create a list of potential speakers (not everyone you want as your first choice will be available when you need them, so always, always, have several possible speakers for each session.) 

            Now it’s time to actually contact the speakers and start booking.  Once you have speakers lined up, send out confirmation packets, finalize transportation and travel arrangements, and verify any audiovisual requirements.  You may wish to keep on file a speaker contract template that you can fill in and individualize, so that you don’t forget any essential points.  Your contract should include payment terms and reimbursements, date, time, place and nature of presentation, what meals and accommodations, if any, are included, whether speakers may sell their own products and when, agreements on any audio/video recording of presentations, and a cancellation policy, if any.

            Once you have a good program of sessions set, make sure to include it in all promotional materials – flyers, mailers, on your website, in your association’s newsletter, in any other affiliate or industry publications.  You’ve put a lot of time and consideration into your programming and you want everyone to know!