Meeting Mentor Magazine

September 2023

In-Person Events Remain Top Member Engagement Tool

The status of in-person events as the top channel for associations to engage with their members may have slipped a few percentage points, but live meetings retain their position at the top of the list, according to the 2022 Association Benchmarking Report compiled by association services company Naylor Association Solutions.

An overwhelming 82% said that traditional conferences and events are still the best way they have to engage members. Live events also are a vital tool for assessing member engagement, said more than 70% of respondents. While the annual convention is the top dog, member-engagement-wise, other in-person events also were on the top 10 member-engagement list, including committee meetings, webinars, training and certification events, and networking events.

That doesn’t mean that the flip to digital over the course of the pandemic hasn’t had any effect on the perceived value of in-person events, which decreased 10% over 2021, the first decline in years. This relates directly to one of the biggest challenge associations say they are facing now: attendance, which is still taking a hit for many associations as their attendees continue to struggle with travel concerns and budget restrictions.

Having learned over the course of the pandemic how effective digital events are at reaching those who can’t get to the live event for whatever reason, more than half said they planned to host hybrid events this year and into the future, compared to a third who say they will just offer in-person events and just 8% that are going digital-only. While they may be double the work and add more to the bottom line and staff workload than they may like, almost two out of five respondents said they find hybrid events to be very/extremely valuable.

But what constitutes “hybrid” may be less than the full online translation of a live event that many attempted over the pandemic, when in-person events were not possible. Two-thirds said that videotaping portions of their largest live events is enough to engage members online, though just half said they are offering digital access to keynotes and breakouts, and just a fifth are still offering an expo hall experience to virtual attendees.

And in-person events are still good for an association’s bottom line. While generating non-dues revenues remains a top challenge for most associations, sponsorship sales was cited as a top non-dues resource for 24% of respondents, while 22% said the same for exhibit sales. However, most could probably boost their non-dues revenues associated with in-person events by putting more effort into customizing their offers to sponsors and exhibitors. According to the survey, most still offer the traditional default tiered package of options, while just a fifth are offering more personalized packages.

While in-person events are still the kings of member engagement, digital engagement tools are gaining ground when it comes to providing perceived value to members. Among those making the biggest year-over-year gain in perceived value are apps, text messaging, career centers and podcasts. But don’t count out old-school channels like email blasts, websites and enewsletters — these also are still good engagement tools, the survey found.

More good news from the survey: While 51% of respondents said they were understaffed right now — and 59% said they’d use any unexpected budget surplus or windfall to hire more staff — association meetings and events departments reported that they felt generally OK about their staffing levels, with just 28% saying they felt understaffed.

For full results of the study, visit the Naylor website.

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ConferenceDirect is a global meetings solutions company offering site selection/contract negotiation, conference management, housing & registration services, mobile app technology and strategic meetings management solutions. It provides expertise to 4,400+ associations, corporations, and sporting authorities through our 400+ global associates.

About MeetingMentor
MeetingMentor, is a business journal for senior meeting planners that is distributed in print and digital editions to the clients, prospects, and associates of ConferenceDirect, which handles over 13,000 worldwide meetings, conventions, and incentives annually.

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