Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying that “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Ultimately, going to a professional development event or international conference is about building knowledge and making valuable connections. These are the things that power the success of every organization.
As an organizer of an international meeting or conference, you can consider yourself a provider of opportunities for acquiring knowledge. But putting on an event is one thing. Getting people to actually show up is quite another.
Creating a business case
Even with the best marketing plan in the world there’s no guarantee that your target audience will be able to go, even if they want to. They’ll need to get permission and, in many cases, financial support from their employers or whoever holds the purse strings. It’s in your best interests to provide potential attendees with as much support as possible so they can make this happen. What they need is a business case and you can help them create one.
Suggest potential attendees write to their managers to identify which specific sessions they plan to attend and why they would provide valuable information for their organization. The sessions should align with the key goals of the organization or employee wherever possible. The business case should clearly articulate the connection between the employer’s knowledge requirements and what the event offers. For example, what information gap will each session help to fill? Which symposia or sessions teach the skills that will help the attendee meet their organization’s needs?
Potential attendees could also identify their networking plans. This includes providing details of scheduled meetings with other conference attendees, speakers or high-profile industry figures who could help them in their work. Providing details of how the attendee’s work will be covered while they’re away is a good idea too. And when they return to work they could deliver a presentation on what they’ve learned, ensuring that colleagues get to benefit from their attendance as well.
The point of all this is to show that going to your conference will deliver a solid return on investment. The focus of the business case should be firmly on what the attendee can bring back to their organization as payback for the money their employer will be paying out up front. It should also communicate how the attendee’s professional development will benefit their employer and how they will share the knowledge they’ve learned with their colleagues.
If you can help your conference delegates a) prepare effectively for your event by working out exactly what they’re going to get out of it and b) demonstrate a clear return on investment when they return to work, you’ll have a much better chance of them coming back in future years. Then what you’ve got is repeat customers – people who know that what you’re offering is the real deal and, just as importantly, will recommend your event to others.
— Sarah Lowis, CMP, CMM is the founder and president of Sea to Sky Meeting Management Inc., an award-winning company that supports the work of associations and organizes exceptional events, conferences and exhibitions for clients all over the world. www.seatoskymeetings.com