Conference Strategy: An Association's Secret Weapon
To give strategic purpose to the National Association of State Procurement Officials (NASPO) Annual Conference. Like many associations, NASPO held an Annual Conference with positive satisfaction ratings from participants, but that didn’t always connect member attendees with their larger professional development needs from the organization. Even with the introduction of a new strategic plan, conference registration was still driven more by destination than by the quality of the event itself and the evaluation results indicated disappointment in the gaps between the conference and what members truly wanted and needed. NASPO realized quickly there was no mention of the Annual Conference – or any of the association’s conferences – in the strategic plan.
When setting strategic objectives for the following year, the Annual Conference was top of mind and NASPO added the goal of tying conference content to the demonstrated needs of the membership. Fortunately, NASPO already had a wealth of information about what those needs were; by analyzing responses to an annual “Top Ten Priorities” survey, website analytics, member inquiries and discussions via the member communities, the planning committee was able to tailor the conference program to the topics, issues and challenges members face. Not only that, conference content was integrated with NASPO’s larger research and policy initiatives, driving more attention and engagement with member benefits and the overall strategic direction for the profession.
Two years later, NASPO’s Annual Conference was an entirely different story. The “traditional” conference metrics were certainly still positive: overall registration had increased and the proportion of participants indicating the conference “Exceeded” expectations was up nearly 10%. But the most significant impact was tied to the value and benefit conference participants were able to apply to their professional lives. When asked if the conference helped them meet their individual, professional goals for attending, nearly 98% of participants said “yes.” Taking the simple but strategic step of using member needs to drive conference content was the secret weapon in transforming the Annual Conference experience. Now, not only are member’s “satisfied,” they recognize NASPO’s Annual Conference as the source of the professional development they need to be successful.