Building Your Conference Strategy: 4 Current Realities & 3 Trends to Consider



Recent research conducted by Omnipress demonstrates a dramatic shift back to in-person meetings, but this shift is not without complexity. Association leaders and meetings professionals seeking to build a more robust conference strategy should consider the following realities and trends. 

Reality #1: The majority of associations are returning to in-person meetings. 

Omnipress' research findings coincide with some national buzz about both the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) and the Society of Government Meeting Planners (SGMP) making formal commitments to host in-person national conferences in 2022. Omnipress found that by Q4 of 2021, 55% of associations had returned to in-person conferences. When asked about plans for their 2022 conference, 58% of Omipress' respondents planned to host an in-person event, 30% a hybrid event, and 11% were undecided. (It's worth mentioning that just 1% of respondents plan to host a virtual-only annual conference.) 

According to respondents, the shift back to in-person meetings is being driven by: 

  • Member and supplier preferences 
  • Greater efficacy of learning and training
  • Better networking opportunities 

Reality #2: Participant, sponsor, and speaker satisfaction are up. 

Satisfaction increased for participants, sponsors, and speakers with all conference formats (in-person, hybrid, and virtual). However, satisfaction for in-person events out-paced other formats by double-digits.  

Reality #3: Registration revenue (and registrations) are down.  

Despite delivering better programming and improving satisfaction rates across constituencies, registration and exhibitor/sponsor revenue are down across all formats. Scale and pricing are both significant contributors to the decrease. 

Reality #4: Many loyal, perennial conference attendees were lost to the Great Resignation/Job Shift. 

Michigan's shrinking and shifting labor force means that associations may not be able to count on a reliable registration base for their conferences. As a result, event and marketing teams need to work together to make a compelling case for conference participation to new audiences. 

Trend #1: In-person is no longer the default conference format. 

There is no one-size-fits-all format for conferences. Association leaders and event professionals will need to carefully consider the needs and values of their respective constituencies when determining conference format. 

Trend #2: Competitors who entered the market via virtual content during the pandemic may evolve to threaten association in-person events. 

Associations will need to differentiate the conference experience they offer from that of vendors and competitors. In a recent post, Glenn Tecker, a national expert on association leadership and strategy, cited personal connection, common purpose, and shared values as important levers for associations to utilize when planning and marketing conferences. 

Trend #3: Virtual content as a value-add to in-person events. 

One of the most positive aspects of hosting virtual events - affordable access to a broader range of expertise - may continue to pay dividends for in-person conferences. Meetings professionals are finding that in-person audiences are receptive to a mix of in-person and remote/virtual content.  

There is much to consider when making a plan for association conferences and events. Better business intelligence helps build a better plan. Omnipress has tracked the evolution of conference content and its role before, during, and after the event for eight years. Check out the full report for more insight.