Ashley Uhl, CAE
Ashley Uhl, CAE, is the founder of Association Think in Vienna, Virginia.
Member engagement is the key to increasing member retention and satisfaction, but associations often struggle to engage during professional learning opportunities such as conferences and meetings. One of the best ways to engage members is through the professional learning cycle, which can reinforce skills, cultivate new networks, and create a lasting bond with the association.
When association leaders think about engagement, they usually focus on the member onboarding process, making people feel welcome and involved so that they become lifelong members. But association professionals know there’s more to it than that.
What if we looked at member engagement through the lens of education and used that to inspire, teach, and engage our members and nonmembers?
We’ve all been to run-of-the-mill conferences, and we may even host them, but, ideally, educational experiences should involve more than just lecturing. These meetings should teach, inspire, and most importantly, answer the question that everyone was thinking when they first walked in the door: What’s in it for me?
For every educational opportunity, tell your members why they need to come and specifically what they will learn to propel their career and life forward. Adult learners retain information through experience, and they need to interact with the skills they’re being taught and have hands-on lab time to absorb information. At many annual meetings, attendees spend most of their time being talked at by subject-matter experts and very little time on how to apply new ideas and skills.
Educational experiences should involve more than just lecturing. These meetings should teach, inspire, and most importantly, answer the question that everyone was thinking when they first walked in the door.
Take your typical panel discussion. Three experts sit at a table discussing best practices—been there, done that. After they finish speaking, why not take time to engage attendees?
Let’s say the experts were discussing “Human Resources Horror Stories to Learn From.” A great way to engage attendees after the discussion would be to break up into smaller groups and give them scenarios to think through. Using the framework presented in the first half of the session, attendees could formulate a plan of action, which reinforces the learning and helps them bond with each other.
To engage attendees at annual meetings or events, ensure that your education truly captures what’s on members’ minds. It’s great to have your webinar topics planned out a year in advance but being nimble and flexible enough to add hot-topic webinars, especially when you see emerging issues on your listserv or online community, will add member engagement value. It will show that staff are paying attention to members, and it will further the discussion among members.
The more members talk about what’s keeping them up at night, the more questions and answers they will receive from other members and staff, and the more engaged and heard they will feel.
This creates a strong engagement cycle (see image below), which will reinforce among members the need to maintain membership. It will also help develop more advocates for your organization.
As associations onboard new members and revamp retention methods, think also about actively engaging members through education moments all year long, so that your programming becomes an indispensable part of their life.