by Elliott B. Jaffa | January 16, 2018

The statistic is powerful: About 85 percent of an association's membership stay home during the annual meeting. Only 15 percent actually attend. Why? The value is not there to attend, especially if the attendee has to pay all of the costs.

The typical association meeting has an educational component, exhibits, social event/reception, and a general session with keynote speakers with which an attendee may or may not be familiar. Their talk often consists of a canned speech modified to fit the audience in front of them and is a "nice to hear" rather than real meat and potatoes. (As Seinfeld would say, "Not that there is anything wrong with that.") Few keynote presentations offer a step-by-step procedure/strategy to address the topic. Is this what the members want to hear? Ask them…and also ask if they can recall two salient points the speaker made.

Let's disrupt this year's meeting. Hire a well-known actor/actress, even a famous has-been to talk to the most, pick a word: serious, scientific, boring, nerdy, etc. group. The keynote topic could be, "Gems and Jerks of the Entertainment Business." I bet just about every person in attendance will share a tidbit about some person this speaker praised or dissed. An association hires a popular singer. Everyone remembers his or her biggest No. 1 hit but cannot remember any other song. Hire an oldie-but-goodie rock-and-roll singer who will tell stories about every singer in the business. I'd rather hear Chubby Checker share stories about Elvis, Chuck Berry, etc. than listen to Warren Buffet or Bill Gates. Am I showing my age? Then hire Bezos or Zuckerberg!

Here are a few more disrupters I have personally used:

• Rented a baby elephant (which weighs about 200 pounds versus an adult which can average anywhere from two to seven tons). Everyone wanted to pet him and touch his trunk. 

• Hired a juggler. No big deal, you say? That was until he revved up his chain saws themselves, which sounded like an airplane and quickly got everyone's attention.

• At a venue which offers attendees the option of valet parking, I asked that a hotel employee in uniform to come to the stage, and hand me a piece of paper 30 seconds into my presentation. I pretend to read it, asked if anyone used the valet parking this morning. Lots of hands went up. I then looked back down at the note and say, "Management apologizes. They have no idea who those guys are." I not only got a hell of a laugh but I scared the hell out of those who used the valet.

Bottom line: It's not a mistake to do the "same ol' same ol'." The question is, do you want to "wow" your members or keep them safe within their comfort zone year after year?

Dr. Elliott Jaffa, a behavioral and marketing psychologist who conducts marketing audits on professional and trade associations focused on results and solutions. His numerous management training and marketing programs incorporate lecture, role playing, audience participation, best practices and case studies Content learned today will be applied on-the-job tomorrow. Participants become more effective, productive, results-oriented, communicative within their organization.