Effectively Bringing Your Members Together at Your Next Conference

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Let’s say your association is organizing an upcoming conference at McCormick Place in Chicago. It can be so easy to get wrapped up in checking all the boxes that need to be checked that the initial purpose of having the conference can get lost. Many goals will be set, but there is always that desire to create connections, share knowledge and experiences, and eat your weight in deep dish pizza (perhaps the real reason so many choose to have their conference in Chicago!?).

Take Chicago as an example.

McCormick Place is the backdrop where key personal connections are made. Here, you can confidently send your management team off with the trust that the conference will run like a Swiss clock with them working hand-in-hand with a stellar locale. But what about the off-hours for the members? This is when your members have a chance to get to know each other on a more personal level.

Let your members guide you.

Instead of depending on their ability to Google ‘Chicago attractions’, spend some time beforehand asking what your members like to do in their free time to relax. Social media channels and email surveys are at your disposal to gather data to bring your members together. Many members might not realize how much they have in common and for you to figure out what those past-time commonalities create a shortcut toward getting past breaking the ice and will score extra points for the organization! No time is wasted with awkward small talk about the weather. Conversation is anchored with what drives your members’ passion.

Check out your local resources.

After some research, you may find from your Facebook poll that perhaps you have some music and/or sports fans in your midst. Luckily Soldier Field is located near McCormick Place. Your team happens to have free time during a popular event. Imagine your members coming together while rooting for their adopted city or enjoying the sounds of their favorite musical group! Seeing a team on center stage may inspire rapport and drive that cannot be manufactured in a meeting.

For those who would rather be taking in the city from the outside, how about sending a group to take a few water taxis from Chinatown to the Loop? Observing how the landscape of the city changes drastically within just a few miles may encourage your members to think beyond their day to day perspective. Sharing a boat ride through the city with newfound colleagues gives them time to get to know each other without the pressure of professional obligations. This will ready their minds to problem solve and work together at the conference.

Some of your members might prefer a getaway from the city lights during their downtime. A group could get on the McCormick Place Metra Stop and take the train down to the 59th St. stop to the beautiful Garden of the Phoenix. The garden is found on Jackson Park’s Wooded Island and features a peaceful waterfall and landscape. This could provide a calming place for quieter members to have meaningful conversations that could not occur in the hustle of the conference space.

Whatever your members like to do, allow them to share these experiences in order to create a rapport with their colleagues. When these bonds are forged, your organization grows stronger and ready for your next member event.

Megan Van Petten
CEO & President
Van Petten Group, Inc.

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