How To Plan an Event for Your Association

Old event planning timelines and to-do lists still work—to some extent. New challenges have complicated event planning.  

Registration numbers and trends are unpredictable. Exhibitor and sponsor interest are constantly changing. And the rising costs and staffing challenges at hotels and venues are beyond belief.

It’s time to review event planning and event marketing efforts to make sure they still work for the turbulent ‘20s.

Why Events Are More Important Than Ever for Associations 

Events provide a special experience: attendees get to be with “their people.” They have the chance to develop and deepen relationships with acquaintances, friends, mentors, prospects, and clients.

By hosting this experience, your association helps attendees expand their network and become part of a community of like-minded people.

Events provide emotional satisfaction. They also serve practical purposes as the place where attendees can fulfill career and business needs, such as:

  •         Sharing ideas and success stories
  •         Hearing about industry trends
  •         Exploring new products and practices
  •         Taking away the skills, knowledge, and CE credits they need for their jobs and careers

It’s hard to capture attention these days. But if your association hosts events that improve and change lives, attendees will return the favor with their interest and loyalty.

A Successful Event Planning Process for Your Attendees and Association 

Agree on event objectives and goals

Consider your event from the perspectives of your association, attendees, and revenue partners.

  • How will the event help your association achieve its strategic goals?
  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • What does event success look like for your association, attendees, and revenue partners?

Choose the best format: in-person, virtual, or both

Choose an event format based on the goals of your association and target audience. Consider the preferences of audience segments. Many early-career professionals seek introductory content and peer interaction but can’t afford to travel. An interactive virtual program with a mix of on-demand and live sessions may work best.

Networking is the priority of mid and late-career professionals. They seek specialized advanced content and want plenty of face time with peers.

The desire for in-person events is strong. But don’t ignore virtual audience segments who lack the money, time, or ability to travel because of:

  • Parental or caretaking responsibilities
  • Disabilities
  • Visa challenges
  • Lack of employer support 

Inclusivity means having virtual options for them.

Develop a budget and allocate resources

Figuring out your event budget is difficult because of fluctuating registration numbers and venue costs. To counteract this challenge, develop creative strategies for revenue partnerships.

Discuss your event marketing plan with potential sponsors and come up with fresh approaches to your partnership. For example, offer event sponsorship as one element in a year-round package. Focus on opportunities where sponsors can share their expertise, not just promote their products.

Select an appropriate venue or platform

New concerns make the event venue decision more challenging:

  • Venue staff turnover and shortages
  • Rising catering, A/V, and Wi-Fi costs
  • Undesirable contract language
  • Accessibility concerns—a DEI issue

Select a virtual event platform that meets your integration and event data needs. Make sure you and your attendees have the support and content access you need before, during, and after the event.

Design an engaging event program

Associations take a variety of approaches to program design, such as:

  • Choosing session topics based on proposals submitted by speakers
  • Identifying topics and then requesting proposals within those parameters
  • Saving a percentage of session slots for last-minute hot topics

Your AMS, website, LMS, and email behavioral data can help you identify popular topics for different audience segments. Ensure the speaker selection reflects the diversity of your industry and audience. Train speakers on adult learning principles. Review session presentations to ensure they include activities that help attendees recall and apply what they’ve learned.

Build space into the program for what attendees want most: structured and unstructured networking.

Event promotion

Segmentation and specificity are the key to effective event promotion. Review behavioral data to understand what each segment seeks—and tell them how you deliver that at your event. For example, tell people who attended a webinar or course on a specific topic about related event content.

Use multiple marketing channels so you have every chance of getting your message noticed. Induce FOMO by using social proof, like peer testimonials.

Coordinate on-site logistics and management

As the event draws near, finalize logistics for attendee and exhibitor check-in and support. Notify venue partners of your expectations ahead of time. Schedule ‘pre-con’ meetings and post-event debriefings with your staff and venue partners.

Gather feedback and evaluate the event's success

Before the conference, develop a strategy for the post-event attendee, exhibitor, and sponsor surveys. Only ask for information you have plans to use.

Use your event app to collect session evaluations during the event. Several weeks after the event, send a survey to attendees to find out whether they’ve applied what they learned and followed up on connections. Ask about the event’s impact on their job, career, or business.

Determine which event data can help you make decisions about future events, content, and marketing. Take advantage of the useful attendee engagement metrics provided by virtual event platforms.

Tips for Enhancing the Attendee Experience

The number of events competing for your attendees’ time and money keeps increasing. To rise above the competition, your event experience must fulfill attendees emotionally and intellectually.

ASAE Annual Meeting 2023
Pre-event networking

Before the event, host online meetups where attendees enjoy structured networking and hot-topic discussions. Because they can get to know a few familiar faces, they’ll feel less isolated or anxious during the event.

Accessibility and inclusivity considerations

Aiming for mere ADA compliance is a low bar. Accessibility is a DEI issue. Ensure physical and digital accessibility for all attendees. Seek the help of an accessibility consultant if you’re unsure how to proceed.

Interactive and engaging sessions

New information sticks when attendees recall and apply it. That’s why conference organizers are big on engagement activities, like table discussions and interactive exercises. As a bonus, attendees get to know their tablemates and are more likely to continue conversations after the session.

But in the spirit of something for everyone, reserve a few tables for attendees who prefer to take part in solo exercises instead of group activities. As long as the recall-and-apply principle is activated, introverts can also walk away with sticky learning.

ASAE Annual Meeting 2023
Opportunities for networking and collaboration

We keep emphasizing structured networking because it’s essential for a satisfying event experience. During free-for-all networking, like meals and receptions, attendees often gravitate toward people they already know, which makes others feel awkward and lonesome.

Build structured networking sessions into the schedule. Provide questions to guide conversations at tables. Set aside dedicated networking spaces at virtual and in-person events, such as lounges and breakout rooms.

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Post-event follow-up and content sharing

Everyone feels an emotional let-down at the end of an event, so continue the event experience virtually. Build on the community momentum by hosting post-event discussions related to major event themes. Attendees can nurture new relationships and hear about related content, both free and paid.

Make a plan to repurpose event content. A common approach is offering session recordings for free for 30 days, and then requiring a learning subscription or à la carte purchasing.

How an AMS Helps Your Event Planner

The AMS has come a long way. It’s changed since last you looked. A modern AMS helps you stay organized and minimize time spent on administrative tasks. Make sure the AMS you select has the following event management software functionality.

Smarter, Simpler Membership Management

Impexium’s association management software (AMS) empowers associations to focus on what matters most—your constituents. We help you streamline operations, reduce development costs, and improve business outcomes.

Our Guides

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 Agenda & session scheduling

  • Drag-and-drop event schedule builder
  • Room management including A/V requirements and occupancy limits
  • Session conflict management and resolution

Speaker & presenter management

  • Streamlined submission and review process
  • Speaker profiles and scheduling

Exhibit management

  • Booth and sponsorship sales and assignments with online payment collection and booth inventory control
  • Responsive and interactive floor plans
  • Self-service tools for vendors

Customizable event website & mobile app

  • Branded event pages with responsive design
  • Mobile app for attendee engagement and communication

Integration with marketing tools & platforms

  • Seamless data exchange with CRM and email marketing systems
  • Social media promotion and tracking

Event registration

  • Customizable registration forms with multiple registration types and pricing
  • Secure payment processing
  • Automated onsite registration and badge generation with bar-code readers

Attendee management & communication

  • Centralized attendee database
  • Automated email reminders and notifications

Real-time reporting & analytics

  • Customizable reports and dashboards
  • Insightful event performance metrics to help compare to previous events


It’s amazing how much you can do with an AMS today. The right one can help you simplify complex event planning and management tasks. Discover how Impexium can help you effortlessly manage your events.

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