Conferences, conventions, and meetings come in every imaginable size and combination of sessions and individual gatherings. Conferences range from everyone always all together in the same room, to many sessions including only a few people at a time held simultaneously using every room, nook, and cranny in the meeting facility.
One professional organization’s conferences annually held since the mid 1930s that I regularly attend has become famous for serving as a gathering place for attendees who are actually there to attend associated meetings. Here the main meeting continues as it has for decades, yet many organizations, associations, and ad hoc groups hold their own annual or regular conferences at the same location and same time as the host’s annual meeting. The main host accommodates these add-on conferences with coverage in the host’s meeting website and program of events. The organizations, associations, and groups that converge share interests that are common enough to bring them together in the same facility to gain the professional and social advantage presented by the main host’s conference, but unique enough to warrant the separate organizations’ holding their own conferences’ meetings and activities. Dozens of meeting rooms are booked by these associated groups. The rooms are in constant use concurrently, as all these organizations are meeting in separate rooms at the same time in the same facility.
A common registration aids this sharing of facilities, with many of the groups requiring added registration or payment from their attendees for added activities, services, tours, and meal options. An array of activities are held by invitation only, or are open only to registrants from a certain group. Many activities throughout the meeting are coordinated among all organizations for all who attend, with several sub conferences held and open to all who register regardless of affiliation. Such activities include a special plenary session where notable speakers cover topics of general interest, special topic sessions, and evening receptions that are sponsored by organizations, agencies, or companies seeking an audience with all who gather at the meeting. The assembly of so many organizations and individuals with generally common interests offers an irresistible opportunity for such sponsors, as receptions open to all provide sponsors an opportunity to make a special pitch for services, roll out a new program or product, or use the opportunity to hand out awards or recognize good works or individuals.
The host has enjoyed continued success in good and poor economic conditions with its conferences because of the additional meetings and attendees. This success is measured by the increased influence of the host organization within its special interest community.
Success is also measured by the financial success the conferences generate for the host, as the host earns net revenue from the meeting.
Finally, because of the significance of the conferences the host organization enjoys a bigger than life reputation. This is because the event is now of incomparable significance in the industry and, by no accident, is seen as inseparable from the host organization.
What makes this story particularly noteworthy is this: The host organization is very small.
Although well respected, the host employs only about a half dozen staff and has a very small membership. It is among the smallest, if not the smallest of all organizations that meet at the meeting it hosts.
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The message in the above story is that conferences and meetings can “make” an organization. This point is not one made lightly. A conference is to many, the only contact an individual may have with an organization. For an organization that holds no conference, or invites few people to one they do hold, there is very little opportunity for direct contact with people. If an organization depends on building a credible reputation for fundraising success, then a conference, convention, or meeting may be one way to gain advantage. While many organizations are not in a position to host associated organizations like in the opening story, there are some organizations that can and will benefit by creating a greater “critical mass” for itself around a meeting it would hold anyway by hosting associated organizations. Benefits will range from further enhanced influence, ability to book more attractive venues at more aggressive rates, greater financial success (or maybe less likelihood of a meeting resulting in financial loss), and increased member, sponsor, and donor interest.