The New Zealand Association Resource Centre Trust (NZARC) blog is a place for board members, partner organisations, and subscribers to contribute articles and discuss issues of relevance to the non-profit sector. Contributions are welcome and encouraged.


Times are changing and with it attendance patterns and expectations at conferences that defy tradition.  A younger generation of time-savvy and results-orientated delegates are more demanding in their expectation. Adhering to outdated methods to attract audiences, amounts to ignoring new trends at your peril.  This formed the subject of an interesting article by Nigel Collins, an Australian content director and presenter in the meeting and events industry published in meeting industry periodical MiceNet.  In it he states that conference delegates in 2015 have a completely different set of expectations and needs than those of participants as little as five years ago.  This is not surprising when one thinks about it in a world, where thought leadership is delivered in 18 minute bites, where opinions take only 144 characters on average, when anything can be learned on-line, where the best conversations are unplanned, and where everybody has a voice and wants to be heard.  He reminds us as event organisers that in 2015 we need to understand that today’s conference goers do not want just great content, they want it fast.  They don’t just want to be told what needs to be done, they want to know how to do it.  They don’t just want to network, they want to have meaningful conversations leading to ongoing relationships.  They don’t want to sit for two days of keynote presentations and panel sessions, they want to be involved, engaged and moreover contribute.  He reminds us that audience driven content is the key to good conferencing and that the talking head is dead.  Long live the two-way conversation.  Short sharp talks are the order of the day as we take in information faster than ever before.  The trend is all about delivering shorter and more meaningful presentations.  Shorter in Nigel’s language, means punchier, engaging and memorable.

Effective conferences are about changing behaviours.  The art is to put frameworks in place to keep the momentum going long after the conference has finished with the aim that lessons learned will be lasting and that the knowledge acquired will be put to good use.

To initiate the new format of conferencing to best advantage may require external assistance.  The New Zealand Association Resource Centre is able to assist with advice and direction to suitable facilitation services and would welcome enquiries in this regard.

Improve Panel Discussions

Many conference organisers find it challenging to get good traction out of a panel discussion. At an event one of our association executives recently attended, the panelists seemed to be pushing their own agenda, talking over one another and the session was not productive as a result. We suggest there are three main considerations to take into account when planning an effective session around this type of format. 

A key area is ensuring that you have identified 3-4 key messages that will be relevant to your audience around the discussion topic - and they are well thought through before panelists are sought. And, panelists are invited to participate for the way they interact with their fellow presenters and the attendees, NOT just for their expertise on a topic.

  • Ensure the MC is well briefed to keep the discussion on track and that he is given ‘seed’ questions to stimulate robust discussion. 
  • Talk with attendees at breaks prior to the panel discussion to gain attendee points of view and use this to direct questions to the panel.
  • Ensure the panelists are well briefed about each other – if possible get them to meet just before their session so they have a chat about their contribution. This way the panelists will have a familiarity with each other and increase their ability to interact with each other.
  • Consider speakers who are already speaking on the day as potential panelists – you don’t have to have ‘fresh faces’. The advantage of this is the audience has a dual opportunity to get to know them through their individual sessions on conference day as well. One of the best panel discussions we’ve seen was at the end of a conference when the panel speakers were relaxed and the session was a great discussion around issues that were raised during the day from attendees.
  • Brief your panelists well – let them know you want the focus to be the audience – not about panelists grandstanding about who they are – ask them to leave their egos at the door! 

For 8 other tips to improve panel discussions by Anne Thornley-Brown, click here.

Event management

We were recently asked about the basics of running a good conference and what were they key most important components of ensuring a successful event. One of our trustees mentioned the phrase ‘death by lists’! The foundation of any conference is making sure that all you ducks are not only in a row – they need to be in the ‘right row’. And, if you run an annual event, the best time to start to look at the next conference is pretty much as soon as the last conference has finished.

So, there are several critical areas that can make or break a conference; timing, content, delegates and keeping the event fresh and inviting year after year. We recently saw a blog that called for ideas and new marketing tactics to attract attendees to a conference that had been going for 85 years. This recognises that even the most renowned and long-standing event cannot afford to rest on its laurels.

Some of the really great tips for reinvigorating the conference included:
  • Getting keynote speakers to record a good teaser segment and post it on the conference website – and yes, have a conference website if at all possible
  • Find out what topics are important to delegates by canvassing those who attended last year and ask what it is they want to see e.g. more networking, activities, specific speakers and topics etc.
  • Find out why those who have attended previously are not attending now – what can you do as a conference organiser to reinvigorate attendance from those who are apathetic
  • If possible, have a fun component, a game to encourage networking and sponsor involvement
  • Don’t forget those traditional types of communication, especially in a world where we are continually bombarded by online messages – a ‘postcard’ as a reminder for example can be a really effective tool to stimulate engagement and attendance.
  • Encourage speakers to distill their talk down to one key point at the end so that the audience can take the main point away – this makes it more memorable
  • Don’t forget to make time for delegates to network – for some it may be the only chance they have of getting face to face with their peers
  • And, investigate the possibility of attendees who cannot attend to have the possibility to access live streaming – this could be another potential revenue stream
We’d also love to hear your tips –send them into us and we’ll publish them in the next issue! Or, respond to our blog.

To access the original LinkedIn blog, you’ll need to sign into LinkedIn and then click into the link on a separate tab.

Hybrid meetings: balancing the challenge of virtual vs non-virtual

As reported in the latest Convention and Incentive Marketing magazine, ‘by 2015 hybrid events and exhibitions are expected to be worth $18 billion’. This is where an event is a blend of a ‘live’ event with a ‘virtual’ on-line component. There are ways of facilitating this via either live audio or video steaming of the presentation or workshops and possibly online presentations as well.

This has a benefit of being able to capture two types of attendee: one who wants to attend the event to network and take part ‘live’; and those who cannot travel or attend yet still want to participate in some form.

Click here for the PDF of the entire article.

Successful event marketing for Associations

Incorporating a digital strategy is an important part of any association’s event. We at the NZARCT are incorporating as many digital components as we can. We realise that this only part of the marketing communications strategy – the way to communicate with our audience. We need to assess the following:

  • who is our potential audience?
  • what is their profile, age, demographic etc?
  • where will the read/hear about us?
  • why should the attend our event?

Bearing this in mind, we also need to realize that we are competing for the ‘digital’ voice when we communicate; email, facebook, twitter. It is getting very noisy out there! How can we improve on what you currently do?

Mapping out your social media and digital goals is a great place for any association to start. Knowing up front where you want to promote the event you are hosting or speaking at is step one. Being seen as an innovator at your event is the goal to strive for. Here are 7 digital strategies to consider while planning your event program:

1. Start your marketing plan asap!
2. Use clear, strategic email marketing techniques!
3. Use social media the right way!
4. Create an event specific hashtag!
5. Make event specific campaigns!
6. Educate your audience in real-time!
7. Be forward-thinking!

Events are a great place to keep the momentum of your association’s story heard and spread by attendees. Strategically incorporate a digital plan around the events you host to enhance your program and engage with the right attendees you are targeting.

Resource: Events advice - 10 tips for increasing attendance

By Brisbane Marketing

From time to time, we come across articles that we feel would be of benefit to you in their entirety.
We credit the author and source and do not alter any content of the article.
Please click here to open the PDF

What do you look for in a Professional Conference Organiser?

Many of you know that the delivery of a successful conference or event is more than what most attendees and key stakeholders see ‘on the day’. Much goes on behind the scenes, involving time, effort and energy, often for many months leading up to an event.

Part of ensuring that an event is successful is recognising if you have the in-house resources to manage the many event tasks effectively. If you don’t have the people in-house with the right skills, or enough time to undertake necessary tasks, then perhaps a practical option is to work with a partner who can fill  the gaps as needed.

We refer to an article that was recently written in ‘Third Sector’ magazine which outlines a list of key questions about deciding whether or not to appoint a third party to organise an event for your charity or association. We’ve taken some of their questions and asked our conference partner Business Professional Services Limited to add in some of their key considerations.

If you are looking for more information around conference organising please contact Rosemary Mahoney in the first instance, on 09 419 0042 or email

  • What are the objectives of your conference?
  • Who is the audience, how many delegates do you want to attract?
  • How are you going to fund the event?
  • Where is your event going to be held?
  • How much time do you have to organise the event?
  • Do you have a detailed list of tasks that need to be carried out?
  • Is it feasible to allocate all tasks to in-house staff or volunteers?
  • What is the major risk to your organisation if these tasks are not carried out?
  • What will it mean to your association or charity if the event is not successful?

If you have decided to partner with an external Professional Conference Organiser:

  • What services are provided by the PCO?
  • Is your PCO recognised and registered?
  • What sort of track-record does the PCO have?
  • Does the PCO have a good fit with your organisation?
  • Who owns the conference intellectual property?
  • Ensure there is an agreement in place
  • Clearly define what lists your organisation will do and what the PCO will do
  • How will the PCO be paid?
  • Who from the PCO is the day-to-day liaison and  who manages the event?

These are a few of the considerations that need to be taken into account. We recommend working within your own capabilities and being honest about your capacity to manage an event. A good conference partner is invaluable. Your investment in a win-win long term relationship can pay real dividends if you are both working to a good, solid plan with clear objectives and concrete outcomes. Outsourcing also means that you can get the skills you need at a rate you can afford for the time needed.