Association events

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The meetings industry is estimated to be a $98 billion industry, weighing in as the 23rd largest
contributor to the Gross National Product.Association meetings and events account for a large part of this industry, with associations spending more than $66.4 billion annually on
conventions, expositions, and seminars (ASAE,2004). While associations hold a smaller number
of meetings with fewer total annual attendees than corporations, association meetings and conventions
account for a much larger share of total expenditures than corporate meetings (Meetings &
Conventions, 2002, p. 6).Association meeting budgets are estimated at
$1.4 million annually (Meeting Professionals International, 2004). Common association events
include conventions, educational seminars, and trade shows. These events are frequently held
concurrently as part of a major convention program,although they may be held at different times
and in different locations. A majority of associations hold major conventions, to which membership
and sometimes non-members are invited.A convention is ‘an event where the primary activity
of the attendees is to attend educational sessions,participate in meetings/discussions, socialize, or
attend other organized events. There is a secondary exhibit component’ (Convention Industry Council,
2004). Attendance at conventions is usually voluntary,although conventions for professions whose
members are required to earn some kind of continuing education units (CEUs) may be more
likely to attend as association conventions are often geared toward providing specific educational
programming geared toward the members’needs. Eighty percent of association members say
that meetings are critical to their profession (Meetings & Conventions, 2003, p. 26). A 2002
survey indicated that 75% of associations hold an annual convention, while 12% have conventions
twice a year, and 5% hold conventions every other year. Only 11% of associations surveyed said they
do not hold a convention at all (Meetings &Conventions, 2002, p. 36).
The program content of an association convention may be based on information gathered
from program or education committees, member(and non-member) surveys, focus groups, sampling
techniques, evaluations of previous events, and association staff departments who have
special insight into topics and trends of interest to the association’s members. Other sources of program
information may include industry suppliers,an association’s credentialing program, computer
bulletin boards, responses to a call for programs,chapter meeting agendas and evaluations, and
the programs of meetings held in complementary industries or professions (Cox, 1997, p. 302).
An association convention is comprised of an agenda of meetings and events of various sizes
and types. Depending on the learning objectives for each session, an association convention may
include one or more general sessions, various breakouts or educational workshops, an exhibition
or trade show, guest programs, and social events(Cox, 1997, p. 303). A general session, also sometimes
called a keynote session or plenary session, is open to all convention participants. The general
session speaker is often a high level association or industry person or a celebrity. The general session
topic and speaker often set the tone for the entire convention and the title and topic of the opening
general session may be tied to the theme of the convention.
An association convention usually has a number of concurrent breakouts, workshops, or seminars
that allow attendees to customize their learning by following certain programming
‘tracks’ or their own areas of interest. The number of concurrent breakout sessions held is determined
by the number of attendees, the availability of meeting rooms of appropriate size and location
for breakouts, and the variety of educational interests that the attendees have. Breakouts may
be more or less interactive, depending on the needs of the audience and the skill of the
presenter(s).An association convention may also include an
exhibition or trade show as a component of convention programming. An exhibition is ‘an event
at which products and services are displayed.The primary activity of attendees is visiting
exhibits on the show floor. These events focus primarily on business-to-business (B2B) relationships’
(APEX, 2004). A trade show is similar to an exhibition, except that it exhibits ‘products
and/or services held for members of a common or related industry. Not open to the general public’
(APEX, 2004). Thus, a trade show may be open only to people registered for and attending an
association’s convention. If there is a demand for access to a trade show, some associations will
have a ‘Show Only’ registration fee that allows people to attend the trade show portion of a convention,
but not the educational programming or social events.Depending on the number of exhibition booths
needed in a trade show or exhibition, the event may require a significant amount of function
space. Standardized exhibit booths are 10 ft *10 ft or 8 ft *10 ft, so a trade show with 100
10 ft * 10 ft exhibit booths will require 10,000 net square feet of space just for the exhibit booths
themselves. To account for additional trade show floor space for aisles, food areas, exhibitor lounge,
and other show floor needs, this net square foot figure is typically doubled: a 10,000 net square
foot show will require approximately 20,000 gross square feet of function space (Connell, 2002,
p. 370). Because trade shows are so space-intensive,this type of event is often held in a convention center
or in a hotel that has an exhibit hall. Most convention centers have meeting space of various sizes
in addition to several exhibit halls. Because most association conventions have the additional programming
of general sessions and smaller breakouts,convention centers are made for – and are
often the best fit for – association conventions. A smaller trade show using table top exhibits, which
consist basically of 6 or 8 rectangular tables with table cloths and skirts, may be held in a hotel
ballroom or pre-function space. There is a growing tendency for convention
attendees to bring guests with them to an association convention. For this reason, guest programs
that provide the spouse, partner, child, or guest of an attendee with opportunities for social interaction
and recreation have become an important part of association conventions. Such guest programs
can boost meeting attendance, add value to the meeting experience, and enhance the
image of the association (Connell, 2002, p. 239).As a side benefit, active guests who are engaged
in activities planned especially for them are less likely to draw association members and convention
attendees away from the educational programming provided for attendees’ benefit
(Cox, 1997, p. 304).Because networking can be as much a motivation
for attendance at an association convention as education, most conventions contain a variety of
social events, including luncheons, dinners, receptions,and parties. In a recent survey, half of association
meeting planners surveyed said that special events held at a trade show or conference were very
important to the organization’s overall mission: 8.4% said the special events were critical to the organization’s
mission (Event Solutions, 2004, p. 92). From the attendee’s perspective, 69% of meeting attendees
said that meals and snacks were very important or somewhat important at meetings; 41% said that
entertainment was very/somewhat important (Meetings and Conventions, 2003, p. 26). Thus, the power of
special events, social events, and networking opportunities should not be overlooked as an
important part of association conventions and meetings.

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