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AMI WorldView: "Critical Mass"

How do you judge the success of your annual international congress?
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This article was originally published in the April 2018 edition of AMI Magazine. It has been republished here with their full permission.

How do you judge the success of your annual international congress? By its easy accessibility? The ‘come hither’ appeal of the destination? Reasonable lodging and registration prices? Perhaps a  cool ‘festival’ ambiance with innovative formats is your thing? Or maybe high quality content featuring the latest research?

All very desirable, of course but, in my view, all pale into insignificance against a belief that a critical mass of the ‘right’ people will be there.

Belief. Mark the word carefully.  Your challenge, my challenge, is how to inject potential delegates with the belief that they will find themselves among the in-crowd, (however this elite group is defined in your association’s universe).  You might be one of the ‘right’ people yourself. How do you know and how do you use that indefinable quality to ensure that your intellectual or business peers will attend your meetings?  How do you - an association planner – guarantee you can deliver such a critical mass, year after year?

It’s getting competitive out there, and the ‘right’ people are flexing their much-in-demand muscles. Increasingly, they know their value, they can be impatient and demanding, they are globally transferable, and their loyalty to one association is no longer guaranteed. The more ambitious might even be tempted to run off and organise their own event! 

Don’t automatically assume the in-crowd comprises the most senior and experienced professors or doctors.  It could be the new, ‘hot topic’ post-doc researchers.  It could be key individuals from specific countries. No matter who they are, where they are is the place to be. Each association community will have its own coterie of people who carry the most weight, whose personal circles of influence are the widest, whose presence will send a subliminal message to everyone that “this meeting can’t be missed”.  Their presence (or rather, the belief they will be present!) acts as a trigger, the first nudge to a cascade of dominos.

Every association needs to know who these people are, and to do whatever it can - short of kidnap - to make sure they will be at the show and available to all.  That could mean custom-designing exclusive education sessions to meet their intellectual goals (but also to woo and flatter them). Perhaps an awards ceremony, or a Chairman’s Club, and special social programmes organised to recognise their importance. Why not financial incentives on registration rates to lock their presence in early and/or reserved speaker opportunities for them to share their brilliant thoughts with their peers?  All of which needs carefully targeted communication and marketing, with special treatment at each phase of the process aimed at encouraging them to promote themselves to their circles of influence. And don’t forget to promote their presence to the rest by prominently publishing lists of who is signed up.

None of the above constitutes a magic formula for achieving critical mass. In truth, there is no hard dividing line between who is ‘in’ and who is not. You’ll just know when your meeting reaches  the tipping point and if it never does it could lose momentum, become vulnerable to competitors, and drift into the ‘maybe’ rather than the ‘must’ attend category.

We live in a world of lottery winners in which a small number of meetings in any sector will succeed, while the rest may not even survive. If you don’t reach a critical mass of your movers and shakers, you could be in grave danger.   

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