I love, love, love the Annual Meeting! I love it so much that I have not missed a single one since I got my CPCU in 2011. I love it so much that I skipped part of a Europe trip with my girlfriend to attend Anaheim 2014 (she now knows never to schedule anything to conflict with the most sacred insurance holiday). I love it so much that I like to call it Christmas for Insurance Nerds, and I honestly think it’s more fun than Christmas (at least as an adult – you never get cool presents anymore).
But, as much as I love the Annual Meeting, after 5 years I’ve started to notice some things that I think we could really improve about it to make it even more engaging and attractive. At each Annual Meeting I’ve attended, we always have a lot of New Designees (which is awesome) and a lot of folks who have been going to the Annual Meeting every year for the last 25. I love to meet the new designees and I love that the repeat attendees (or, as I affectionately call them, lifers) know me. I’m working on becoming one of the lifers; they are awesome! I’ve met hundreds of New Designees during that time, and I’ve seen most of them have a blast at the Annual Meeting and then successfully use CPCU to quickly advance their careers. What worries me is very few of those new designees (maybe so few that I can count on 2 hands) keep coming to the Annual Meeting. I truly believe we have to change that. We need to improve the Annual Meeting to increase the chance of New Designees becoming hooked and continuing to come every year, or at least every chance they get.
So here are a few ideas on how we can hack the Annual Meeting to encourage repeat attendance:
1. Lower the cost to returning CPCUs (or increase the value):
At around $1,000 to $1,500 for the conference, our tendency to hold it in the most expensive hotel in town and the cost of flights, coming to the conference becomes a $2,500 to $3,500 commitment. The price is fine for new designees who usually have employer support but becomes prohibitive for returning CPCUs who may no longer have employer support. Increasing the value is more complicated, but one way might be to offer an orientation session for new designees where we teach them how to make the most of the Annual Meeting and get them excited about the idea of finding a committee or interest group to get involved in and get them excited about coming back year after year.
2. Adapt to the preferences of younger attendees:
Back in the day, people mostly did their CPCU late in their career because their employers considered CPCU a requirement to move into senior management, but today, many young insurance professionals are getting CPCU much earlier as a way to be noticed and to move from entry level roles into more middle management ones. Having more educational sessions about managing your career, getting noticed, breaking into your first management role, and the best ways to build a professional network would be popular with the younger attendees.
3. Offer a special, even lower rate, to existing CPCUs:
Especially to those living in the surrounding states and those that are within driving distance to encourage them to get re-engaged. Market heavily to them that year. This is especially important when the event is in a city with less pull but within driving distance of many existing CPCUs.
4. Make one day of the conference into TEDx Insurance:
A series of engaging 7-15 minute TED talks and register it as an official TEDx (independently organized TED Talks). This would be much more engaging than the traditional 90 minute educational sessions, and if marketed properly, we might be able to sell a bunch of one day passes for that day, bringing in insurance professionals who are passionate about the industry but haven’t gotten their CPCU. A 90 minute session is great for super nerds like us, but most people just don’t have the attention span or stomach for them.
5. Make one day into an Unconference:
An Unconference is a participant-driven meeting. At an Unconference, the agenda is created by the attendees at the beginning of the conference, and anyone who wants to start a discussion can claim a space and time slot to do so. Each session is more of an open discussion rather than a lecture or panel. Imagine a bunch of passionate insurance professionals deciding which topics will be discussed on that particular day and actively participating in conversations and debates about those topics.
6. Shift focus from getting new designees to renew their membership to getting them involved in a committee or interest group:
In the past few years, we’ve spent a lot of effort encouraging new designees to renew their free membership into a paid membership for next year. We should shift focus instead to getting them involved with their local chapter, an interest group and/or a committee. By the end of the Annual Meeting, every new designee should have found a group they’re interested in. New designees that get involved will renew their membership and are much more likely to come back to future Annual Meetings. In our experience, your first Annual Meeting is wonderful but overwhelming. It isn’t until the second or third time that you fully realize the value of the conference and get committed to attending each year. The trick is to get you to come back the second and third time, and we feel involvement in committees and interest groups is just the way to get them to come back. Also, make sure New Designees receive the ribbon marking them as such with their name tag, and make it a very bright color. This ribbon is how other people know they are New Designees and causes them to get a lot of love.
7. Let’s learn what we can from popular conferences in other industries like Dreamforce:
Salesforce’s annual conference in San Francisco has grown to an amazing 135,000 in-person attendees from 91 countries. In addition, 5 million people sign up to watch it online. Clearly they are doing something right and we can learn from them. Let’s send a few of our leaders to Dreamforce next year and learn all we can about how to run a more engaging conference!