Annual Meetings with AHS: Creating a Process for Constant Improvement

The Challenge: After helping AHS launch their first annual meeting virtually, their second meeting needed to surpass attendees' expectations.

The Solution: To find opportunities to improve, a meeting post-mortem helped the team understand what worked and what didn't, and solicited ideas for a better experience from the audience.

The Result: The second meeting achieved the success of the first with even more member engagement.

Events and meetings are one of the best ways for associations to promote their missions and spread awareness of their causes, making them a top priority for many associations. The American Headache Society (AHS) is no different, and as one of Talley’s oldest clients, together we have had many opportunities to improve and iterate on AHS’ events to stand out in the crowded nonprofit space.

AHS first engaged Talley 30 years ago to take on full-service association management. In the years since, Talley has taken on nearly every aspect of AHS’ management. As an association dedicated to educating healthcare professionals on issues around migraine and other head pain disorders, their biannual meetings are cornerstones to their work. Each year their Annual Scientific Meeting in June and Scottsdale Headache Symposium in November provide the opportunity to bring their nearly 2,000 members together to present the latest in head pain disorders and treatment.

Creating Valuable Events in the New Normal

In recent years, converting these in-person events to fully virtual platforms, and now a hybrid model, proved to be rewarding for the AHS team. When it became clear in the spring of 2020 that their annual June meeting could not continue as planned, Talley helped AHS make the switch to a virtual event. In just 90 days, with active support from AHS leadership, the Talley team was able to make the transition to virtual, thanks to the long standing working relationship between Talley and AHS.

With years of experience working together and the trust and communication skills that came of it, the process was a smooth transition. Talley even earned a shoutout from the AHS team during the meeting as a recognition for the work that went into quickly adapting to the global situation. With the smooth continuation of AHS’ meeting, they were able to continue their outreach and offer value to their members in a turbulent time.

As attention turned to the planning of the November symposium, Talley and AHS wanted to ensure that the meeting would be valuable for attendees despite the virtual venue. As a result, Talley initiated a post-mortem of the June meeting to find where the event succeeded and where there was room for improvement.

Learning From the Past

At the conclusion of the June 2020 meeting, Talley took the opportunity to gather internal and attendee feedback to ensure that the next meeting would be even more valuable for attendees. Starting with an internal round table, Talley worked with the meeting planning committee to understand what worked and what didn’t. From there, an attendee survey was launched to determine how the meeting was received and the value it provided.

With both components, Talley and AHS were able to compare the internal notes with the attendee feedback to find overlap. In cases where both groups found a panel or an experience valuable, the team knew to include it again in the fall. On the other hand, when the feedback provided opportunities to improve, the teams had clear priorities for planning the fall meeting.

One area in particular that was highlighted was the need to enhance the human element and social aspect that an in-person event provides. As a result, the Talley team worked to find a solution that would allow for greater attendee participation and opportunities for attendees to engage with each other through a virtual platform.

In the end, Talley was able to provide multiple tech solutions to help AHS recreate the warmth and social aspect of their previous in-person meetings. By choosing to offer real-time streams of panels and speaker presentations, attendees were able to engage with presenters and ask questions as well as interact with other virtual audience members. There were also sessions that allowed attendees to speak to each other as a way to incorporate opportunities for networking that were present in traditional meetings.

Creating a Process for Constant Improvement

Thanks to the evaluation system and the debrief process, Talley and AHS were able to host another successful virtual meeting in November 2020. But, as events started returning to in-person venues in 2021, Talley needed to help AHS accommodate their members who wanted the ability to attend in-person and virtually.

In the transition to a hybrid event, attendees again stressed the importance of cultivating a social atmosphere at professional meetings when asked for their feedback. As a result of the missed opportunities to network and build relationships in the member community due to COVID, there was an increased interest in incorporating more social events as they reunited in-person. These socially-focused events were both a chance to get to know other attendees better, but also to break up the long educational day with some lighter activities.

With this feedback, the challenge now was to create a social environment that spanned both the in-person event and its virtual counterpart. Luckily, this became an easy challenge thanks to the debrief evaluation process and attendee feedback, it was easy to find a way to directly incorporate suggestions to make sure the meeting improved each time.

One attendee had suggested hosting a talent show during the conference as a fun event to break up the day’s scheduling. After creating an AHS talent show, the member and planner feedback was astounding. Attendees were happy to have a lighthearted event that allowed them to see their colleagues in a new light. Since the first talent show, it has become a key piece in following meetings that everyone looks forward to.

After seeing the benefits of this port-mortem process, it’s now integrated into the planning process with AHS. After each event, Talley and AHS gather to evaluate the past event and look ahead to the next one with improvements in mind. As a result, Talley and AHS are able to ensure that the meetings constantly evolve and better address the needs of attendees. While it would’ve been enough to host a successful virtual event in June 2020, then rinse and repeat the process for each following meeting, Talley is dedicated to helping associations grow and improve.

Finding opportunities like this to evaluate and refine processes is at the core of Talley’s services. If you’re ready to step up your meetings or find a way to improve your existing processes, get in touch with our association experts today.

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