12/05/2012 09:28 am ET Updated Feb 04, 2013

Make Your Conference the Centerpiece for a Tight-knit Community

It happened just before I was to go on stage to deliver a keynote. I was so moved to tears by the prior program, that mascara dripped on my lavender blouse. And I didn't care. I wasn't alone. For the first time in the conference, many of the 3,000 nurse executives in the audience were up on their feet cheering and hugging each other. The diminutive, elderly woman standing on stage who was being honored by the conference president. You, too, can evoke that audience emotion at your conference.

1. Tap the Collective Conscious to Show What "We" Most Cherish

What had happened? Two months before the conference every association member received an email that read, "If you send us the name of the book that has most influenced your work as a nurse, and the author by September 30th you will get a peek preview, by email, of the Top Ten list from the collective submissions from you and your colleagues. In that peek preview you will also find two lists, in alphabetical order of all submissions, one by book title (followed by the names of the members who submitted it) and another list according to the last name of the members who contributed submissions. In that email you will also get the entire list of submissions in order of popularity."

2. Boost Conviviality so Conversations Start at a More Meaningful Place of Shared Interest

The woman on stage was the long-admired, surviving co-author of a required textbook for nurses training. Only when the members received their peek preview email of results did they realize how many of their peers felt as strongly as they did about the usefulness of that book in their career. Thus, they were primed to cheer when the author appeared on stage to be honored.

Sadly, too often we get more value of the hallway networking than the conferences sessions. Yet several trends are converging to make face-to face meetings matter more. Increasingly more Americans are working and living on their own, tethered to their screens, and craving convivial in-person conversations with those who share their interests, especially related to their livelihood.

3. Support Swifter Shared Learning Via Interactive Session Formats

In a connected, increasingly technology-reliant world, we must hone our skills faster. Conferences that foster shared learning and relationship-building will thrive whilst others will lose their attendees to competition. Multiple the learning and relationship-building moments by storyboarding your meeting.

Here are some specific ways your membership-based group can generate more conference-related value and visibility for all stakeholders:

4. Members Bond Through Sharing Favorite Books

Consider adapting the favorite books survey I cited from the nurse executive's story for your conference. Your contest could become a small, new profit center by inviting two or three firms to sponsor the contest in exchange for being listed as such in the emails, on the web site and on banners citing the Top Ten at the conference. Invite publishers of the top 50 most popular titles to donate books in exchange for the exposure.

Turn Your Conference into a Live TV Show With "Re-runs" on Your Site

Do short TV-style interviews of speakers and leaders in advance of your conference and during it. Ask all speakers to submit two tips in advance of the conference. Turn the collective tips and video vignettes into an eBook with video vignettes in them, a Vook and give it away as a meeting memento, then offering it for a small fee on Amazon, iTunes and Kobo.

In these ways you leverage your conferences value and visibility and attract new members and sponsors. See more ideas for making your conference more popular.