How to Engage Members Who Can’t Attend the Annual Meeting

September 27, 2014

By Benjamin Rabe, CEM and Alexa Newman

As trade show managers, it’s easy to get focused on the attendee and exhibitor experience at events and lose sight of the members who aren’t able to attend. But by taking some innovative actions, we can include and even engage members who are staying home.

The American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE), a personal membership group of the American Hospital Association (AHA), encountered this issue. ASHE hosts two annual conferences a year, each averaging 2,000 attendees and over 1,000 exhibitors. However, 6,000 members weren’t attending the events – whether it was for budgetary or timing considerations – and ASHE’s leadership wanted to find a way to reach those members as well.

After looking at several options for engaging non-attendees, ASHE opted to stream the general session and brief 15-minute sessions from the theater area. Since ASHE’s booth is centrally located on the show floor, the team also began broadcasting live footage from the association’s booth, including discussions among the advocacy team about the latest policies involving infection control.  As a result of its new engagement opportunities, ASHE has extended its conference audience reach by over 10 percent, and this year, ASHE sold a sponsorship to support streaming from the booth, allowing all virtual attendees to attend for free.

After witnessing the success of ASHE’s connection booth, the American Society for Healthcare Risk Management (ASHRM) considered increasing the size of its association booth and repositioning it to be the centerpiece of its show floor.

ASHRM, also an AHA personal membership group, chose to focus on its theater sessions. It already had a “bite-size” learning theater, which offered a variety of learning sessions and presentations paid for by vendors and other sponsors. As streaming can be costly, the sessions are recorded and released later in the year on the ASHRM website. This drives traffic to the website in the months after the show when associations typically see a lull in engagement. 

ASHRM also is adding a video testimonial area near its booth, where it will conduct man-on-the-street interviews with ASHRM members. They will be asked what they love about ASHRM and why it is important to attend the conference. ASHRM has invited its exhibitors and sponsors to give testimonials about the value of partnering with ASHRM.  These video snippets will be used to develop a “Why Exhibit, Why Sponsor” video to be used in 2015 sales efforts as a way to reach potential exhibitors who aren’t able to travel to the show in person. 

Another great example of engaging members year-round is to provide members with short monthly online sessions. One business trade association provides “up to the minute” quick briefings called “Coffee Breaks.” These 20-minute webinars share the latest information, tools, techniques and strategies in the industry. These breaks have counted up to 1,000 members participating.

Telecommunications user groups’ mission is to connect their members with product developers, support and other experts. One user community is finding success in a program that provides exclusive opportunities for users to connect with their partner communities. Benefits, which vary based on level of participation, include membership, year-round recognition on the association website, social media posts, notification of chapter events, ads in the year-round publication and the opportunity to present a webinar. The program has seen revenues double in three years. 

Associations are continuing to explore creative ways to engage membership, and its members are finding value in the offerings, even if they can’t be there in person.

Benjamin Rabe and Alexa Newman are senior managers in Event Services at SmithBucklin, the association management and services company more organizations turn to than any other. For information, contact us at and, or visit

Editor's Note: This will be the first in a series of articles from SmithBucklin for TSNN's MedShow Monthly. 

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.