What meeting planning lessons can we glean from the popular Tony-award-winning Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon?
Plenty, as it turns out.
At a learning lab at the ASAE 2016 Annual Meeting entitled, “What the Musical The Book of Mormon Taught Me About Association Management,“ seven association professionals used The Book of Mormon as a metaphor to offer association management lessons about leadership, membership recruitment, branding, social media, humor, diversity, and yes, meeting planning.
The session was created and moderated by Sheri Singer, president of Singer Communications, and drew about 500 attendees.
Tom Quash, CAE, Vice President, Marketing, Communications & Publications at the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN), encouraged session attendees to script an inspirational story at their conferences, much as the one of the lead characters in The Book of Mormon did as he worked to convert skeptical villagers in Uganda to the Mormon faith.
“At AWHONN, we celebrate the daily work of our nurses and underscore Connection — a core belief that we know our members value,” Quash explained. “We weave the connection messaging into social media, marketing, and speeches throughout the convention. You know the old adage about the elevator pitch: you must simply state your story and build your script around it.”
Cast of Characters
Next, consider your cast of characters.
“Who is responsible for telling your story at your convention?,” Quash asked. “The CEO? The Chair? Both? You can also have dual roles but they should be positioned purposefully and intentionally.”
He cautioned executives to not try to make a storyteller funny if that doesn’t mesh with their mission or style, and instead leverage the talents of each individual to create a great cast.
“Who can speak with authority when necessary?” he asked. “Who can add levity? Which speakers will best support the story? Does your cast represent a fair balance of your membership or constituents? How many industry partners should be represented? Have you considered diversity, in all its forms?”
Quash noted that at the end of a great play, it’s the cast that receives the hearty applause and the standing ovations.
“For example, think about your general session,” Quash suggested. “When that is over, you want your attendees to be touched or re-energized by what they have heard.”
Creating the Stage
“Does the décor on your main stage reflect your brand and your story?,” Quash asked. “Don’t overlook the opportunity to leverage staging, music and lighting to help create a theatrical experience. If you can, consider using what Broadway plays use all the time the ‘Wow’ factor. Think about the chandelier crashing in Phantom of the Opera–that’s a wow factor.
“You may not have a Broadway budget, but you can still make it theatrical. One year, we had a rock-and-roll pit band during the General Session instead of piped-in music. Another year, our Board Chair took the stage from the audience, rather than backstage, followed by dozens of student members to tell that year’s story of our commitment to the next generation,” Quash explained.
According to Quash, like it or not, your association is competing for attention with free and open access to online content, web-based communities, apps, streaming, Netflix, and even Pokemon Go.
“Your story and your stage cannot come across as stale or disconnected with the expectations or even demands of your members,” Quash said. “Your venue, the city, your networking events, your tradeshow, and more are all ‘stages’ for you to support the experience.”
Practice Makes Perfect
Quash is an advocate of dress rehearsals to make sure “the show” flows without a hitch.
“Rehearsals help determine if the timing is right,” he explained. “Are all the cues in place? Where will your VIPs sit? Are your presenters comfortable with their delivery?”
Quash says it’s also important to consider “what if?” scenarios and have a plan to act accordingly.
“What if a speaker doesn’t show up? What’s the plan to communicate this? What if the fire marshal is onsite and shuts down a room due to overcrowding? What if there’s a weather event that threatens the safety of your attendees?” he asked.
While Quash notes that you can’t plan for every conceivable scenario, you can be prepared for at least some unexpected developments.
Selling Your Show
You can’t start too early when it comes to selling your next conference, Quash declared.
“The selling starts at least a year in advance, at your current convention,” he believes. “While attendees are in the midst of a great experience, you want them to get excited for the following year. Talk up next year, as ASAE routinely does.”
Quash says at AWHONN they test story messages to determine what is resonating with their key audiences. They also explore new marketing platforms.
“Direct mail, email and advertising may be effective, but have you leveraged content marketing?” Quash queries. “Do you have a digital marketing strategy? Can you use your chapter or sections to act as champions? Are there bloggers that can help support the conference promotion? Don’t underestimate their reach and impact.”
Be sure that you provide your members, leaders and other stakeholders with the right tools to help you sell the show, Quash suggested.
“With a compelling story, great cast, inviting staging, detailed rehearsals and smart selling, you’ll create your very ownBook of Mormon – a theatrical, memorable experience for your members,” said Quash.
Al Rickard, CAE, is President of Association Vision, a Washington, DC-area communications company, and serves as Director of Communications for ConventionPlanit.com.