3 Tips for Hosting a Successful Financial Advisor Conference: Lessons from #FPABE

By Amy McIIwain, President, Financial Social Media on Wednesday, October 15th, 2014


Having spoken at hundreds of conferences on the topics of social media and digital marketing, I’ve seen the gamut of good, bad, and ugly when it comes to hosting an event. It’s not easy. A lot of planning and prep goes into hosting a successful financial advisor conference.  I recently returned from FPA BE (Financial Planning Association’s Business & Education Conference) in Seattle, and was impressed with the conference format, engagement and use of technology — all areas where events can suffer. In this blog post, I wanted to switch things up a bit and share with you some of the tools and themes I’ve been seeing at conferences recently and how you can use them to make your next financial advisor conference successful.

Mobile Apps are all the rage today and conferences have been among the fastest adopters for their vast ability to organize agendas, view show floor maps, search exhibitors, and more. What drives me crazy, however, is the poor promotion and adoption of them. Not to mention the annoyance of having to download a new app for every event I attend only to never open it again post conference…taking up screen space on my iPhone. So when you come across a conference app that is good—not to mention “save-worthy”—it’s worth mentioning. That was my experience recently with the FPA Events app and the marketing muscle behind it: promotion of the app with onsite signage, registration desk guidance, and shout outs from the speakers during live educational and breakout sessions. And since this app functions as a portal for all FPA events, attendees are likely more inclined to save it.

Think advisors aren’t on Twitter? Think again! During my keynote presentations I often ask the audience to raise their hand if they have a Twitter account. In 2014, I am happy to report, I’ve consistently seen over 50% of the hands go up.  And they are USING those accounts. Following my presentation at FPA BE it took me almost an hour to respond to the 100+ tweets I received.  With over 5,000 tweets using the #FPABE hashtag I certainly wasn’t the only one tweeting. So how can you get your conference hashtag to take off? Here are a few suggestions:

1)    Promote. Promote. Promote.  Every piece of signage, printed material, email, conference badge, presentation, etc. should proudly display the conference hashtag.

2)    Engage from the company Twitter handle. This probably sounds like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many companies are silent on Twitter during their own event. Engage and interact with the audience and help drive traffic to speaking sessions and the exhibit hall. FPA did a great job with this.

3)    Leverage the speakers. Leading up to the event, encourage all speakers to include the hashtag in the footer of their Powerpoint slides and promote leading up to and during the event from their Twitter accounts.

An active hashtag not only encourages discussion and engagement among those live the event, it also helps others follow along who were unable to attend and helps spread awareness for future events.

For their ability to provide meaningful, in-depth, one-on-one support to advisors, “Consulting” or “vendor” lounges are among some of the new financial conference trends I’ve come to appreciate. Nonetheless, everyone is trying to do it and few are doing it well. Having participated as a consultant in a handful of these types of lounges, here’s some feedback on how to do it right:

1)    First and foremost, if your goal of hosting an educational lounge is to benefit attendees, separate vendor booths from consultants. Designated areas provide an environment conducive to learning and a safe-haven from the inevitable yet invasive vendor pitches. FPA did a standout job of keeping the focus on education and offered consultants separate tabletop booths for their company outside of the designated consulting area.

2)    Provide attendees with an opportunity to reserve a dedicated appointment time.  Create a signup sheet for 20-minute, one-on-one appointments. This is a tremendous benefit for attendees and allows for dedicated time to address individual questions and concerns.

3)    Organization is key. Keep all parties informed of their meeting times. This can be managed easily and efficiently with text messages.

4)    Promotion and awareness. A successful lounge is a well-attended lounge. Marketing this effort starts from day one. Promote lounge location(s) and offerings on your event website, throughout your materials, in front of exhibit hall, on your event app and encourage speakers to mention during breakout sessions and keynote presentations, encourage participants to tweet about their experience using your designated event hashtag.

The goal of any event is to bring valuable to both attendees and sponsors. The above tools and ideas are great ways to do so, however are merely supplemental to having awesome content.

Author, speaker, and President at Financial Social Media, Amy McIlwain speaks at events around the world ranging from audiences of 1000 to small executive boardrooms. She's appeared on FOX, CBS, ABC, and NBC as a social media expert and her book, The Social Advisor: Social Media Secrets of the Financial Industry, has been featured as a best-seller in the Amazon business category.

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