Compiled by Ardis Bazyn

This quarterly membership focus generated strategies for making conventions more successful. It was exciting to see the level of involvement from the participants on the call. Sue Ammeter asked participants to share convention suggestions.

Most people on the call said that planning the events was the most important. Deciding whether to hold specific programs and activities at the same time is crucial. Events need to be well attended so speakers feel their time was not wasted. Exhibitors want participants to visit.

Most callers insisted a variety of activities would garner the most attendance. Some of the comments about activities were: topics and functions for all ages; exhibits especially of interest to blind and visually impaired people, including mainstream items; numerous types of events, such as luncheons with speakers, special-interest items, and entertainment; and break-out sessions. A variety of presentation styles may hold the audience's attention -- interactive, question and answer, or motivational.

Topics should also be diverse. Important issues should be covered, such as pending legislation, state budgets, state rehab issues, and transportation. Entertaining speakers are also appreciated: blind or visually impaired people who have traveled to unusual spots, people with unique careers, people with unusual hobbies, and those who are motivational. Ten-minute presentations on some topics such as laser canes, labeling methods or devices, handyman ideas, cleaning techniques, audible signals or tracking devices, library access technology, or accessible software, might stimulate interest.

Exhibits should also include numerous types of gadgets and issues. For example, accessible voting machines technology -- high-tech and low-tech, bar coding devices, computers and software, braille info and products, fund- raisers, etc. You might offer exhibitor prizes to encourage more exhibitors. Allow time for conventioneers to visit the exhibits. If too many activities are offered while exhibits are open, the attendance may drop.

Each day of convention could pertain to a specific topic such as accessibility, transportation, pedestrian travel and safety, or new technology. A special theme may help you to focus on specific areas for your conference. If you have a smaller number of members, you might concentrate on one- or two-day seminars rather than a full convention. A one-day seminar might also be a way to keep members interested in your affiliate during the year.

Bop-It contests, cruises, tours, talent shows, dances, and other events are other draws to a convention. And everyone enjoys getting a goodie bag! Affiliates who choose to give these to participants get the items donated from a variety of sources: exhibitors, BEP vendors, other businesses in the community, and other members. Suggest to a store that donating kitchen gadgets or other tidbits is advertising, and the owner might be more willing to donate. An affiliate may also opt to purchase an item to use as a banquet gift. Door prizes are also often donated during the convention and given away during sessions, banquets and/or luncheons. Members also appreciate any extra door prizes.

If your affiliate offers scholarships, you might consider a scholarship dinner or reception. This would allow students to meet a variety of members. You could encourage chapters to invite the family members of scholarship recipients. Children's activities should also be encouraged: arts, crafts, and sports activities. They can meet parents and older members at lunches. How about a pizza party before a talent show? If other young people attend, more young people will enjoy participating.

Since transportation is an issue for many conventioneers, some affiliates bus members to the convention. Buses may be arranged for no cost or for a small fee to the ones who sign up. Once the buses are filled, other participants must find their own way. Some affiliates also offer stipends to members who cannot afford to come. Members interested in these funds must write letters asking for assistance. Grant letters might be written to foundations or corporations for this purpose.

It is beneficial to find a volunteer coordinator to arrange volunteer schedules and assist in locating local groups who may be willing. Volunteers are a plus for many participants. They are especially helpful the first day or two of convention.

Affiliates should also consider having a conference with other groups to enlarge the attendance. Washington State School for the Blind has an orientation and mobility conference at the same time as the Washington Council of the Blind convention. In this way, these young people can have meals with WCB members and attend hospitality functions (a separate one with no alcohol). Special-interest affiliates might be encouraged to meet with your state affiliate.

In order to get as many members and friends as possible, there needs to be a lot of communication about your convention activities. Spreading the word in your affiliate publication, local newspapers in the area of your convention, interviews on the radio, word of mouth, flyers sent to chapters, and letters to everyone on your affiliate mailing list are all necessary. If you have a radio reading service in your community, ask them to read your convention announcement. Ask your chapters to invite friends and neighbors. Highlight as many activities in advance as possible. People like an excuse to get together.

Once your convention is over, collect all the comments made by your committees. Each year, you might survey participants or have a suggestion box for attendees to give comments. Try to find out what went well and what didn't. Perhaps the registration table was not set up well, so you may wish to make changes for the next conference. Maybe your talent show was great and you want to try it again. What publicity worked the best? Remember all the good and bad so you can do better next time. Good luck on your next convention!

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