Taking AIHce EXP to the Next Level

As the premier association of industrial hygiene professionals in North America, AIHA needs to stay on the cutting edge of professional advancement for our members. And, accordingly, as the IH profession has evolved, so too must our annual conference, AIHce EXP. AIHA endeavors to create future conferences that draw consistently higher attendance and deliver unprecedented value to all stakeholders.

In 2017, based on several years of market research conducted about the conference, major changes were made to the length of the event and its agenda. Even though the majority of attendees accepted and applauded the changes, we learned an important lesson—if any modifications are made to the event in the future, it is better to communicate them to the membership before they are instituted. To take AIHce EXP to the next level and continually enhance the experience for regular and new attendees alike, AIHA engaged Maritz Global Events, world-class corporate event and experience consultants. Last summer they conducted a market research study and assessed the AIHce EXP conference experience based on attendees’ feedback and the interests and motivations of AIHA members and past conference participants. Here’s a preview of what you can expect. AREAS OF FOCUS The recommendations from the Maritz report focus on three primary areas: educational session design (first and foremost), general session design, and intentional networking strategies. In terms of educational session design, members and attendees alike share the goal of modernizing the educational sessions by making them more interactive and engaging. The days of podium sessions and panels are no longer favored by the majority of attendees. According to the study, CE credit hours and education are the most important elements of the conference for most attendees. Therefore, it is AIHA’s responsibility to ensure high-quality education that delivers high levels of satisfaction. However, the study showed that even though half of attendees identify CE credit hours as a primary motivator for attendance, significant numbers of attendees also value time to network (13 percent), visiting with exhibitors (14 percent), and hearing unique keynote speakers (11 percent). 
Members and attendees alike share the goal of modernizing the educational sessions by making them more interactive and engaging. 
KATHLEEN S. MURPHY, CIH, is AIHA president and director of Global Regulatory Affairs at Sherwin Williams in Cleveland, Ohio.

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The study also concluded that well-orchestrated general sessions play an important role in creating shared experiences that convey great value through emotional resonance, intellectual relevance, and esprit de corps. Furthermore, the study found that people are looking to hone their leadership skills. Speakers and events around leadership development are in demand. For decades, typical association events have poured attendees into rooms and assumed they will find, introduce themselves to, and have meaningful conversations with like-minded professionals. For extroverts, the well-connected, and long-term members, this strategy can work well. But it fails for nearly everyone else, including introverts and newcomers, who are left feeling awkward, disconnected, and unsatisfied. The study recommended that AIHA create “intentional networking strategies” by connecting “like” attendees through software, “tribe-finding,” and other tactics that have a profound impact on this important driver of satisfaction and attendance. Asking participants to self-identify with certain interests and frames of mind will allow AIHA to match people by behavior (or persona) in order to deliver the kind of information they are seeking in their inbox leading up to the conference; uncover exhibitors that have the resources they seek; match them with like-minded attendees who might be valuable to their professional network; and target the education they’ll find most valuable. LONG-TERM IMPROVEMENTS The transformation of AIHce EXP won’t happen overnight. In fact, the findings from the study might have a very subtle effect on the upcoming conference in Atlanta (June 1–3). But to grow attendance, raise the bar on education, and increase satisfaction, we will all need committed leadership, open and creative minds, and a clear and disciplined plan to see AIHce EXP flourish in this new decade. I'll see you in Atlanta!