By Maria Kauffman
We are blessed with a great YPN committee at the Greater Regional Alliance of REALTORS® in Grand Rapids, Mich., which is the result of a supportive association and board that invests in leadership opportunities for the newer and growing association members.
Our local YPN committee was founded more than 10 years ago, and since then we have solidified a fairly consistent lineup of yearly events, in addition to trying some new ones. We have a good mix of educational, networking, and fun events throughout the year, and we’ve made it a focus to “up” our general quality of content over the past few years. But YPN Emerge has become our largest and most educational event of the year.
The GRAR association holds an annual REBar Camp event, which highlights about 15 to 20 local industry lenders who host 30- to 60-minute mini-sessions that attendees can join. The entire event acts much like a mini college for a day. People run around networking in between getting to the classes and speakers they want to catch.
Our YPN Emerge event is supposed to be predominantly educational with light networking. But over the years, the event started to become very similar to REBar Camp, which has made it hard for members to decipher which one to attend. After a particularly rough event, we saw our attendance numbers start to decline. Our committee spent a good amount of time brainstorming what we really wanted the Emerge to be about, and how it should be portrayed. We decided to try something new by going after bigger speakers outside of our association and utilizing a more prestigious location.
Two years ago, we kicked off our new event with more esteemed local and national speakers at a well-known country club. The event was successful—although due to past events the attendance numbers weren’t where we wanted them to be. However, we agreed in our post-event feedback meeting that the location and caliber of speakers got us noticed within the association.
The following year, 2020, our event went virtual, but with a speaker list that really drew people in. Each year we have utilized our own committee members and association staff to help us recruit big names without paying any speaking fees. Our list of speakers has included Nobu Hata, CEO of the Denver Association of REALTORS®, Birgit Kohls, president and CEO of the Right Place, Michael McGiveny, vice president of sales and marketing at Allen Edwin Homes, Ryan Kilpatrick, executive director at Housing Next, and our current second term city mayor, Rosalyn Bliss.
In our third year since giving Emerge a re-boot, we had just shy of 200 attendees at our event on October 14 of this year. We have around 3,800 total members in our association, so 200 is a great attendance level that we can be really proud of.
Here are a few of the strategies we have employed over the last few years to help the event run more seamlessly:
- Don’t move out of a successful location just for the sake of something new. Watermark Country Club has been incredibly easy and superb to work with. The physical location is also easy for most of our association members to get to because it’s fairly close and off a main freeway.
- Keep the event short and limit it to one main meal. We enjoy a very simple small breakfast (think coffee and donuts) in the morning, followed by three to four speakers for no longer than two and a half hours, then a networking lunch. We try hard to get people out of the event by 1 p.m.
- Include a limited number of sponsors who can help fund the event. We have provided our event sponsors with logo placement, event mentions, and tables in the entry hallway to greet guests. Many of our sponsors repeat their commitment each year.
- Start marketing the event about two months before. We usually have each sponsor and additional committee members do fun videos to try to spur the event attendance.
- Come up with something fun. We kicked off the event with a mimosa bar this year that many of our attendees really enjoyed.
- Conduct an attendee feedback survey after the event. Then host a recap meeting to discuss the survey results, including what worked and what could be improved upon for next year’s event.
Keep an eye out for our annual Emerge event in October 2022. Until then, we will be hard at work in our upcoming planning meetings, brainstorming how to up our game even more by bringing in amazing speakers and providing value to our attendees.
Maria Kauffman is a real estate professional with Bellabay Realty in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Prior to real estate, her career heavily focused on brand management and digital sales. From a media agency in Chicago to a start-up in Seattle, from a Proctor & Gamble affiliate in New England to MLive Media Group in Grand Rapids, she’s been involved in various ventures and has marketed international brands. She’s currently Bellabay’s director of training and development, where she mentors newer agents so they’re set up to succeed and achieve their goals in real estate. Connect with Maria at mariakauffmanrealestate.com.