11
Nov
14

On screen or in a chair?

webeventMost of us would agree there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. The email inbox is always full. Meetings seem to pop up on the calendar. And deadlines continue to loom.

Then, if you’re a working professional with kids, you have to balance sports, clubs, carpooling and snack schedules.

It’s exhausting.

No wonder so many of us are spending less time away from our offices and our families to attend professional development events or other workplace functions.

It seems associations got the memo as the industry experiences a slow uptick in virtual events.

Last week, consulting firm Tagoras released Association Virtual Events 2014, a survey of associations’ use of virtual conferences, trade shows and other events. Conducted in August, 33 percent of the 112 respondents indicated they have offered a virtual event. And about 21 percent indicated they plan to offer such an event in the next 12 months.

Tagoras found there are three standard technologies for virtual events: webinar or webcast tools for presentations; communication tools to allow for real-time conversations among participants; and document and resource sharing of event materials.

So why the boom? More than 75 percent of respondents said they offer virtual events for members who can’t attend an association’s place-based events. Tied for second place were “to be seen as offering cutting-edge technology for members” and “to support an overall strategy to deliver more services online.” The third most popular reason for offering virtual events? To reduce costs for attendees.

Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele

Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele, co-founders of Tagoras

“These motivations clearly reflect necessity — organizations see a need to provide more options as travel budgets are trimmed and time becomes an increasingly precious commodity for members — but they also reflect a willingness to experiment,” study authors Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele wrote. “Many association professionals are embracing virtual events even before their members ask for them, and they’re doing so as part of an overall strategy built on online service.”

Obviously, virtual events aren’t for all associations, and several have yet to embrace the growing technological trend. Cost and complexity of technology were the top reasons for not going virtual, while concerns about cost ranked No. 3.

At the same time, most of the respondents indicated a virtual event has to be self-sustaining to be worth the investment, while 50 percent reported a virtual event should drive revenue. And most associations reported they charge both members and nonmembers to participate in a virtual event.

“Over time, we think associations will grow more adept at estimating realistic costs and determining a plan for covering those costs, whether through registration fees, sponsorships or both,” Cobb and Steele said. “That said, there’s skepticism on the sponsorship front.”

And then there’s fear of the unknown. Will virtual events cause a decline in attendance at an association’s traditional event? Tagoras doesn’t think so.

Is it possible to learn as much remotely as it is sitting in a room with colleagues, listening first hand to an expert? Data seem to swing both ways, but nevertheless, convenience sometimes wins.

(An editorial sidebar: Multitasking and distraction are justifiable concerns. But attendees will likely check email, text and tweet regardless of where they are. Just my two cents.)

LearnwithMouseTake a look at the stats Tagoras compiled about its survey. It seems virtual equals value.

  • While 58 percent of those who haven’t undertaken a virtual event cite technology concerns as a perceived barrier, 90 percent of respondents who have held a virtual event describe themselves as very or somewhat satisfied with the ease of use of the technology.
  • Some 58 percent of those who haven’t held a virtual event cite concerns about costs, but 74 percent of those who have held a virtual event describe themselves as very or somewhat satisfied with the cost of the technology. And 60 percent characterize themselves as very or somewhat satisfied with the revenue generated by the virtual event.
  • Some 46 percent of those who haven’t held a virtual event cite concerns about attendance, but 76 percent of those who have held a virtual event describe themselves as very or somewhat satisfied with attendance.

“We are still in the early days of virtual events as a trend, but the use of this format across a diverse range of organizations — and its continued use by most who have tried it — suggests that virtual events will become a mainstay of association education and events going forward,” Cobb and Steele said.

So what do you think? Does your association offer a virtual event? Tell us about it.

04
Nov
14

Call for Presentations: Dead or Alive?

call-for-presentations-openA colleague recently posted this question to a professional development discussion board I enjoy reading:

In the past few years, we have been receiving fewer responses to our call for papers. Has anyone had any success with any incentives to increase the number of submissions received?

Following are two lightly edited responses I posted in follow-up:

Response 1

You’re experiencing a trend, I believe, that most other associations are experiencing, as well. That is, fewer responses to your call for papers and even fewer, likely, quality responses. And by “quality” I mean different, leading-edge, innovative and engaging presentations.

“The new normal” is shifting to a process whereby a cross section of the association’s membership comes together as a conference task force or education committee and:

  1. Brainstorms what topics the members should be hearing at XYZ meeting (based upon the anticipated audience and conference goals/objectives).
  1. Identifies the most qualified and diverse individuals to present those sessions.
  1. Works with those individuals to co-create an experience with both quality content and quality instructional design (e.g., visuals, handouts, activities).

I hope this helps spark some ideas of how you might tweak the process within your own organization to ensure the “right” content at your next event.

Response 2

I’ve also used a more crowdsourced approach. It looked something like this:

  1. Send out mass survey to anyone and everyone our association had a relationship with. The survey generally maxed out at five questions. We posed questions focused less on what people have seen or heard before and instead asked questions that attempted to identify needs (vs. wants). The most popular questions were always: “What keeps you up at night?” or some similar iteration asking people what workplace challenges they’re currently facing. Questions seeking recommendations (e.g., speakers and topics) were phrased to encourage new, leading-edge, innovative, different speakers and topics that maybe we hadn’t featured before.
  1. I would boil down all of that data into an executive summary matching like recommendations, topics, speakers, etc.
  1. We would pull together a diverse cross section of key stakeholders asking them to help us interpret and prioritize the responses (e.g., What does this mean? Is this really a big need? Does this warrant an hour-long session at our annual conference or a full-day retreat?).
  1. With that information in hand and summarized, we engaged our education committee to “address” these needs in terms of placement throughout the annual education calendar. With their help, we would then secure speakers and share with them the actual needs/learning objectives identified throughout this process.

crowdsourceUtilizing this approach, however, I have a few cautionary tales:

  1. Attendees often can’t distinguish what they want vs. what they need. It’s our responsibility as educators to find and provide the balance.
  1. Attendees, when asked to recommend topics and speakers, are often recommending what they’ve seen/heard before. In my experience, education committee members may be participating in and attending multiple conferences a year – in which case we may be getting referrals that we’ve not seen/heard before. Additionally, if these are truly education or professional development folks, they likely know a quality speaker/presentation when they see one – which is good for us. On the flip side, attendees with little knowledge in this area may not be suggesting the right balance between quality content, quality speaker and quality presentation style. Likewise, their total experience with speakers/presentations may be limited (meaning the recommendations are simply a recycling of our own past conferences or those of our competitors).
  1. Finally, I always caution voting on topics or content leaders when it comes to education. It often becomes a popularity contest vs. a well-constructed and well-balanced education event with the right and diverse mix of speakers and content.

Anyway, thanks for sharing. Best of luck as you dig into this crowdsourcing process. You’ll have to let us know how it turns out.

Just the Facts

According to a study conducted by Event Garde in collaboration with the Michigan Society of Association Executives (MSAE) in 2012, when asked how many months before their 2011 major meeting associations closed their call for presentations, a majority of respondents (54%) indicated they did not issue one for this meeting. An additional 17% reported Four to five months; 11% reported Eight to nine months.

So what process are you adopting in 2015: a call for presentations, curation, crowdsourcing or some combination of the three? If you’re approaching content development in a new or unique way, we’d love to interview you for a future blog post or newsletter feature.

02
Nov
14

Bonus content: Event Garde e-news – November edition

Q & A with Kelly Romeo, Vice President, American Land Title Association

American Land Title - Kelly Romeo

Kelly Romeo, Vice President, American Land Title Association

Q: When you’re not working, what do you enjoy doing the most?
A: Playing in the kitchen, entertaining and spending time with family and friends. I also enjoy quiet time with a good book and usually have three books going at once (a fiction novel, a non-fiction biography or history and a cookbook). Dig that Kindle.

Q: What’s your favorite type of bird, and why?
A: A bluebird. We heard about the bluebird of happiness a lot when I was a child, and I like the concept. I try to bring happiness and fun with me wherever I go, with the possible exception of rush-hour traffic. Even the bluebird’s powers are limited.

Q: If you were a crayon, what color would you be, and why?
A: It’s impossible to choose! I do love a fresh box of 64 . . . all those beautiful colors and choices!  And don’t forget the built-in sharpener.

Q: If you were a candy bar, which candy bar would you be, and why?
A: Snickers. All those good things in a single package. Plus, I love things that make me snicker.

Q: You were just given a yacht. What would you name it?
A: In The Moment

28
Oct
14

Technology truths for meetings and events

Silicon Valley Human Rights ConferenceI’ve admitted it before, and I’ll do it again: I’m a social media and technology addict.

So when I’m choosing conferences to attend, I look for technology use. Is there a hashtag? Will speakers engage with participants in real time – or afterward – via social media? If something comes up, will the organizer provide content virtually? Also, is there an app that can help me plan where to eat, where to stay and sights to see?

According to a new report by American Express Meetings and Events, I’m not alone.

In the first half of this year, American Express Global Business and Travel surveyed 336 meeting planners and 161 meeting and event attendees to learn more about the evolving landscape of technology in meetings.

Overall, the survey found smartphones and wireless data/streaming video have had the most influence on the meetings industry. In fact, according to the study, 77 percent of smartphone holders use their phones “always” or “often” for business during a meeting or conference.

And almost all attendees have computers, which makes virtual attendance a breeze. While virtual meetings are becoming more popular, they’re still far less common than on-the-ground events, the study found.

Survey respondents ranked less time away from the office and a reduced need to travel as the top reasons for attending virtual or hybrid events. But interestingly, most event planners reported they don’t offer virtual options. Among the top reasons: distraction. They seem to be worried that a virtual environment offers too many temptations to pay full attention.

From the report: “There is strong agreement that in-person attendance still provides the best overall experience. Seventy-four percent of attendees and 85% of planners feel that: ‘In-person meetings are more valuable to me because they allow more social interaction.’”

So, American Express Meetings and Events recommends event planners survey target audiences to gauge interest and need for virtual events. Once it’s determined virtual events are necessary, planners need to provide tailored content, specific for the web.

SocialMediaUseNow. Let’s talk social media. Event organizers use Twitter and Facebook to spread the word about events and to track interest among users. But there seems to be a divide: The survey found social media is more important to planners than it is to attendees. (This surprised me!) Forty-three percent of planners said social media capabilities were important, while only 35 percent of attendees said the same. So it follows, then, that planners ranked hashtags as more important than attendees.

The report speculates that social media users are still a bit hesitant about posting things that aren’t relevant to their followers, i.e. a conference/event they aren’t attending. And, there’s still concern about privacy.

Like social media, meeting planners rank meeting apps as more useful than participants – 67 percent vs. 55 percent. Access to basic event information and scheduling features are important app features for both groups. (See page 13 of the report for a comprehensive chart of important features.)

Specifically, networking capabilities of an app are important to both groups, especially when it offers search functions so users can search by company. Meeting apps that provide the ability to schedule meetings with exhibitors and vendors are also valuable to both groups, according to the report.

Event planners also listed apps as the most effective measurement tools for success, followed by social media. That said, in-person monitoring and post-event surveys are still the most popular.

“Technology continues to change the landscape of meetings and events, presenting new opportunities to increase engagement, reach a broader audience and deliver value for attendees and meeting owners alike,” the report said. “Meeting planners and meeting owners bear the burden of incorporating these technologies into meetings and events in a way that drives value for meeting attendees. Understanding the expectations of your meeting attendees as it relates to technology is an important step in the meeting planning process.”

How do you use technology for your meetings and events? Share with us here.

21
Oct
14

Know Your Members Through Better Surveys: A How-To Guide

This month’s guest blog post is by Kent Agramonte, a marketing supervisor at Naylor. He has four years’ experience helping associations with member surveys and data. It was originally posted at AssociationAdviser.

Are you interested in submitting a guest post? Contact Kristen Parker at kristen@eventgarde.com.

Kent Agramonte, marketing supervisor at Naylor LLC.

Kent Agramonte, marketing supervisor at Naylor LLC.

When we discuss knowing who our members are, we sometimes speak in nebulous terms, such as “We need to find out what’s best for our members” or “How can we better serve our members?” We tend to put the how or what before the who.

Recently, I was talking to an association about some of the challenges it faced and the subject of who its members were was brought up. I was surprised that this particular association didn’t know exactly who its members were. Associations tend to put members into categorical groups as broad as “regular members,” which can lead to a lack of understanding of its members. To figure out what our members truly need from us, the first step is to find out who they are. But often, this key element of association management is overlooked.

Associations tend to commission studies of their industries as a whole. While that is a great way to gauge the overall health of the industries they represent, it may not gauge the health of your individual members’ businesses. An association-specific survey will help you directly gauge the health of your membership and future needs you must address.

Getting started

So where do we start? The first step in a successful membership survey is to establish its goal. If you are trying to figure out your members’ overall business health, it is important to look at three key factors:

  1. Demographics. Questions that ask about member titles, where they fall in the chain of command and whether they are the ultimate decision-makers for their organizations can help you find out how influential your members are and the influence your association has within your industry.
  2. Economic factors. How much do your members spend on products and services each year? Do they expect their business to expand or shrink in the next 12 months? What is their organization’s revenue? These questions can help you find out the economic health of your members and will act as a benchmark for growth in future surveys.
  3. Member needs. Ask your members questions about what they need or want from your association. For instance:
    • What issues are you and your company most concerned about?
    • Is our association doing enough to focus on legislative issues that affect your business?
    • What can we do to bring additional value to you, our member?

By asking these questions, we can begin to paint a picture of what your members are going through and the state of their businesses. This information is also key to generating non-dues revenue because it is vital information for any advertiser, sponsor or strategic partner that wants to reach your members.

surveySurvey build and deployment

The second step in any successful survey is building and sending the survey. There are several free and low-cost survey tools that can help you generate basic surveys online. For example, SurveyMonkey offers a free, easy-to-use, basic version of its survey tool. Survey Gizmo is a low-cost alternative and offers a free trial. For more advanced metrics, try Qualtrics.

Once you enter your questions into the survey tool, test the survey on yourself and make sure all question logic flows the way you intended.

When you are 100 percent confident that your survey is ready to be sent out, you may want to test it on a small sample of potential respondents before sending to your full distribution list. That’s called a pilot. It’s a good way to tighten up the wording or answer choices that may end up confusing respondents.

Most online survey tools will allow you to include a link to the survey in your member outreach efforts. Our suggestion is to email this link to potential respondents or include it in an e-newsletter to your members. If you do not have a way to mass email your members, MailChimp is a commercially available tool that is free to anyone with fewer than 2,000 subscribers.

Once sent, keep your survey open for at least two weeks (but not forever) and send an update email at the beginning of the second week to remind members to take the survey if they have not already done so. If you are worried about not getting enough responses to your survey, you should offer some type of incentive to take the survey. Gift cards go a long way to helping you get responses.

recruitmentanalyticsFrom data collection to analysis

After two or three weeks, it is typically time to start looking at the results. Remember that you only need about a 10 percent response rate to make your survey statistically viable. For example, if you send your survey to 1,000 members (this is your sample size) and 100 members take the survey, than you can statistically project the results to your entire membership.

So, if 75 percent of respondents in a statistically generalizable sample are CEOs, then it would be safe to say that 75 percent of your members are CEOs. If you don’t meet the 10 percent threshold, then your results are still viable as “non-scientific” insight into your membership base. No, you cannot generalize to your entire association, but the small result pool will give you the overall pulse of members.

Once you have taken a look at the results, make sure to turn them into ratios if possible. For example, if 63 percent of your members say they are concerned about tax legislation, then it is better to say nearly two out of three members are concerned about tax legislation. Expressing numbers as ratios gives a human face to your members and allows people to better visualize results. Most people can picture two out of three people in their head, but a concept like 63 percent is harder to imagine.

Results like the ones in your survey are interesting to you, your members, potential non-dues revenue generating advertisers and the industry as a whole. So it is a good idea to share them with as many people as you can. An easy way to accomplish this is to create an infographic with short bullets that details the findings of your survey. This infographic shouldn’t be much longer than a page and should be emailed to members, industry stakeholders and included in your official communications pieces as much as possible.

Surveys generally only retain their validity for about two years. So plan to send out member surveys every other year to make sure you will always have the most up-to-date information about your members.

Conclusion

Good research, with good information, adds value to your association, your association’s communications and your members. When members see that you are making a concerted effort to understand more about them and their concerns, the more benefit they see in being a member of your association. Learning about your members helps you learn more about your association’s goals and the direction in which your association should be heading while helping you recruit potential members and associate members. The brain always knows what the body is doing, but when it comes to association management, sometimes the brain needs a road map.

14
Oct
14

Wi-Fi woes for Marriott

wifi-cellularLast year, I attended a conference at a venue that shall remain nameless. During the two-day event, similar to most professional events, live tweeting was encouraged.

So imagine my frustration when I couldn’t connect to Wi-Fi. Worse yet, imagine the frustration when no one in the room could connect. No one, that is, except for the person at the back of the room using his mobile hotspot.

After several minutes, a panicked IT crew finally resolved the issue and we were filling the Twittersphere with hashtags, comments and replies.

Crisis averted, but what if that hotel had blocked our access? What if my fellow conference attendee hadn’t been able to use his hotspot?

Connectivity is perhaps the most important amenity at conferences. Whether it’s using technology during a session or whether it’s working remotely, professionals expect speedy, affordable Internet connection.

So that’s why an angry conference participant filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission against Marriott in March 2013.

On Oct. 3, FCC released a statement announcing Marriott – which owns Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Conference Center, in Nashville – will pay $600,000 to resolve the FCC investigation. The FCC found that employees of the Opryland Hotel intentionally blocked access to guests’ personal Wi-Fi Internet connections. Yet, Opryland charged customers, exhibitors and others up to $1,000 to use Marriott’s Internet.

multiplemobile“Consumers who purchase cellular data plans should be able to use them without fear that their personal Internet connection will be blocked by their hotel or conference center,” said Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc. “It is unacceptable for any hotel to intentionally disable personal hotspots while also charging consumers and small businesses high fees to use the hotel’s own Wi-Fi network. This practice puts consumers in the untenable position of either paying twice for the same service or forgoing Internet access altogether.”

The complainant alleged that Marriott employees intentionally “blocked” hotspots by manipulating technology, and as a result, forced conference goers to connect to Marriott’s spotty Internet.

Under the terms of the consent decree the FCC announced, Marriott must stop the use of Wi-Fi blocking technology and take significant steps to improve how it monitors and uses its Wi-Fi technology at the Gaylord Opryland. And Marriott must file compliance and usage reports with the FCC every three months for three years.

As you can imagine, Internet consultants are having a field day with this story. Not to mention ethicists. Marriott claims it was trying to protect customers from “rogue hotspots,” but that argument doesn’t seem to hold water with the general public.

Some travel analysts predict that soon the issue might be moot, as customers grow more insistent on 24-7 access. In fact, they say, in the near future, Internet access may very well be free for all hotel guests.

But for now, industry professionals agree that Marriott was in the wrong.

“Of course, convention venues have every right to charge reasonable rates to support exhibitor access to the hotel’s broadband network and to secure that network against hackers, but when it comes to jamming, we’d draw the line where the FCC drew it,” Travel Weekly argued in a recent editorial about the investigation.

While this may not be common practice at hotels, I’ll be anxious to watch this unfold. How will other venues react to the investigation? Will we start to see “customers’ bill of rights” pop up?

A little public relations tip for hotels and conference centers: You’d be wise to jump on the bandwagon. If you’ve got an opinion on the ruling, make it known. Write an op-ed. Advertise your Wi-Fi policy.

Stay tuned for more on this, as I’ll be writing follow up posts. I’d like to hear from hotel professionals and/or lawyers. Did Marriott violate customers’ rights?

In the meantime, tell us. Do you review a venue’s Wi-Fi protocols before booking?




meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, hot yoga, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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