Author Archive for Kristen Parker

24
Mar
15

Time for a MOOC-like makeover

moocMassive Open Online Courses. The public seems to embrace them, while higher education remains skeptical of their educational value.

But either way, MOOCs probably aren’t going anywhere, so it’s wise to take some tips from their success.

So what’s a MOOC? Essentially, it’s a teaching format that’s open and accessible to learners around the globe, provided they have Internet access. A MOOC is a social, networked learning experience that blends a subject matter expert (instructor), technology and convenience. In other words: a hybrid-learning format that appeals to today’s 24-7 learners.

In the background, a successful learning management system is key to operating a successful MOOC. Many associations already employ a LMS, and since they retain experts in niche and trendy areas, they’re prime to offer their members a MOOC-like learning opportunity.

That’s according to Web Courseworks, a learning technologies and consulting company. It recently released a whitepaper with 10 tips for instructional designers and LMS administrators, inspired by the success of MOOCs.

There are MOOC-like things associations can do to entice learners. Since associations are nimble and can respond quickly to industry trends (much more quickly than higher education institutions can), associations are prime MOOC providers, the whitepaper says.

Associations need three things: people (SMEs, instructional designers, LMS administrators), processes (course development, marketing) and technology (video, left-navigation layout).

“Professional and industry associations … don’t have obligations to a tenured faculty, so they can recruit faculty based on what content is in high demand; and their members are applying new knowledge and techniques in the field, giving them the ability to provide valuable job-related training,” the authors wrote. “Learners should be turning to your association to fill gaps in academic training and address evolving standards and techniques within a community of practice. Use the promotional power of a MOOC to ‘claim’ a hot topic and gain recognition as the go-to source for related educational material. A timely MOOC is a great way to connect educational and marketing goals.”

Word of caution: A MOOC isn’t a webinar and it’s not a regurgitation of a PowerPoint presentation.

Yes, put your SME on screen, but involve your instructional designer. Rather than overloading learners’ brains with a massive amount of information, Web Courseworks suggests chunking up information – in short segments – based on learning objectives.

mooc.org_And it’s important to check in with your learners to make sure they “get” it. The whitepaper suggests offering two- to five-minute video segments, with a check-in wedged between segments. Simple multiple-choice questions, or weekly quizzes with unlimited attempts and feedback, work well. Of course, this means LMS administrators need to ensure systems are capable of importing and exporting questions and managing social learning elements.

Perhaps the biggest draw of a MOOC is its social learning function. It’s impossible for an instructor to answer all questions, so students rely on each other for assistance. Discussion forums, in which peer feedback can occur, are musts for MOOCs, the whitepaper says.

Of course, all of this is moot if learners aren’t motivated. So, try offering digital badges and certificates (shareable on social media) for credit completion or educational advances.

Oh. And MOOCs are generally free, or at least low cost.

“Think of a MOOC as an entry point for members into your educational offerings,” Websource says. “It can be the ‘loss leader’ that grabs the attention of learners and promotes premium items in a course catalog. Advertise related course offerings within a MOOC, or use it to satisfy prerequisites for a larger certification program. Transform ‘free’ into ‘freemium’ by offering a MOOC as a small piece of a larger professional development and certification puzzle.”

What do you think? Does your association offer a MOOC? Or, do you offer webinars that could be transformed into MOOC-like offerings? Share your advice here.

In the meantime, check out a previous blog post on MOOCs.

17
Mar
15

Your next event needs its own War Room

This month’s guest blog post is by Jordan McArthur, content marketing manager and event tech specialist at Guidebook Inc., which specializes in providing app technology for events. It was originally posted on the Guidebook Resources blog.

Jordan McArthur

Jordan McArthur, content marketing manager and event tech specialist at Guidebook Inc.

As we discuss ways to make events extremely personal and give our attendees true experiences that exceed their expectations, it’s hard not to wonder, “What do the actual logistics of something like that that look like?”

That’s where the concept of The War Room comes into play. That’s right – we’re talking about a central command center where all hell can break loose if it needs to. Just like in the movies.

A war room might be metaphorical at your next event – the name of your emergency game plan, for instance – but we’re suggesting you strongly consider an actual room. Choose somewhere out of the way – a utility closet, a hotel room, a conference room in the next building over – where a team of first-responders can work without the distractions of the event floor.

You’ll also want to make sure you’ve limited access to (and knowledge of) the room itself. This is not the place for the CEO – that will only cause major distractions and may entirely derail the whole operation.

Let’s be clear what we’re creating here. A war room exists at your event for the benefit of your participants. It is solely focused on making sure that the product you’re providing them is seamless, meaningful and tailored to their specific needs. A war room is a nerve center that can immediately and efficiently address the needs of your attendees and/or exhibitors, and it has grown out of an ever-growing expectation that events and meetings will be engaging, dynamic experiences.

Let’s take a look at the type of war room you might want to set up at your next event.

The Social Media Command Center

Your event will be social whether you plan for it or not. The fact of the matter is that people talk about their experiences on social media – all of their experiences.

Establishing a Social Media Command Center means that you’ve embraced social and taken a proactive role in guiding the conversation, rather than falling victim to it.

Talk to your participants

Conversation tracking can be done as simply as establishing an event hashtag to as robustly as using detailed visualization software (such as Buzz Radar). The key, however, is staffing people who are primed to respond no matter the circumstances.

Negative social conversation can alert you to a small problem before it becomes a big problem. For example, your attendees are likely to be the ones to tell you first if it’s too cold in the keynote. People may be discussing confusing traffic patterns or a lack of trash cans – all things that can easily be remedied.

But just as important as tracking the negative is responding to the positive. Liking, commenting on, favoriting and retweeting sentiments from your attendees will create a positive feedback loop and encourage more and more of your attendees to join in on the love fest – and that’s good for you, your brand and your ROI.

PrintCustomize your content

Now here’s where you can really take things to the next level. What if the social conversation started shaping the content of your event? With your Social Media Command Center in place, you have the ability to start dynamically integrating your attendees’ real time conversations into the event itself.

Knowing what’s being said means that a mainstage presentation can suddenly become interactive with immediate audience feedback – or that you could actually start shaping content on the fly based on what people want to hear about. Let your attendees vote on a session’s topic, or really live on the edge and leave a blank spot in your speaker schedule to develop a day-of session based on hot topics at the event. At the very least, curate the best of your social shares on a large screen in plain view so that people are inspired to join in.

The Crisis Management Center

There are going to be mistakes and mess-ups. Let’s all just admit that now and move on with figuring out the best way to handle them.

A Crisis Management Center is the most covert of all the war rooms. Its existence is known to few, and some of your most trusted people are there to make sure that anything that goes wrong is immediately taken care of in a way that draws little to no attention.

A Crisis Management Center will need a direct line of communication with the show floor. (May we suggest the app Voxer?) Once they’ve been linked in to monitoring the most important aspects of the event – time, flow, social, etc. – they should have the authority to make judgment calls as incidents arise.

One of the most powerful responsibilities of the Crisis Management Center will be the ability to actually change the program of your event. It may be as simple as a session time change, but it could be as complex as scheduling a completely new session and alerting attendees of its existence.

For this reason, it’s imperative that the Crisis Management Center has access to updating your event app. By doing so, attendees will always have the most up-to-date information and the team can send push messages as necessary to alert folks of the changes.

The Concierge Center

War rooms aren’t just for immediate reactions and handling problems – they’re also great for making the experience of your event excellent for everyone involved. A proactive mindset can go a long way toward making sure your participants are receiving the personal, experiential treatment.

Happiness on-demand

One possibility for a Concierge Center would be to create an on-demand service for your exhibitors using your event app. It’s inevitable that someone’s going to forget his or her charger or need a roll of duct tape. Allow yourself to save the day by being the provider of such things. Create a feedback form within your app where exhibitors can request commonly misplaced or forgotten items.

You could even take a cue from Uber and deliver fun items for a much-needed mid-show reprieve. Uber made headlines with its insanely popular kitten delivery and on-demand ice cream. Just imagine the wave of positive feelings that instant chocolate delivery would induce in your exhibitors, all at a relatively low cost to you.

banner_customer_serviceContests with purpose

Contests are a great way to get people engaging as well. You might try gamifying your event app in order to get people to follow a particular pattern around your show floor. Another option is to gather prizes beforehand that you know you will give away during the event. Then use your Concierge Center to identify certain objectives you would like people to complete and offer prizes for doing so. Use this to bring foot traffic to a dead area or engage with a sponsor that’s not getting enough love. It’s all about flexibility.

Unparalleled experience

The bottom line is that personalized events take resources. It’s going to cost you a little time, money and manpower to pull off any sort of hyper-personal experience. The payoffs in participant happiness and ROI, however, will be well beyond the upfront costs. Consider the war room structure at your next event and you’ll be looking at unprecedented satisfaction.

09
Mar
15

The public is listening and associations are spending

bigstock-Public-Relations-Concept-in-th-17050577As a public relations professional, imagine my excitement when I stumbled across a new report that found associations are spending an unprecedented amount of money to sway public opinion.

No, I’m not excited that associations are shelling out big bucks, but it’s validation.

It’s true that we’re spin doctors, but we’re there when you need us. It’s our job to help you sort through the clutter of public confusion, misinformation and media madness.

Last month, the Center for Public Integrity released a report on the PR spending of Washington, D.C.-based trade associations.

“It’s been well-publicized how much industry spends on lobbying the government, but little is known about how much money goes toward influencing the public,” the center says. “In an effort to find out more, Center for Public Integrity reporters examined the tax returns for trade associations that spent more than $1 million on lobbying in 2012. The IRS requires the groups to report their top five contractors.”

The report found that from 2008 to 2012, 144 trade groups spent $1.2 billion – 37 percent of the total amount spent on contracts – on PR and marketing. By industry sector, energy and natural resources associations were the big spenders. Business associations came in second, spending more than $200 million on public relations, marketing and ad services. And, perhaps of special interest to our readers: The food and beverage association ranked No. 4 in PR spending.

At one time, associations earmarked thousands of dollars for lobbyists. But that’s slowly shrinking, thanks to the advent of social media, blogs and citizen journalism. Whereas lobbying engages policy makers, public relations engages a public platform devoid of class, gender, race and socioeconomic divisions.

So why the shift to public relations?

“They certainly want to influence the general public because the general public will then influence the politicians, the lawmakers or the regulators in that particular industry,” said Steve Barrett, editor-in-chief of trade magazine PR Week.

154067314-about-us1And it seems Edelman is thriving. The nation’s largest public relations firm, which employs 5,000 people, netted the most revenue. According to the report, associations paid Edelman nearly $350 million, with the American Petroleum Institute carrying most of the load.

It’s important to note that the report measured only the most politically active associations in Washington, D.C., so some key players could have been left out of the analysis.

However, “the contractor information provides an inside look at the way trade associations use PR and advertising to ply the American mind,” the Center for Public Integrity says. “Trade groups determined to fight regulations and boost profits of their members have spent heavily to influence how the public perceives policies that affect everything from the air we breathe to the beverages we drink.”

A word of caution: Transparency is important. If you budget for public relations efforts, make sure your members know where your association stands.

So, all this said….what do we do?

prtopnewsimageEssentially, PR pros are message makers. In a sticky situation, it’s our job to help clients maintain their integrity. But we’re also storytellers. Earned media (or non-paid media coverage) is key to reputation building, especially in a market in which PR pros outnumber journalists.

Is your association setting a trend? Does your association have an awesome success story to share, i.e. outreach or community service? Do you have a member organization that’s doing something incredible? That’s where PR can help. For starters, check out Public Relations Society of America, which includes a directory of PR firms and service providers.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Feel free to reach out to me at Kristen@eventgarde.com.

01
Mar
15

Bonus content: Event Garde e-news – March edition

Q & A with Peggy Hoffman, President, Mariner Management and Marketing

 A tribute to the Academy Awards!

Peggy Hoffman

Peggy Hoffman, president of Mariner Management and Marketing, LLC

Q: If you had to walk the Red Carpet, what would your dress look like?
A: I’m a classic type and my best features are my legs and arms. So my selection would be either a classically sexy black dress, either short or long, with two side slits. Add an interesting off-the-shoulder sweetheart neckline to show off an incredible onyx, ruby and diamond necklace.

Q: The award for the “Best ____ ” goes to Peggy Hoffman.
A: Wow, this one is tough because I’m not generally going for one best thing but a best package. I’d like to shine as a friend, listener, supporter. The best compliment I ever got was my son saying to another,  “My mom is strong.”

Q: In your thank you speech, whom would you thank, and why?
A: The list is long – really – because I’ve gained so much from so many different people, largely because people see me in so many different lights. The list would start with two people: my husband, Peter, and my Mom, Louise. It would definitely include my three sons and two dance mentors, two athletic mentors, two awesome friends and two sisters. (Wow! Sounds like I’m filling an ark!)

Q: Now, let’s pretend you were at the awards show in Hollywood. Which actor or actress would you most like to meet that night?
A: There isn’t one who comes immediately to mind and that’s largely because I have this nagging doubt that none would live up to my opinion of them as an artist. But, I’d like to think that Carol Burnett might come close – so let’s say Carol.

Q: Favorite movie (regardless of whether it won on Oscar), and why?
A: So I’m approaching this question based on whether I can watch it over and over again … you know, when you’re on the treadmill and it’s the movie playing on AMC or the free movie channel. The answer then is a tie between “Italian Job” (a 2003 heist film directed by Gary Gray and starring Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham and Edward Norton) and “True Lies” (1994 action film directed by James Cameron starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis). For the record, neither are Oscar-worthy, but hey, they make being on the treadmill a delight!

24
Feb
15

Feel the love

word-of-mouthA few months ago, I was looking for a kid-friendly, clean, affordable place at which my family and I could eat during a weekend getaway.

So the first thing I did? Turned to Yelp for customer reviews. I didn’t want marketing speak, but instead the pros and cons of dining experiences.

I did the same thing a few weeks later while looking for a hotel.

The point is: Word-of-mouth is a powerful marketing tool. And it’s often overlooked.

But an e-book by WebLink spells it out for associations.

According to “3 Keys to More Referrals: Leverage Your Member Love,” engaging happy members can be a powerful member recruitment tool. Although research points to higher member conversation rates among those who’ve been referred, many associations are afraid to ask for a referral.

“When you are making your members happy with excellent customer service, it’s a perfect opportunity to ask if they know of anyone else who may have similar problems/needs that require excellent customer service,” the books says.

And although it seems logical that members want to refer others, the main reason they don’t is because no one asked, WebLink says. But when asking, make sure you offer a variety of options.

For example, some members may be comfortable submitting a testimonial, while others prefer to simply click on a rating (perhaps via your website). Or, if your association has a Facebook page, ask members to recommend you on Facebook. Simply provide them with a link to a web page, article or blog post, ask them to add a personal message and then share the link. And share their Facebook post on your page.

Of course, not all members will be willing to refer. To determine who is, conduct a survey, online or via telephone, the e-book suggests. Keep the survey short and collect contact information from those who take the survey.

question_mark_shutterstock_101783026The most essential question to ask: “On a scale of zero to 10, with 10 being extremely likely, how likely are you to recommend our association to a friend or colleague?”

Next, WebLink recommends calculating your results. Those who offer a nine or 10 in response to the above question are those who are considered “loyal referrers,” while those who reply with zero to six may actually detract members. So, focus on your loyal and happy members.

“Keeping your association’s referrals growing relies on your commitment to continually improve your relationships with your members,” WebLink writes. “A good referral program is easy to understand, lets the member know what kind of people to refer, is worth the member’s time and makes the referral process quick and easy to complete.”

But all this is moot without using touchpoints effectively, WebLink says. Touchpoints are all the ways in which you engage members, from telephone interactions to email newsletters to social media. Make a list, and then figure out the appropriate messaging based on the method of engagement.

For example, take advantage of your members’ recommendations by placing them on your website. Choose a location on your website that requires members to make a decision or take action. Example: Place a testimonial on the membership application page near the membership pricing to reinforce the idea that association membership is worth the expense.

So, the next time you’re dealing with a satisfied member, whether at a conference or over the telephone, ask for a recommendation. You’ve got nothing to lose, and you just may find that your goal of increasing membership is attainable.

10
Feb
15

Our screwed up thinking about creating conference experiences

This month’s guest blog post is by Jeff Hurt, executive vice president of education and engagement for Velvet Chainsaw Consulting. It was originally posted on Jan. 28.

Jeff Hurt

Jeff Hurt, executive vice president, education and engagement, for Velvet Chainsaw Consulting. Photo courtesy of Jeff Hurt.

As conference organizers, we need to learn about the power of experience.

Well, we already know about experiences. We have them all the time.

We’ve had experiences with our families and friends. We’ve had experiences with work. We’ve had school experiences. We’ve had experiences with institutions and organizations. We’ve had vacation experiences.

Unfortunately, we’ve made some very faulty assumptions from our own experiences. And we’ve even institutionalized some defective planning processes based on those experiences and what serves us best in our practice. Not what serves our paying attendees best.

For instance, we assume that if we secure experts to tell attendees what to believe, attendees will believe it.

Then we expect that attendees will adopt the experts’ beliefs as their own. Thus, those beliefs result in actions that lead to positive results. So attendees leave our conferences changed for the good.

All attendees have to do is register, pay, show up, sit quietly and listen. The rest occurs like a magical mental assembly line.

But that’s not how it works! At all! Ever! I mean infinity-ever!

The truth about experiences

Our experiences actually form our beliefs.

Our beliefs form our actions.

Our actions create results.

Our family experiences shape our beliefs about family. Our school experiences shape our beliefs about education. Our relationships form our experiences about friendship and love.

Our own past experiences shape how we plan and create conferences. We bring our beliefs from our experiences with other institutions into our conference planning process.

Our own beliefs of what a conference should look and feel like actually limit our ability to create authentic, engaging new experiences. And in doing so, we have created experiences that now frame how our attendees view conferences.

rear-view-mirrorLooking back to move forward

We need to explore why attendees, exhibitors, sponsors, volunteer leaders, conference planning teams and conference hosts feel the way they do about conferences.

We’ve got to understand how we got where we are today.

It’s only in looking back that we can move forward. Then we can point to where we need to change directions. Then we can create new archetypes for exemplary experiences.

At its core, conferences are about people. Regular conference attendees perceive other conference attendees through interactions at the conference. The power of experience reveals a lot.

Turning nostalgic down conference lane

Let’s take a nostalgic mental journey down conference lane.

Visualize yourself walking down a traditional city street lined with various buildings. Each structure houses a different institution.

What do you see? Which of these buildings might be the perfect metaphor to describe your conference?

  • The Theater
  • The Boarding School
  • The Rigorous Academic Ivy League University
  • The Library Of Yesteryear
  • The Police Department
  • The Mayor’s Office
  • The Funeral Home
  • The Quaint Archaic Museum
  • The Political Action Committee
  • The Courthouse
  • The Church Or Synagogue
  • The Sports Stadium
  • The Department Store
  • The Local Bar And Pool Hall
  • The Mall

What type of city building best describes your current conference experience? What type of metaphor would you like to describe your future conference experience?
Editor’s Note: We encourage you to visit the original blog post to leave your comments to Jeff’s post!

03
Feb
15

A night away? We sure did pay.

detail-of-young-businesswoman-opening-door-to-hotel-room-with-key-card-2The last time I booked a weeklong family vacation, I was shocked at the prices of hotel rooms. We weren’t looking for anything fancy, but those prices sure did crimp our style.

And we’re not the only family of five suffering from hotel sticker shock.

According to a new report by STR Inc., a hospitality research firm, hotel rates in 2014 were the highest they’ve ever been, with an average of $115 per night – that’s a 4.6 percent climb. And rates are expected to rise an additional 5.2 percent by the end of this year.

In addition, according to a LA Times story, this year hotels will tack on guest charges, such as early check-in fees.

According to the STR report, New York City boasted the highest room rates in 2014, where hotel guests paid an average of $263 a night. The next three top-dollar locations: Oahu Island in Hawaii ($221 a night), San Francisco ($207) and Miami ($185). And Nashville, Denver and Atlanta were the hotspots for revenue growth in 2014.

Not surprisingly, higher-than-history hotel rates translate into unprecedented revenue for hotels. On average, they netted about $74 per room.

But even though hotels are earning more profit, guests shouldn’t expect a break, said Bjorn Hanson, dean of New York University’s Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management.

On the contrary, hotels may very well implement new fees this year, such as a charge for requesting a specific type of room, he said.

All this said, consumers don’t seem to mind, which is good news for event planners.

Money in the form of many large billsDuring 2014, hotels sold more rooms than ever (1.1 billion), according to Hotel News Now. In fact, the occupancy rate in 2014 rose 3.6 percent to 64.4 percent. Atlanta and Denver experienced the highest jumps in occupancy rates, according to the report.

“The U.S. hotel industry experienced a great year and ended 2014 on a positive note,” said Amanda Hite, president and COO of STR Inc. “The year’s performance broke several records thanks to continued strong demand.”

So what does this mean for your organization as it plans events for 2015? It looks like your guests could be paying more. The STR report indicated group rates rose as well, and with higher occupancy rates, it could be harder to book affordable rooms for your event.

All the more reason for your organization to take another look at the ROI of its events. If people will be forced to pay more for their rooms, they’ll want more from their programming – and perhaps expect you to offset the increase with a less expensive event.

Oh. And it seems three event hotbeds – Miami, Denver and Atlanta – may crimp your style. Will this lead to more events in smaller, less desirable cities? Time will tell, so stay tuned.




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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