Archive for the 'Best Practices' Category

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?

07
Oct
14

Don’t let your speakers get schooled by a 4 year old

preschool_blocksMy oldest niece began preschool this fall in North Carolina. As you might expect of any proud uncle, I check-in with my sister frequently for updates on the latest developments in class. What have they discussed? Where have they gone? Is she making friends? Is she a confirmed genius yet? What’s her teacher like? Any funny stories I should know about (secretly hoping that there are)?

Apparently, she’s the golden child. The only trouble she’s committed since the start of the school year is actually attributable to her mother. You see, my sister’s a bit of a diva. She sends my niece to school in perfectly coordinating accessories. This sometimes includes sandals that don’t actually comply with the school’s closed-toed shoe policy, which has apparently been instituted to keep the clumsy children from hurting themselves during recess.

So, I know what you’re thinking: How big a problem could this really be? As a kid, I often remember getting only one opportunity to correct undesirable behavior – or else. My sister, on the other hand, thinks there are exceptions for cute shoes. Needless to say, there’s been more than one reminder sent home. Add to that my niece’s fondness for dresses and you can just imagine what getting ready in the morning must look like in that household.

But I digress. As a learning professional, I’m also curious about what my niece is learning. Lately, it’s all about the show and tell. And why wouldn’t it? Getting kids up in front of their classmates at a young age is a terrific way to build their confidence for future speeches and group presentations. And to ensure their success, simply ask them to talk about things they love – their family, their toys, their summer vacations and the like.

This isn’t so dissimilar from how I often begin learning labs and workshops of my own. Introducing simple attendee primers (e.g., What is your favorite fall tradition or pastime?) during sessions I facilitate encourages low-risk introductions among participants, breaks the ice and ultimately sets the tone for deeper, more meaningful conversation about the topic at hand.

Recently, my niece was asked to bring something in to her class for red show and tell day. Ultimately, she settled on a red stuffed animal named Clifford. You may be familiar with him. Leading up to the big day, my sister asked my niece what she was planning to say about Clifford. And, believe it or not, my niece had prepared a speech – one she had come up with all on her own and would repeat time and time again with little variation.

Of course, you can only imagine how disappointed I was to learn there was no video evidence of this very first class “speech.” My sister did, however, take a follow-on video of my niece giving a similar presentation about her stuffed animal, Foxy. While the quality of the video wasn’t share-worthy, I’d like to provide here a transcription of what she said.

What-Does-The-Fox-Say2Hello, ladies and gentlemen.
This is Foxy, my fox.
He likes to play with me and I like to snuggle.
Thank you ladies and gentlemen.
Bye!

At first blush, I bet you’re wondering where she came up with that ingenious opening and closing. I do, too. I promise I’ve not been coaching her. My friends think she’s itching to go on the road with me. But let’s dig beyond the cute rhetoric for the implications this speech has on our own association speakers.

  1. Do you know what your speakers are going to say before they say it? You wouldn’t put my niece, however smart, in front of your board of directors without a trial run. Why would you allow your speakers to “educate” your attendees without first understanding their qualifications and, more importantly, what they intend to say.
  2. Do you coach speakers beforehand to ensure accurate/engaging content? Whether this is one-on-one, in a small group setting or via webinar, industry speakers often don’t have training in professional development. They’re content experts. So gather and share your best PowerPoint slide recommendations and hands-on exercises for optimal outcomes.
  3. Do you take good care of your speakers to ensure they have an enjoyable experience before, during and after your program? Pre-program, clear and succinct communication is key. Let the who, what, where, when and why guide you. During the program, think creature comforts such as water at the podium and/or a nice room amenity.
  4. Do you provide your speakers with feedback in a meaningful and positive way? We often collect it. But when it comes to compiling it and summarizing it into something useful, we usually fall short. Take the time to organize session feedback and compare it to the overall conference evaluations. Share this information with your speakers and elaborate wherever possible with suggestions for future improvements.
  5. Do you encourage speakers to go off script to assess and meet the needs of your audience? Most anyone can get up in front of a group of people and deliver a scripted presentation. But it’s the more seasoned and experienced content leader who can dump the script to meet the learners where they are, even if this means a little improv.

I believe we’re at a crossroads. The content our associations offer must be topnotch if we intend to compete with the countless other continuing education providers that are fast on our heels. There are just too many learning and networking opportunities available today for ours to miss the mark and remain sustainable. Our speakers and their messages are simply too important to leave to chance.

It’s up to all of us – staff members, volunteer leaders and consultants – to institute best practices when it comes to the development of our education content. “We’re too busy” and “we’re just planners” are not valid excuses. We must utilize tried and true instructional design strategies, as well as lessons learned from both neuroscience and biology, to create experiences that promote knowledge acquisition, retrieval and, ultimately, learning.

What are you committed to doing differently this month?

30
Sep
14

Bonus content: Event Garde e-news – October edition

Jeannette Slawski

Jeannette Stawski, CAE, executive director, AORE

Q & A with Jeannette Stawski, CAE, executive director of Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education

Q: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
A: Je parle Francais. Well, I used to know how! I really enjoyed studying and speaking French, and I would love to live in a French-speaking country in the future with my family.

Q: When you’re not working, what are you most likely doing?
A: I would be spending time with my kids, Gretel, 9, and Thor, 6, and my husband, Justin. Right now, life is full of elementary school events and after-school sports and activities. Personally, I spend my time training or doing open water swims in the summer, and attempting to learn how to skate ski in the winter.

Q: What book best describes your life, and why?
A: I don’t know if I’ve read a book that describes my life, but the book “The Power of One” by Bryce Courtenay is a favorite. I was fascinated by the story of a little boy with all odds against him finding his voice and moving a vision forward. It is set in Africa and I have always wanted to travel there. Another book I find especially moving is Gretel Ehlich’s “The Solace of Open Spaces.” I love this book for the rugged individualism of a woman in the west on a ranch and the piercing beauty of the prose she captures in the landscapes and lives she comes across.

Q: If you could be anyone in the world but you, who would you be, and why?
A: I’m pretty excited about being me, actually. But if I could be anyone else, I would say an improved version of myself that I’m working toward becoming. This future Jeannette is someone who has confidence, is less insecure, lets the little things go, has balance in work and life and sees the big and little things that I’m accomplishing along the way. I’m a tough critic on myself and I think that is a strong (positive) trait, but I could also use a bit more perspective in times where I feel I’ve missed the mark.

Q: What’s one thing you hope to accomplish this year?
A: My goal this year was to swim across the Chesapeake Bay, which I did in June. It was a 4.4 mile open water swim. So that means I have other goals to accomplish before the end of the year. I hope to get out Christmas cards this year; I let those go off the radar in 2013. One more goal would be to create a photo book of last year’s family trip to Glacier National Park.

30
Sep
14

Tips for improving trade show participation in 2015

Mariama Holman

Mariama Holman, content marketing specialist for MultiView.

This month’s guest blog post is by Mariama Holman, content marketing specialist for MultiView, a digital marketing company for associations.

It’s never too early (or too late) to start fine-tuning your organization’s participation in a trade show. The time is now; the fourth quarter of 2014 is filled with a myriad of seasonal events. Additionally, there are plenty of major events on the horizon for early next year, such as the Springtime Expo hosted by ASAE. This event hails as the most significant one-day show for association meeting professionals, attracting leaders from across the nation.

Headed to a trade show soon? Heed these helpful hints:

Develop a strategy

The association should be like a tactician competing on the battlefield – vying for new members and the continuing loyalty of old ones.

Lee Ali, managing director and founder of Expo Stars Interactive Ltd., states that 65 percent of exhibitors do not have a clear strategy or plan of action for trade show participation. Given these events are often costly, it is important to put time into thinking through trade show involvement and determining a worthwhile ROI.

Set and track goals

What are the goals for participation? How did the association perform?

Answers to these questions are necessary for assessing performance and creating a strategy to improve. Unfortunately, 97.5 percent of exhibitors do not keep track of any quantifiable results from their events. It is a best practice to always outline what “success looks like” for trade show participation and keep track of performance.

Train for success

Olympic sprinters train to win medals. Artists rehearse to perform concerts. Entrepreneurs practice their pitches to gain funding. Why shouldn’t associations train for success as well?

According to Ali, 74 percent of exhibitors do not train their staff for trade shows and events. There is a certain set of skills unique to trade shows. These skills are a hybrid of marketing and sales – knowing how to not only “sell” visitors once they enter a booth, but appropriately attract them in the first place. It is important to prepare staff by teaching best practices, running through set-up/tear down time frames and developing a familiarity with the hustle and bustle of a trade show.

Optimize

People, events and organizations are not perfect and never will be. However, organizations can always strive to improve – getting better, faster and smarter year after year.

An association is bound to make some mistakes at a trade show, whether it is falling behind schedule or not securing the amount of X, Y or Z it hoped. Utilize these moments as opportunities to learn and improve your organization’s involvement in the future.

23
Sep
14

The benefits of educating about benefits

surveyAs a follow up to my Aug. 19 post about associations offering voluntary benefits to their members, I thought it would be wise think about benefits for association employees.

I’ll mention it again: With extensive media coverage of the Affordable Care Act, benefits are on everyone’s mind. In fact, just the other day while I was grocery shopping, two women were discussing their benefits while they compared the price of cheese.

It’s true that larger organizations can generally provide better – and more comprehensive – health care benefits. But according to a rather surprising Unum survey conducted recently, most employees don’t know or understand the benefits they have.

And employers are at fault, the study found. Surveying 1,521 working adults, it revealed that employee satisfaction with their workplaces and benefits is at its lowest since 2008.

Conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Unum, an insurance provider, only 49 percent of workers indicated their places of employment are good places to work, while only 47 percent ranked their benefits as good.

But here’s the kicker: The research also showed that employees don’t feel they’re getting adequate information about their benefits. In the survey, only 33 percent of employees rated the benefits education they received as excellent or very good – a drop from 2012 and a reversal to the upward trend in ratings since 2009.

So why does this matter? Associations generally operate with small staffs, so it’s important that your employees are happy, and the survey found a correlation between good benefits education and employee happiness. In other words, an informed employee is a productive employee.

In addition, according to the survey, 79 percent of workers who reviewed benefits in the past year and rated their education as excellent or very good also rate their employer as excellent or very good – compared to only 30 percent of those who said the education they received was fair or poor.

“This research underscores the value of an effective benefits education plan because when an employee understands their benefits, they tend to value them more and in turn may then value their employers more for providing access to them,” said Bill Dalicandro, vice president of the consumer solutions group at Unum.

educationBottom line: Employers need to do a better job educating their staffs about benefits. But how?

It doesn’t matter how large or small your organization is, chances are, a dedicated staff person handles human resources. That person should be responsible for providing such an education.

How? Rapid Learning Institute shared some tips in a recent blog post. It suggests offering materials for various learning types: printed materials and videos for visual learners; podcasts and audio conferences for auditory learners; and interactive online tools or worksheets for tactile learners.

The most common way to educate continues to be printed materials, the institute said, but emails, social media and internal messaging systems also work well.

Or consider hosting educational benefit sessions throughout the year. Have a little-known perk? A tax tip? Communicate with your employees on a regular basis.

09
Sep
14

Hack attacks: Headed your way?

bigstock-Hacker-Typing-On-A-Laptop-44548564Home Depot. Apple Inc. (celebrity nude photos). Target (last Christmas). JP Morgan Chase.

The list goes on and on. It seems every day we hear about another cyber security attack.

While the attacks have targeted big businesses and corporations, associations, small businesses and nonprofits aren’t immune to security breaches, association experts have said.

So what if someone hacked into your system and stole your members’ credit card numbers?

In a June 1 Associations Now story, industry professionals linked data breach mistakes to employee error. For example, employees are lax with confidential information, and should change passwords every three months. But most don’t.

Malware attacks and phishing attempts are two of the biggest culprits, according to an Inc. Magazine story.

It’s scary just how quickly your business’ weak spots can become portals to your most protected information. But there’s help.

In October, the Department of Homeland Security will sponsor “National Cyber Security Awareness Month,” offering educational workshops, events and resources to combat cyber attacks. It may be wise to have your IT department check it out.

In the meantime, below are some other resources to explore:

  • In April, Zurich released a report on cyber security, which lists recommendations for organizations of all sizes. One of the recommendations: Organizations should employ the same cyber strategies as government agencies. Education is a must. And so is awareness. “Unfortunately, cybersecurity professionals often assume that the risk posed to the system as a whole is merely the sum of all the point risks,” the authors wrote. “They analyze cyber vulnerabilities looking at one technology, one organization or one nation at a time, paying little attention to how risk might emerge from the interaction of those organizations or technologies. Just as sound, internally-focused risk management failed to protect companies from the collapse of the financial system, strong internal computer security controls won’t shield even the best-protected companies from a ‘cyber sub-prime’ failure.”

Perhaps one day there will be a professional association dedicated to cyber security professionals. A new report by Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina University advocates for such an organization, arguing a lack of skills and information is undermining efforts to improve cyber security.

Has your association fallen victim to hacking? If so, I’d like to hear about it – and how you resolved the situation. Email me at Kristen@eventgarde.com.

Until then, stay safe. Be smart.

02
Sep
14

Association Hunger Games: Victory or Defeat?

I had the pleasure of presenting this year at the ASAE Annual Meeting and Exposition in Nashville. And, believe it or not, I didn’t talk about meetings or learning. Instead, the session was developed as a result of a conversation I overheard at last year’s conference describing the challenges associations often have implementing strategy they’ve either developed internally or in conjunction with a consultant.

The Case for Execution

According to a 2005 Harvard Business Review article, “Companies typically realize only about 60% of their strategy’s potential value because of defects and breakdowns in planning and execution.”

Here you can easily replace the word “companies” with any functional area or department within your organization. As a supplier, you might also think in terms of “sales” or “services.”

Slide05This execution gap suggests that what we plan to do doesn’t quite align with what actually gets done. The resulting gap represents lost opportunities and revenue. Imagine our potential if we improved our execution by just 50%.

So, what’s at risk with poor execution? Following are just a few ideas:

  • Operational: production and finances
  • Organizational: efficiency, culture and reputation
  • Personal: credibility, supporters and job

Still don’t believe me?

“82% of Fortune 500 CEOs feel their organization did an effective job of strategic planning. Only 14% of the same CEOs indicated their organization did an effective job of implementing the strategy.” This is according to Forbes Magazine in 2011.

Take a moment to visualize what strategic planning looks like within your own department or organization. Is it board-driven? Committee-driven? Staff-driven? Consultant-driven? Whatever approach that’s taken to bridge insight and action, it’s important to have a framework in place to address potential pitfalls.

In fact, a 2013 HBR blog post suggests, “Execution is a minefield… Agendas compete. Priorities clash. Decisions stall. Communication breaks down. Timelines get blown. It’s never a question of if these problems will happen; it’s a question of when and to what degree.”

Framework for Execution

During this session I presented a simplistic, non-linear framework for implementation planning and execution. You may already have your own – and I hope that you do. Whatever tool you use, this was an opportunity to think more deeply about it – and to possibly identify areas where it could be improved. This framework first presumes, however, that a thoughtful strategic plan is already in place.

Scan

During the scanning phase:

  • Assess strategy/plan based upon recent performance
  • Conduct a SWOT analysis
  • Assess competitive strengths and identify weaknesses
  • Determine the issues that need to be addressed based upon findings

In many ways, scanning is the key to excellent execution. After all, it’s difficult to correct implementation issues if we haven’t identified them.

Slide11Even conducting a simple SWOT analysis when freshening up your conference plan can really improve implementation.

  • Strengths: Positive attributes internal to your organization
    • What do you do well?
    • What internal resources do you have?
  • Weaknesses: Aspects of your organization that detract from the value you offer or that present a competitive disadvantage
    • What areas need improvement?
    • What do you lack?
  • Opportunities: External factors or reasons your organization is likely to prosper
    • What opportunities exist in your market you can benefit from?
  • Threats: External factors beyond your control placing your strategy and organization at risk
    • What contingency plans could you develop to minimize threats?

Porter’s Competitive Forces

This is a simple but powerful tool for understanding where power lies in a business scenario. It helps you understand both the strength of your current competitive position, and the strength of a position you’re considering moving into.

  • Rivalry among competitors: Evaluate the number and capability of your competitors. If you have many competitors with products and services of equal quality, you have little power; suppliers and buyers will go elsewhere if they are unhappy. If what you’re selling is unique, you have tremendous strength.
  • Threat of substitutions: If substitution is easy, viable and inexpensive, your power is weakened.
  • Potential new entrants: People may enter your market and weaken your position if it costs little in time or money or if few economies of scale are already in place. Assess barriers to entry.
  • Power of suppliers: How easy it is for suppliers to drive up prices?
  • Power of buyers: How easy is it for buyers to drive prices down?

Bu2HB7SCUAAki1TPlan

In the planning phase it’s important to be inquisitive and to ask lots of questions. In her Association Hunger Games Tribute profile for Now Daily Donna Oser, CAE said, “Katniss Everdeen’s skill at archery can’t hold a candle to the ability to ask good questions.”

Equally important, then, is the tool you use to collect and maintain the responses to these questions. It could be a simple Excel spreadsheet or something more sophisticated like Basecamp, a popular project management platform. Either way, the tool you use to communicate actions and outcomes is just as important as the plan itself.

Implement

When it comes to implementation, there are a few key points to remember:

 

  • Ensure leadership knows the plan.
  • Schedule key checkpoints.
  • Invite input from colleagues.
  • Be on the look out for barriers.
  • Help colleagues prioritize.
  • Monitor the plan… obsessively.

Communicate

The framework continues with successful communication. When communicating, be sure to:

  • Articulate specific actions needed and desired outcomes.
  • Check in frequently/regularly for questions and progress.
  • Ask questions about process, workflow and unexpected issues.
  • Share progress, challenges and successes along the way.

Evaluate

Finally, don’t forget to evaluate:

  • Progress towards goals/metrics
  • Performance against the plan
  • Feedback from colleagues
  • Feedback from stakeholders
  • The ‘Done wells’, the ‘Do betters’ and even the ‘Don’t dos’ for next time

Common Pitfalls

When Katniss and Peeta entered the Hunger Games arena, they faced mutant animals, starvation, acid fog and fire. In the Association Hunger Games, the roadblocks are different but equally toxic. They include:

  • Lack of detailed planning
  • Expectations not clearly stated
  • Poor communication/coordination
  • Lack of accountability
  • Poor prioritization

During the session we walked through two case studies. After reading these scenarios and applying the framework, consider your own workplace: What changes can you make to how you execute? What other things will you consider or look into? What other ideas has this generated for you?

In narrowing your own organization’s implementation gap, may the odds be ever in your favor!

Scan




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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