Archive for the 'Best Practices' Category

09
Dec
14

So long, chicken

Mason-Jar-Cocktails_heroJust as we all start trying to lose those holiday pounds, it looks like 2015 is going to be a fun year for food and drinks.

Drinks served in mason jars. Art installations created from donuts. DJ booths made from cookware. Out-of-the-box – and off-the-plate thinking – will define 2015, according to a new e-book by socialtables, which produces cloud-based software for the hospitality industry.

Socialtables asked top catering firms Four Five One Events and Windows Catering to predict the top 20 catering trends. Goodbye plated chicken and rice medley. Hello raw food with flare.

“The innovations within food and beverage in the past year have elevated catering to creative heights not seen before,” socialtables wrote on its blog. “In order to understand the scope of opportunities available to planners and venues in 2015, we asked two of the country’s most sought-after catering companies for their predictions on the food, beverage and design that will shape menus in 2015.” 

As the economy has improved, so have menus. And so, when planning your next conference dinner or post-work get-together for members, consider some of these new trendy twists.

Table to farm – Recently, the “farm to table” concept, in which organizations serve farm-raised meat and organic vegetables during meals, was all the rage. But now, “farm to fork” is catching steam. Meals will incorporate the regions from which ingredients are harvested: edible flowers; white asparagus; a rainbow of vegetables.

VIP treatment – Everyone loves to feel special. But not everyone can afford upscale reservations at swanky places. So creating a VIP dining experience leaves a lasting impression. Instead of a pre-plated dinner, organizations will offer restaurant-like ambiances in which hostesses seat guests who order from a menu.

mar2011-foodchain-07Comfortable seating – Workplaces provide provide beanbag chairs, exercise balls and stand-up desks to their employees. So folding chairs or traditional rounds of eight seem almost out of place, old-school even. Instead, event planners will offer loveseats, porch swings and rocking chairs to create a cozy and creative culinary sensation.

Mini morsels – Tasty, bite-size temptations will replace five course meals. Since food presentation will be key in 2015, caterers will offer small, colorful samples that blend flavors: soup shots coupled with tea sandwiches; mini-meatloaf cupcakes topped with a mashed potato frosting; pint-size éclairs filled with jellies, peanut butter, chocolate.

Family-style feasting – These days, it’s not often families eat dinner together. But laughing together while enjoying family favorites creates lasting memories. As such, organizations will provide more family-style dining experiences, serving food in dishes that guests share. Just like a family dinner, the concept creates kindred closeness, fosters networking and avoids awkward small talk.

Savory and sweet – A match made for the palate. Menus will offer stunning combinations such as bourbon bacon jam and maple-flavored bacon. (Let’s be honest: Who doesn’t love anything bacon?!)

Comfort foods – And while most of us will be on a New Year’s health kick, caterers will still be crazy about comfort foods – offering favorites like baked potato salad and cheesy corn bakes. That said, caterers predict Azian zing will find its place among traditional barbecue. Think Korean barbecued short ribs.

“Windows [Catering] CEO Andrew Gerstel believes that the coming year will usher in a renowned interest in small bites, while predicting that palates will expand to welcome specialty foods like Pink Himalayan salt,” socialtables wrote.

Hungry now?

What are some of the most memorable meals you’ve had at professional events? How do you spice it up for your event participants?

30
Nov
14

Bonus content: Event Garde e-news – December edition

IMG_1648

Kim Harwood, president, Results and Hand Software, LLC

Q & A with Kim Harwood, President, Results at Hand Software, LLC

Q: If you were a Christmas ornament, what would you look like, and why?
A: Well, I just returned from Florida and got a bit too much sun, so I would be red with a cheery warm glow!

Q: Think “Survivor” or another reality survival show. What would you choose for your one survival item, and why?
A: Assuming there is a network, my iPhone with a really powerful external battery pack. Does anyone go anywhere without their phone?

Q: If you could choose another profession/career, what would it be, and why?
A: Isn’t U-M looking for a coach? Fortunately, I really enjoy what I am doing now.

Q: What’s your superhero name? (And why do you like it?)
A: MultiTaskor – I would love to complete all my to-dos in minutes instead of days, weeks or months.

Q: How do you find your holiday spirit?
A: The movie, “A Christmas Story.” It’s a hilarious, holiday classic, and I always watch it while wrapping presents.

25
Nov
14

More than turkey and stuffing

thank you noteAnd so it begins.

Thanksgiving is upon us, and soon we’ll be spending the day with family and friends, gorging on our favorite foods, watching football and talking about our many blessings.

Yep. Thursday kicks off the holiday season.

So now what? Try starting with “thank you.”

“This is a great opportunity for organizations of all sizes to show their gratitude for customers,” said John Foley, CEO of interlinkONE and Grow Socially. “With so many businesses taking advantage of the holidays, it can be difficult to create a message that stands out. While many organizations offer sales and discounts during the holiday season, try using a slightly different approach to show appreciation.”

Foley produced a short video offering tips for effective holiday marketing. He suggests rather than promoting your business, promote your giveback efforts. Or, better yet, give some props to one of your clients or members. And social media is a perfect platform.

Foley also suggests sending Thanksgiving cards – not just Christmas cards – to your customers.

If you’re looking for more ideas, Help Scout provides an awesome list of 25 original ways to say thanks. Some ideas: handwritten thank you notes; customer appreciation events at a local coffee shop; surprise office lunches for members; social media love on Twitter and Facebook.

But it doesn’t end there.

volunteer2After Black Friday and Cyber Monday comes #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. This year, #GivingTuesday is Dec. 2. Just two years after launching, more than 10,000 organizations around the globe join forces to do good.

Efforts can be small or large. Coordinate a food drive. Make a financial contribution to a cause you support – and then ask a board member to match it. Host a day of service in your community.

And use social media. Use #GivingTuesday on Twitter to raise awareness. Retweet often. Ask your members to share their giveback efforts.

Whatever your organization does, make sure you communicate your efforts. Take photos and include them in your digital publications and post them on Facebook. Include short write-ups on your website. And most importantly, include information in your member communications.

Big or small, your efforts to say “thank you” and to give back reinforce that your organization cares about more than the bottom line. Your members will jump at the chance to belong to something inspirational, something larger than they can accomplish on their own.

“Letting your customers know you appreciate their business is the right thing to do, besides being good business sense,” wrote Ostari, an IT firm. “Telling your vendors you value them by saying ‘thank you’ is not just common politeness; it gives them a sense of worth to be appreciated, and it makes them try harder to give satisfaction. Show everyone you do business with they matter to you, and you reinforce a good relationship. Common courtesy is not common today, but it’s very much appreciated when it’s shown.”

And so, on behalf of Event Garde, thank you for your continued support. This year, Event Garde has reached some incredible milestones. Without you, we wouldn’t be here.

From the Event Garde team, Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

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.




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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