Archive for the 'Meetings' Category

01
Apr
14

Navigating Extreme Association Trends

ASAE held its annual Great Ideas Conference in Orlando, FL last month. During that conference, Scott Oser and I had the pleasure of presenting a session titled, “Under Pressure: Navigating Extreme Association Trends.”

More than 50 association executives hailing from across the country attended our session. We were pleased so many of our colleagues were willing to take the plunge, as this session required an extensive amount of audience participation.

Ultimately, the goal was to openly discuss three apparent trends in the association community. They are as follows:

  1. Membership is dead
  2. The demise of face-to-face meetings
  3. The social media imperative

Attendees were led through a series of exercises that allowed them to reflect on what they thought about each trend, how they believed the trend related to their organizations and any action items they might want to explore upon returning home. Fortunately, our colleagues were not shy. Following is a summary of their insights.

sprint-unlimited-my-way-undead-zombie-commercialMembership is dead; or is it?

This so-called trend has been heard loud and clear throughout the association community for years now. Although it’s received a lot of press, there are a number of recent studies indicating that membership in many associations is, in fact, growing.

After reviewing facts supporting both sides of this trend, attendees did not believe that membership is in a desperate state of decay. Rather, attendees agreed that the membership life cycle is changing and lapses in membership, when members leave for a period of time before returning, are becoming more common. They also discussed the need for more personalized membership experiences, requiring more membership data and a more targeted marketing approach. Finally, nearly all participants agreed that if associations understand the needs of their members and have a strong value proposition, the existing membership model is a viable option so long as tweaks are made based on industry needs.

conferenceThe demise (or rather reduction) of face-to-face meetings

Everyone’s professional development budgets are strapped these days and time is limited. We’re all busy; there’s simply no going back. So while our participants indicated a necessary reduction and consolidation of face-to-face meetings to right size the number and type of meetings planned each year, there’s simply no evidence they’ll be canceled altogether (at least not in our lifetime). The reason is simple: networking. In fact, in a global survey of 2,300 Harvard Business Review subscribers, 95% said that face-to-face meetings are both key to successful long-term relationships and to building strong relationships.

We did, however, determine that this shift in the professional development landscape has rightfully encouraged many of us to re-evaluate our face-to-face meetings to ensure exceptional attendee experiences that focus on learning research, supporting the styles and preferences of our attendees. Moreover, there’s a renewed emphases on identifying and offering quality topics and facilitators that meet attendee needs (vs. wants). This has resulted in tighter value propositions and more thoughtful marketing collateral. Many had also explored hybrid conference models (including live streaming, virtual expos and the like) as a means of opening up their associations to new audiences.

Social-Media-Manager-Job-DescriptionThe social media imperative; are you crazy?

The introduction of social media has had a profound impact on the way associations reach their members and customers. In fact, there’s been so much talk about social media and its benefits that you might think failing to allocate marketing resources to social media would justifiably harm your organization. While a good number of associations are using social media to their advantage, there are an equal number of associations that are not. And believe it or not, they exist to tell the tale.

When presented with points and counterpoints to the use of social media, our colleagues did not easily reach consensus. What they did agree on, however, is important: If you are going to use social media, you must have a strategy in place that leverages best practices and you must allocate the appropriate resources to effectively implement your plan. If you are not using social media smartly, or if you are unnecessarily pulling your staff away from other essentials products or services, you may be doing more harm than good. That said, participants seemed to concur that most organizations should have some form of social media presence. At the very least, if a member or a prospective member searched for your organization on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, they should find a link to your website for more information.

Final thoughts

This session was held on the very first day of the conference so we were able to follow-up with participants for the next couple of days. Time and again we heard from our colleagues that they appreciated hearing both sides of each trend. They also enjoyed having the opportunity to discuss with their peers how each trend applied to their unique situations. Many attendees told us that far too often only one side of the issue is presented. Moreover, it’s often implied that going against the grain would somehow result in dire circumstances. Both Scott and I believe this is rarely the case and are very happy we were able to bring attendees together to discuss a number of the most “controversial issues” facing our profession – if only for 75 minutes. More conversations like this need to happen in our organizations before new ideas are implemented if we are to remain viable, solvent organizations in the future.

Tell us: Where do you fall on each of these issues?

25
Mar
14

Association e-learning: what you need to know

Sarah Lugo

Sarah Lugo, digital marketing coordinator for Digitec Interactive

This month’s guest blog post is by Sarah Lugo, digital marketing coordinator for Digitec Interactive. Follow her on Twitter.

 

Associations are beginning to grow their education departments by bringing member education online. Why? Selling courses and certifications online provides a new revenue source for the association while adding more value for members. At the same time, members who can’t attend a conference or workshop benefit from the convenience of on-demand content. But it’s difficult for many associations to determine the types of offerings they should provide online.

Want to get off to a good start with your association’s online education products? Here are my suggestions for best-in-class member education:

Give members what they need and want
. Will an eight-hour course be something members will utilize or do they prefer shorter “mini modules?” The education members want online will likely differ from what they want at a conference. Analyzing the online education products your competitors provide can also help you determine what already exists and what your audience wants. The best way to determine what your members need and want is to ask. Survey your members and gauge their interest in potential topics and formats. While you’re at it, ask members what they’d be willing to pay for these offerings. For tips on surveying members and valuing your education products, check out Digitec Interactive and Tagoras’ recent webinar.

Keep it fresh. The shelf life of an online course is not indefinite. Keep your content fresh by re-purposing and updating content routinely to ensure it’s both relevant and timely. Pre-plan your content’s maintenance schedule and decide how you’ll determine when the content has “expired.” One suggestion is to look at the data from your Google Analytics account and the association’s learning management system (LMS) to determine which courses are least popular among members. The trick is to refresh the course or webinar before traffic has died down completely. If the content has become so outdated that members have quit purchasing it entirely, consider whether the topic is still relevant to your members.

Invest in marketing. Most associations do an excellent job of marketing their annual meeting, but few know how, or even attempt, to effectively market their online offerings. Developing and delivering education is an investment like any other initiative. Don’t sell yourself short by assuming, “If we build it they will come.” Getting members involved early on (i.e. surveying) is also helpful in obtaining buy in. Keep members abreast of your plans to offer online education and begin marketing your offerings well before they launch. Once you’ve launched your first course, continue to roll out additional offerings and utilize features within your LMS to “up sell” members on related courses. You can read more about marketing your education products on the Association eLearning Blog.

e-Learning Concept. Computer KeyboardEducation is at the core of professional and trade associations, and technology-enabled learning is quickly gaining popularity with membership organizations. Associations are uniquely suited to provide members with specialized professional development and continuing education, so if you haven’t already, it’s time to get started with association e-learning and begin bridging the skills gap for your members. There is value in offering online education, and with these tips you’re sure to get off to the right start at your associations.

04
Mar
14

Sharing our Great Ideas

The ASAE Great Ideas Conference is right around the corner. If you’ve not attended before, I highly recommend looking into it (if not this year, then next year). The event focuses on creative approaches to everyday issues in association management and is built around the sharing of – you guessed it – great ideas.

Unlike other events, this conference offers a relaxed, but business-oriented environment where you can step back from your day-to-day routine and be exposed to new thinking. Likewise, many of the ideas garnered at this conference can be immediately tweaked and applied to your own organization.

Scott Oser

Scott Oser, president, Scott Oser Associates

During this year’s program I have the good fortune to be speaking with my two favorite Osers – Donna and Scott. Scott Oser is the president of Scott Oser Associates and has more than 17 years of marketing experience in the association and publishing industries. Throughout his career, Scott has excelled in developing, implementing and analyzing multi-channel direct-marketing programs and is highly skilled in creating effective membership, marketing and sales programs.

Together, Scott and I will present:

Under Pressure: Navigating Extreme Association Trends
Sunday, March 9, 2:45 – 4 p.m.
Hyatt Regency Orlando, Plaza D

The session description reads as follows:

Countless authors and thought leaders claim to have identified “The Next Big Association Trend”—the end of the traditional membership model, the demise of the face-to-face meeting, the rise of the social media imperative. It’s confusing to know who to listen to and how it all applies to our organizations. Join us for an open and honest discussion about some of the most highly debated subjects in the industry today. We’ll clear the air about these polarizing association trends and you’ll leave with a simple strategy for evaluating the appropriateness of the next “Big Trend” within the context of your association.

Whether or not you’ll be in Orlando, join the discussion on Twitter by following @aaronwolowiec, @scottoser and the hash tag #ideas14 LO1.

Donna Oser, director of executive search services, Michigan Association of School Boards

Donna Oser, director of executive search services, Michigan Association of School Boards

The second Oser I’ll be speaking with is Donna Oser, CAE. Donna currently serves as the director of executive search services for the Michigan Association of School Boards; however, she also has extensive experience as a management consultant, coach and facilitator and specializes in membership, non-dues revenue and business innovation. We worked together to develop the myLounge concept for ORGPRO in 2013 and have since facilitated a number of presentations together. Some may say we’re kindred spirits.

Together, Donna and I will present:

The Solution Room: Burning Issues Resolved
Monday, March 10, 1:30 – 2:45 p.m.
Hyatt Regency Orlando, Florida A

The session description reads as follows:

The Solution Room is an innovative framework for knowledge sharing that provides participants with a brief but powerful consulting session on an issue or a topic of their choosing. Participants can expect to walk away with a variety of ideas and resources that can be immediately applied to their greatest workplace or personal challenges. Come prepared to actively participate!

Moreover, session participants will debrief the Solution Room framework and identify its applicability to their own organizations. Once again, you can join the discussion on Twitter by following @aaronwolowiec, @donaoser and the hash tag #ideas14 LO2. Handouts for both sessions will also be available here later this week.

In the meantime, tell us in the comments about a session you’re presenting at Great Ideas – or one you’re particularly interested in attending.

21
Jan
14

What’s in store for 2014?

This week’s guest blog post is by Alexa Stanard, editor of Michigan Meetings + Events magazine. I asked her to speculate on what 2014 might bring for the meetings and events industry. Here’s what she had to say.

Alexa Stanard

Alexa Stanard, editor of Michigan Meetings + Events magazine.

In the magazine business, we generally have to think many months ahead. This is tricky; it’s a psychological leap to imagine a June wedding or a fall association meeting when it’s 14 degrees outside. It also means trying to gauge what’s going to be on everyone’s mind well before it actually is.

The meeting and event industry is much the same way. Savvy planners must be thoughtful and attuned to their environments and clients. They have to read the tea leaves, but they also have to know if their clients are black tea drinkers or prefer chamomile. In other words, just because a color is hot on the Paris runway doesn’t mean someone in Milan, Mich., is going to like it. It’s our job to predict patterns and to steer clients to those we think are the most relevant and noteworthy.

Michigan hasn’t been a trendsetting state since the heyday of the American-made automobile. Suddenly, though, that seems to be changing. Everyone’s hot to visit Detroit; Grand Rapids is topping national lists of places to live; and Traverse City keeps crushing it as a vacation destination, somehow figuring out how to lead about every trend – from craft brew making to farm-to-table cuisine – that comes down the pike.

At Michigan Meetings and Events, we’ve taken a few educated guesses at what will matter in our industry this year:

  • A little dirt is a good thing. Farm venues are hot, and Michigan has some great ones.
  • Traditional venues need to figure out how to up their game. Too many people are heading off the beaten path for the ballroom-based spaces to phone it in. Venues need to let planners get creative and should invest in photography of their spaces being used for imaginative events.
  • Self-sufficiency is in, on just about every front. We’re giving up on corporate jobs to start our own one-person businesses; we’re growing our own food and making our own booze; we’re finding ways to save money and be responsible by operating as green and lean as we can.
  • Values matter. People care about where their food comes from, how workers are treated and whether their meeting or event is leaving a giant, carbon-emanating footprint. Few clients will expect perfection on all fronts (even fewer will want to pay for it), but finding ways to integrate a greener, more-humane approach into one’s offerings and operations will pay off.
  • No one wants his or her time wasted, but people still yearn for connection. In other words, use technology thoughtfully. It aids efficiency and the dissemination of information. But effective meetings must also approach people as people. Learning occurs primarily though interaction and connection. Technology is a supplementary tool.
  • Finally, cost isn’t everything. This one is nearly always true, but especially so as Michigan rebounds and as values increasingly take center stage. Compete on cost where you can, but people will pay for value and for values.

If you think I’m missing some key items, tell me! I hope you’ve had the chance to read our Winter 2014 issue, and I hope you’ll send me your feedback on what you read (or didn’t see and would like to.)

Happy 2014!

18
Dec
13

Strategic meeting audits: Leveraging data to improve ROI

Are you under the impression that all associations are experiencing diminished attendance at their in-person events? Has your organization’s meetings function experienced a year-over-year revenue decline – however slight – since the 2007 recession?

If you’ve answered yes to one or both of these questions, 2014 may be a great opportunity for your organization to conduct a strategic meeting audit. We need only look to ASAE to learn that at least two signature in-person events were stronger than ever this year:

So I’m sure you have some questions. For example:

  1. What does a strategic meeting audit look like?
  2. What is the first step in initiating this type of audit?
  3. Who should be involved in the process?

Let’s start by identifying the key players. In my opinion, this isn’t a job only for the senior management team. Nor should the meeting professional conduct an audit in isolation. Rather, the association CEO/executive director, senior executives, meeting professional and anyone else responsible for the successful implementation of programs or events should be invited to the table.

Additionally, I’ll advocate here for supplier participation. Although this individual – or team of individuals – may not be involved during the preliminary discussions, I believe it’s important to include industry partners early on both to encourage diversity of thought and to promote better collaboration and decision-making during the planning and implementation of programs.

Next, let’s identify step one. After all, getting started is generally the greatest barrier to the implementation of most projects. As a CMP (certified meeting professional) preparation course facilitator, I’ll borrow a page from our participant reading materials: Identify event goals and objectives. For those who know me, this has sort of become my mantra.

It seems simple and obvious, but this very important first step is often overlooked. Many meeting professionals simply do not take the time to set goals and objectives for events they inherit (they tend to focus more on program maintenance), nor do they comprehensively evaluate these events using a variety of financial and non-financial indicators.

It’s not that they don’t want to; they either don’t know how, don’t feel empowered or have limited resources. And while a handful of industry tools already exist to support these planning and evaluation efforts, they are tedious. And let’s be honest – this often prevents adoption. Unfortunately, failing to set goals and/or evaluate success perpetuates the status quo and inhibits organization growth and member ROI.

If only we could leverage the right data to elevate the quality and sophistication of our programs, build the reputation of our signature events, improve our bottom lines and enhance member outcomes. Believe it or not, there’s a way. When establishing goals and objectives, there are at least four key indicators that should comprise the strategic meeting audit:

  • Onsite experience – What experience do you hope to deliver to attendees, exhibitors, sponsors and speakers onsite? What must you implement to make this happen?
  • Financial performance – What are your revenue and expense targets? Does event pricing reflect the projected profit margin?
  • Relationships/engagement – How will you create opportunities before, during and after the event to create meaningful relationships among participants?
  • Transference – How will you help ensure information and knowledge presented onsite is retained by attendees and applied to their workplaces?

Following each event, meeting professionals should evaluate actual performance and identify areas of opportunity for the future. Quarterly, meeting professionals should then use the aggregate results to drive continuous quality improvement efforts and annually this data should be used to help draft the organization’s meetings budget.

Ultimately, it’s about improving ROI both for your organization (i.e., financial performance, member engagement and alignment with the organization’s mission and strategic plan) and for your members (i.e., learning, networking and value).

Tell us in the comments about your experience conducting a strategic meeting audit. What key indicators did your organization emphasize?

12
Nov
13

Move over Fred Flintstone

George Jetson

George Jetson works in a futuristic office.

Remember the TV show, “The Jetsons?”  The funny robot housekeeper who talked back and the fancy buttons that made everything fly?

I loved it.

O.K. So maybe life won’t be that exciting 17 years from now. But I think George Jetson – or Hanna-Barbera I guess – was on to something.

Think about it. Seventeen years ago, I was in college, using dialup Internet to do research. There wasn’t Facebook or Twitter.  And I used the phone to talk, not text.

It’s amazing how far technology has come. So imagine what’s in store for the year 2030!

“Technology will specifically shape and challenge the meetings industry by 2030,” according to the German Convention Bureau. “The Internet, social media and mobile devices are the sources of this transformation.”

Recently, the bureau published, “Meetings and Conventions in 2020: A study of megatrends shaping our industry.” The study examines eight megatrends – globalization, demographic change, shortage of resources, urbanization, feminization and diversity, technology in work and life, sustainable development, mobility of the future and safety and security – to paint a picture of what the industry might look like in 2030.

I know what you’re thinking – it’s Germany, so why should I care? But Germany is second only to the U.S. as a meetings and conventions location, according to the bureau. And while it’s true that demographic trends may be different in Germany, issues such as technology and knowledge transfer apply globally.Techology

Obviously, I can’t write about all the trends here. But there are some key points of the study that are worth highlighting.

First, technology is a blessing and a curse. Infrastructure – meaning the venues that host conventions and meetings – will most likely change to accommodate more complex technology needs. As people become increasingly dependent on mobile news and social networking platforms, conference and event planners will look for facilities that are keeping pace. For instance, conference rooms will be better prepared for virtual speakers (i.e. webinars) and digital white boards. Of course, by 2030, who knows what fancy tools we’ll have? But one thing is for sure: Venues must follow the trends or they’ll lose business.

As we become an increasingly interconnected world, knowledge of other languages and cultures will be crucial, the study found. This means conference and event planners, caterers and wait staff may be expected to expand their global prowess. They may have to travel more. Learn a language. And adopt a love of lifelong learning. By 2030, these could be employer expectations,  rather than suggestions.

Along the same lines, the meetings and convention industry will gradually become more diverse, according to the study. And this means accommodating a variety of physical and social needs. An extreme example cited in the study: service robots in buildings. They may clean buildings, work security and help older guests get around.  Sort of like Rosie from the Jetsons.

The German study predicts by 2030 more older adults will attend meetings and conferences. People may work into their 70s by then, since retirement may one day become a financial luxury. So, the German Convention Bureau said the industry has to consider the needs of the older generation.

Fred Flintstone

Fred Flintstone

Another finding: Sustainability will become increasingly important. By 2030, environmental responsibility will soon be a top factor when businesses are choosing venues. In other words, certification systems (i.e. LEED certification) will be valuable, as will barrier-free accommodations.

The year 2030 may seem far away – as it did when we were kids watching “The Jetsons.” But as we parents know, time flies. So if you’re more like Fred Flintstone than George Jetson, get ready.

01
Oct
13

Leveraging strategy to amplify education initiatives

Aerial of downtown Detroit Riverfront Photo Credit: Vito Palmissano

Aerial of downtown Detroit Riverfront
Photo Credit: Vito Palmissano

On Oct. 3, I’ll have the opportunity to speak at the seventh annual NACEDA (National Alliance of Community Economic Development Associations) Summit. Hosted by the Greektown Casino-Hotel in Detroit, the theme is “What’s Working?” Considering the NACEDA Summit is taking a road trip for the first time in seven years, it’s only appropriate the group decided to convene in the Motor City.

Despite bad press, Detroit offers countless examples of what’s working. For starters, meetings are not only safe and thriving, a transformation is happening here more rapidly than at any other time in history. Likewise, Detroit is not the ‘black eye’ of America and Motown magic continues to attract business. Case in point, the “Super Bowl of Conferences” will be held here in 2015.

Generally, I think visitors are surprised by everything the city has to offer. And if you doubt me, just ask my friend Jeanette Pierce of D:hive. I recently had the good fortune to tour several Detroit sites with her as a committee chair for the aforementioned event. Not only is she the city’s most unabashed advocate, but she’s an absolute wealth of information about Detroit and its many points of interest.

So, as a self-proclaimed “meetings coach” and Michigan native, I’m pleased to have been invited by Brian McGrain of CEDAM (Community Economic Development Association of Michigan) to submit a presentation proposal for this year’s summit. My session will illuminate current best practices in training and conference session planning and has come to be titled, “Leveraging Strategy to Amplify Education Initiatives.”

Although I’m a firm supporter of developing sessions unique to conference objectives and attendee needs, I often raise this theme of “intentionality.” In an article I wrote in June 2002 for Associations Now, I encouraged readers to take a break from the daily firefighting we’ve come to expect and instead approach tasks with more reflection, strategy and collaboration.

In the spirit of this advice, take a moment to consider participation in your current suite of professional development programs. What’s inhibiting attendance? We’re likely all feeling the pressures of time, competition, money and technology. But when specifically asked during a recent NACEDA prep session, leaders added travel, opportunity costs, value proposition and marketing to their list of challenges.

I consider my own work with the Michigan Association of REALTORS earlier this year. During a similar powwow with the best and the brightest minds, local association leaders added certification, continuing education credits, programming for disparate experience levels, personal/professional motivation and regulations – all of which resonated with this group, as well.

So it’s clearly time to start thinking differently about education, including what it means to meet the unique needs of our professional development consumers (as dwindling attendance and revenue is likely not an alternative we’re willing to accept). While distance learning is one possible solution, it’s not the only solution. The Meetings Report reminds us to diversify revenue, reward difference, value context, maximize opportunities and prioritize learning.

To prioritize learning means to:

  1. Develop and apply an intentional education strategy;
  2. Experiment with more creative instructional strategies that align with adult learning theory; and
  3. Deliberately explore the intersection that exists between logistics and learning.

I think we can all agree that the days of talking head, instructor-led sessions are waning. To remain relevant, organizations must elevate the quality and sophistication of their programs, build the reputation of their signature events and improve their bottom lines. This session will answer the simple question: How can we do that?

In the meantime, I’m curious to know: What’s inhibiting attendance at your organization’s events? When it comes to training/conference session planning, what needs improvement? How much adult learning theory informs your meetings/events? Share your thoughts in the comments and I’ll hope to see you Thursday.

03
Sep
13

25 meeting management resources revealed

Aaron Wolowiec facilitates an "Ask the Experts" panel discussion during the 2013 Michigan Meetings Expo.

Aaron Wolowiec facilitates an “Ask the Experts” panel during the 2013 Michigan Meetings Expo.

I may not be your nerdy best friend; however, I was pleased to have the opportunity to partner with Destination Michigan earlier this year to help facilitate the 2013 Michigan Meetings Expo. During that event, we asked both planners and suppliers alike to share with us their favorite resources (e.g., technology tools, apps, programs, websites, blogs, books and articles).

Following is what they shared with us (in alphabetical order by category):

Apps

Blogs

Calendars

  • Outlook calendar
  • Convention & Visitors Bureaus
    • Websites
    • Convention calendars

Industry News

Lead Retrieval

Organizations

People

Productivity

And if you haven’t already, please consider attending the 2013 Showcase of Ideas (where you’re sure to walk away with even more great ideas like these). Scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 6, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Eagle Eye Golf Club in Lansing, this year’s program features a keynote presentation titled “Leading in Style” by leader development specialist Allison McClintick.

You’ll note this event is free to direct meeting and event planners. Additionally, exhibitors who register before Oct. 1 will save $100. I hope to see you there!

20
Aug
13

Motown magic continues to attract business

Cobo Hall

Detroit’s Cobo Center

I’m sure I can speak for my fellow Michiganders: We’ve watched with heartbreak as Detroit, once the most prosperous city in the country, has struggled to financially support its declining population. Sadly, it all came to a head on July 18 when the Motor City filed for bankruptcy.

Ever since, that’s all the media seem to care about. Story after story paints the home of Motown as a city of abandoned houses, crumbling streets and vacant storefronts.

It’s not pretty. In fact, it’s the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. But there’s hope.

A recent Detroit Free Press column by Tom Walsh piqued my interest for this blog. He wrote about Detroit’s new “comeback city” advertising campaign, geared toward convention and event planners.

In 2015, the American Society of Association Executives will host its annual meeting Aug. 8-11 at Detroit’s Cobo Center. And despite the negative publicity and seemingly precarious state of Detroit, ASAE has full confidence in the city’s rebirth, said John Graham, president/CEO of ASAE.

“ASAE sees the 2015 meeting as an opportunity for us to raise awareness about how the city has improved and educate our members and exhibitors about all the opportunities the city has to offer,” he said. “Detroit is making major strides in providing a vast number of hotels, venues and attractions that would be valuable for any association meeting. We are going to work hard to promote these changes, so our members can experience it firsthand.”

John Graham

John Graham, president/CEO of ASAE

The Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau has raised funds for the annual meeting, so members can be confident in the city’s ability to educate and entertain, Graham said. From Greektown to casinos to Comerica Park (home of major league baseball team Detroit Tigers), the city offers a wealth of activities for attendees’ down times. And Cobo won’t disappoint either. In 2010, the Cobo Center began a $299 million renovation program, which is scheduled to be complete by January 2015.

ASAE chose Detroit because of its convenient and affordable Midwest location, Graham said. The association has a large number of members in Chicago, so it anticipates many from that area will come to Detroit for the meeting. Also, Detroit Metro Airport is an international airport so members traveling from around the globe can easily fly to the meeting.

Yet still, at this year’s annual ASAE meeting, which was held Aug. 3-6 in Atlanta, Detroit was a hot topic of conversation. Among the concerns was whether the city would be ready in 2015 to welcome thousands of professionals. And people wondered if the renovations to Cobo would be complete.

But so far, no bookings for Detroit events have been cancelled. In fact, the bankruptcy seems to be having little effect on convention planners, said Larry Alexander, president of the Detroit CVB, in Walsh’s column.

Those with concerns should instead focus on the city’s response, Graham said. Detroit is committed to redevelopment and bringing people back to the city. In fact, the number of young professionals in the city has increased by 59 percent since 2000, and 97 percent of downtown Detroit’s and 95 percent of Midtown’s rental apartments are occupied.

And that’s why ASAE will continue to work with the Detroit CVB to tell the story of reinvention to its members, Graham said. It will work with the CVB to plan various events and educational tours for the 2015 meeting. In addition, CVB will help ASAE pick an organization to which members will give back when visiting Detroit. In recent years, ASAE has engaged more than 1,000 attendees in community service projects in host cities.

With a population in which more than 80 percent of residents are minorities, according to the U.S. Census, Detroit is the perfect location to celebrate diversity. In 2015, ASAE will mark 15 years of its Diversity Executive Leadership Program, which supports individuals from under-represented identity groups in the association community to advance into the ranks of leadership, Graham said. In 2012, Detroit’s population was 701,475, according to the U.S. Census. But regardless of size, every city has advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important for marketers to think about how not to oversell the city, but instead focus on telling a new and different story, he said.

“You should find unique ways to convey these messages and images in ways that resonate with your audience so they’re encouraged to visit the city and personally see all the improvements,” Graham said. “Always be honest and forthcoming about the areas that need improvement and tell meeting planners how you are working to improve them.”

For next week’s post, I’ll talk with Larry Alexander about the “comeback city” campaign. Why should businesses continue to believe in the promise of America’s automobile capital? Stay tuned.

Cobo Hall ballroom

A ballroom at Cobo Center ready for a convention event

14
Aug
13

Don’t feed the attendees: 10 insights for your next food function

The bag of trail mix that served as my lunch during the closing general session of #ASAE13.

The bag of trail mix that served as my lunch during the closing general session of #ASAE13.

It’s the closing general session at #ASAE13. I’ve somehow come down with the worst summer cold/sinus infection I’ve had in at least the last 10 years. Many of my friends seem to be sniffling and sneezing, as well. This has resulted in an unexpected morning expedition to the local CVS. Following two morning learning labs, I’m now eager to grab a bite to eat with my colleagues before Dan Heath takes the stage.

Our preset salads and individual pour salad dressings are delicious – and a great start to the meal. Unfortunately, it’s downhill from there. You’ll have to trust me when I tell you: (a) This is neither my first nor my only disappointing meal service during this conference and (b) This is not all that unusual of an experience for me during most conferences. So, I sit and I wait. And I wait. And I wait some more.

Two at a time, salad plates are removed from our table. They are taken to an undisclosed location that I only imagine to be near B218 – the furthest possible room from our present location in the Georgia World Congress Center. Many of you may recall this long walk from the learning labs you attended earlier in the week. Two at a time, prepared (tepid) meals are slowly walked back to our table.

By now, I’ve clearly identified myself as a vegetarian. As a lacto ovo vegetarian, I require a diet that excludes meat, fish and poultry, but may include dairy products and eggs. Unfortunately, it took several requests (from both me and my tablemates), a desperate tweet and a bag full of a friend’s trail mix before I received my meal. By the way, it came once everyone else had finished eating and the session had started.

As a result of this experience, and at the prodding of some of my friends, I’ve decided to compile the following 10 insights I hope will encourage a new awareness for both planners and suppliers alike as they approach their next food function:

  1. A lacto ovo vegetarian is not synonymous with lactose intolerance. As an aside, you wouldn’t believe some of the interesting dessert options I’ve been presented when assumptions like this have been made.
  2. Vegetarians vary. When I first became a vegetarian, I picked up the book Living Vegetarian for Dummies. It outlines the big three: lacto ovo vegetarian, lacto vegetarian and vegan. Know the differences, ask your attendees which they are and communicate accordingly with the chef.
  3. It’s unlikely that a single, all-encompassing meal that meets the special dietary needs of vegetarians, vegans and those observing a gluten-free diet (and potentially others) will be equally appealing and fulfilling. Unfortunately, one size does not fit all.
  4. Tofu should not be the protein default of choice. For starters, it’s incredibly bland and it actually requires much more culinary prowess than can reasonably be expected in a banquet environment. Instead, consider beans, lentils, grains, nuts and seeds as alternatives.
  5. Chances are good there’s at least one vegetarian in every audience. Therefore, vegetarian meals should always be prepared, whether or not they were ordered on the BEO. Additionally, care should be taken to serve all attendees at the same time.
  6. Servers should be effectively trained in the most efficient way to clear dishes and serve meals. This includes good instructions from their supervisors regarding which tables they’ll be managing, as well as the appropriate use of trays, jacks and hotboxes.
  7. Whenever possible, suppliers should invest in regular staff and ongoing customer service training. More than once in the last six months I’ve been informed that unsatisfactory service levels were due, in part, to the nature of transient staff.
  8. For a variety of personal and religious reasons vegetarians have elected not to eat meat, fish and/or poultry. Setting a hunk of meat down in front of a vegetarian, even as a place holder until an alternate meal can be identified and served, will likely not be well received.
  9. Buffet lines are akin to a culinary guessing game. Although it may be impractical to list and post the ingredients for every dish on a placard, do label for the most common types of special dietary needs and food allergies (e.g., vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, nuts).
  10. Food allergies are increasingly more prevalent and equally challenging to navigate in a group setting. Here’s a brief primer about event planning and food allergy awareness that identifies the precautions we can take to eliminate possible cross contamination.

So, my question to you is this: Are you familiar with the dietary needs of your attendees? How are they handled? Are your attendees with special dietary needs and food allergies treated like second-class citizens? What will you do to improve their experience moving forward?




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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