Archive for the 'Meetings' 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?

03
Dec
14

Instructional Design: The New Normal

I fled this week from the blustery temperatures of Grand Rapids, MI to a warmer climate in Dallas, TX. Always the bridesmaid (facilitator) and never the bride (learner), it was a chance for me to turn the tables and become a participant in ATD’s Master Instructional Designer Program.

IMG_0784It all started at Gerald R. Ford International Airport. I was booked on a non-Delta flight with a brief stop in the Bermuda Triangle (otherwise known as Chicago). For some reason, my flights through Chicago are always delayed – or, in this case, canceled.

Nevertheless, I found myself on a direct flight to Dallas six-and-a-half hours later. Other than a screaming toddler, the flight was relatively low-key. I digested much of my pre-course reading assignment before landing just yards from an occupied gate. After what seemed like an eternity, the other plane departed.

By the way, is this the new normal of airline travel? I still remember as a kid traveling with my grandmother on flights that were nearly empty. At that time, I had my pick of an entire row, not a measly seat.

IMG_0785But I digress. While the cool evening air and the endless road construction tricked me into thinking it was all a dream, the elegantly decorated hotel lobby pleasantly surprised me. If you follow me on social media, you know just how much I’m digging the magic of the holiday season this year.

Which brings me to today: day one of the program. If you’re not familiar, ATD stands for the Association for Talent Development and the Master Instructional Designer Program is a three-part credential comprising:

  1. A self-directed review of instructional design basics;
  2. A three-day face-to-face intensive learning experience; and
  3. An elective and a learning project.

So, what is instructional design? Fundamentally, it’s a systems approach to analyzing, designing, developing, implementing and evaluating any instructional experience. Put another way, meeting professionals often focus on meeting management and logistics (e.g., food and beverage, AV and function space) while instructional designers focus on the content presented.

Think back to the last conference you attended. Do you remember what you had for lunch? I bet it was a chicken dish of some sort. Now really think about the sessions themselves. Answer “yes” or “no” to the following questions:

  • Were the speakers well prepared?
  • Did they hold your attention?
  • Did they draw upon your prior knowledge?
  • Were you aware of the learning objectives?
  • Was the content well organized? Well delivered?
  • Did you participate in an activity that tested your proficiency?
  • Did you receive feedback about your performance?
  • Have you applied this knowledge to your workplace?

IMG_0787If you answered “no” to a majority of these questions, I’m guessing your experience was less than desirable. It’s also likely that an instructional designer could have improved the sessions by coaching/mentoring those speakers in the elements that result in quality instruction.

Now think about the education sessions your organization offers. How would your attendees answer the questions above?

Whether you mostly utilize industry speakers or professional speakers, it’s likely they have content expertise. That is, they’re recognized as thought leaders within their respective industries. They’re generally not instructional designers, though. That is, they’re not familiar with adult learning, cognitive processing, learning styles and learning objectives – all of which are just the tip of the iceberg.

So, on Feb. 26, 2015, I’ll be further exploring what this means to associations in a webinar I’m developing for the Michigan Society of Association Executives. I hope you’ll save the date and plan to join us. I promise to answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” I’ll also help define what’s in it for your organization. Ultimately, instructional design is the new normal. Without it, you simply have chicken, chairs and water.

11
Nov
14

On screen or in a chair?

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

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

It’s exhausting.

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele

Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele, co-founders of Tagoras

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

04
Nov
14

Call for Presentations: Dead or Alive?

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

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

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

Response 1

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

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

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

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

Response 2

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

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

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

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

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

Just the Facts

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

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

28
Oct
14

Technology truths for meetings and events

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14
Oct
14

Wi-Fi woes for Marriott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




meet aaron

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

meet kristen

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

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