Archive for the 'Meetings' Category

10
Feb
15

Our screwed up thinking about creating conference experiences

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

Jeff Hurt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The truth about experiences

Our experiences actually form our beliefs.

Our beliefs form our actions.

Our actions create results.

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

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

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

rear-view-mirrorLooking back to move forward

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

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

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

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

Turning nostalgic down conference lane

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

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

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

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

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

03
Feb
15

A night away? We sure did pay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

27
Jan
15

4 Event Metrics You Should Be Calculating

This month’s guest post is by Courtenay Allen, a marketing specialist at Attend.com, which produces event management software. It was originally posted on the attend.com blog.

Courtenay Allen

Courtenay Allen, marketing specialist for Attend.com.

You’ve set your event goals and planned every detail, but how do you know if you’ve been successful? The word “metrics” gets tossed around everywhere, but it’s more than just a buzzword – it’s a necessity. Whether you’re hosting a nonprofit fundraiser or an alumni event, here are standard metrics to calculate your event’s success.

Event Surveys
After your event is complete, sending a post-event survey is an important tool to determine the success of your event. Most likely, not all your attendees will complete the survey. However, even without 100 percent completion rate, the feedback you’ll receive will be invaluable. Most importantly, ask your attendees if they’re satisfied with your event and if they’d be willing to attend next year. If attendee satisfaction is low, it may be time to change or even eliminate the event all together. In addition to your attendees’ general feedback on their experiences, ask them for more in-depth insights about the food or venue. While these metrics don’t necessarily impact your return on investment for your event, they’re helpful to know and can help you plan future events.

Attendee Demographics
Another crucial element to measure is your attendees’ registration process. For instance, did they initially sign up for your event really early? Or right after you published a blog post? Perhaps they registered for your event after seeing your event promotional video. Not only is it important to track when, but also how your attendees registered through your various event promotions. Did your attendees register through social media or by responding to your email? By tracking your attendee registrations, you’ll be able to determine which messages and media were the most effective for your event audience.

Tracking your attendee demographics is more than just counting the number of attendees that registered – it’s also determining the number of qualified leads your event generated. These attendees have a budget and authority to make purchasing decisions. Calculate the cost per lead for your event by dividing the program cost by the number of qualified leads that attended. This measurement is helpful for projecting budget requirements future lead generation.

MetricsEffective and Efficient
To determine if your event was cost effective based on the number of attendees reached, divide your program cost by total attendees. This calculation is not recommended as a stand-alone figure, but should be used in conjunction with others. For instance, what was your event efficiency ratio? This metric is also known as the expense to revenue ratio. To calculate, divide the total expenses of an event by the total revenue that your event generated. If your expense in running the event is higher than the revenue, you’re looking at problems with efficiency.

Social Impact
During your event you were probably busy live tweeting to keep your attendees engaged. However, after your event is over, track your event hashtag retroactively for all your event conversations. In fact, check all your social media platforms to see the results of your social media increase after your event. Examine all your likes, tweets, comments and number of fans and followers, and determine which of your social media channels was most successful.

Depending on the type of event, you may want to calculate your press impact. How many media mentions did you receive, and which publications wrote about your event? By calculating the cost to reach those same audiences with paid advertising, you’ll be able to put a dollar figure with the media reach.

Measure and Conquer
Different types of events have different goals, and to determine how successful you were at those goals, you need event metrics. Whether you need all these or just a few, these metrics will give you the information you need to continue improving your events.

06
Jan
15

Meetings mean money for hotels in 2015

RM_snip_hotel_sign_glassA new year means new professional development opportunities. Admittedly, I’m a PD nerd. So I’ve been excitedly surfing the web for all things writing, media relations and public relations.

But if I have to pick, I’m going to choose an event hosted in a hotel with comfy beds, free Wi-Fi, probably a restaurant….and the list goes on.

Thanks to PD nerds like me, in 2015 hotels should get a big financial boost. According to a new report by Social Tables, the meetings industry will hugely influence the profits of hotels.

First up: cybersecurity.

I touched on it last week in a post about MPI’s meetings forecast for 2015. But it’s worth repeating: Cybersecurity is becoming the No. 1 concern among professionals. Within the last few months, retail giants Target, Home Depot and Hobby Lobby have all experienced security hacks, resulting in the theft of customers’ financial information.

When businesses send their employees to a hotel for a conference, they also send crucial financial information – which they expect will be protected. And so, if venues want to attract clients, they’d better keep up with cybersecurity enhancements.

“The potential for valuable information to be hacked or stolen via insecure networks is a real threat,” said David Peckinpaugh, co-chair of Meetings Mean Business. “As such, cybersecurity at hotels will become increasingly important for events and meetings in 2015.”

In fact, according to the Social Tables report, it seems advanced technology will have the greatest effect on hotels and will be in great demand since Americans own, on average, four digital devices.

In addition to providing adequate Wi-Fi coverage, some hotels are experimenting with remote/mobile check in. Last year, Starwood Hotel and Resorts became the first chain to offer such a service, according to the Social Tables report. Think about the convenience for meeting planners: No more keys in packets.

Consumers are becoming more technologically savvy – and demanding – and hotels are following suit. In 2015, an increasing number of hotels will offer technological conveniences such as whiteboards, social media screens and mobile apps.

conference-preview-img“Meeting planners are becoming more and more creative in rewarding attendees who interact and use technology than ever before,” said Gene Hunt, director of event sales at the Grand Hyatt Washington. “They’re marrying concepts such as gamification with technology before, during and after meetings to develop program content – and it’s our responsibility to help them achieve maximum results on their investments in these technologies.”

Also listed in “9 Ways Meetings Will Impact Hotels in 2015”:

  • Virtual reality travel experiences
  • High occupancy rates (roughly 65 percent)
  • Measurable data on meetings and events

But I think most interesting in the report was brand expansion. As the economy improves in 2015, upper scale hotels will experience an uptick in occupancies for leisure travel, as more people can afford expensive accommodations.

Such a shift will most likely force event planners to seek out lower-priced hotels/chains for events, analysts predict.

“Couple this with the fact that over the next 20 years, the middle class will grow from 2 billion to 5 billion, and you have a powerful argument for the idea that an increased presence of affordable brands to accommodate the meeting needs of planners (affordable room blocks, meeting spaces and build-your-own meeting packages, etc.) will force diversification of hotel portfolios to include more affordably priced properties, and with them, more affordably priced meeting spaces,” the report said.

And so, hotels have a prime opportunity to attract budget-savvy meetings planners and a still precocious meetings industry.

What do you think? If a hotel employs you, we’d love to hear from you.

30
Dec
14

A Happy New Year for meetings?

Happy New Year hd wallpaper 2015The champagne is chilling and we’re pumped to watch the ball drop as we find ourselves humming “Auld Lang Syne.”

Yep. 2015 is nearly here. Maybe not quite so exciting for event planners, however. We know: It’s crunch time for you. Time to book all your conferences and events and finalize the budget.

The past few months have been a bit harried, no doubt. That’s understandable since it appears 2015 might be challenging for meetings and events.

That’s according to Meeting Professionals International’s Meetings Outlook (fall edition).

The report, developed in partnership with the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, found that in general, costs in 2015 for event services are expected to rise, while budgets are expected to grow only slightly. Specifically, analysts predict air travel costs to rise 5 percent; room rates 3.9 percent; food and beverage/catering costs 4 percent; audiovisual costs 3.1 percent; and meeting room costs 2.5 percent.

Add to that limited guest room availability and shorter lead times for booking, according to the survey’s respondents. In fact, from June to September, the percentage of respondents who faced short lead times doubled from 5 percent to 10 percent.

“We are finding room rates escalating,” said Kevin Beckman, director of strategic accounts for Crowne Plaza Hotel Louisville, and a member of the MPI Kentucky Bluegrass Chapter. “We are adjusting our revenue goals for 2015 and increasing our rates for group business in 2015 and 2016.”

04_30_12_airfareThanks to rising costs, event planners are forced to be more creative. Examples from the MPI report include creating centerpieces from in-season flowers and simple craft supplies and using polyester-like tablecloth pieces. It also means choosing the right location, i.e. a rooftop terrace for a younger crowd (read: less décor needed).

“Great architecture goes a long way, if you highlight it with lighting,” said Pam Madewell, of the MPI Dallas/Fort Worth Chapter, who runs an event management firm. “Fabulous architecture means you don’t have to put a theme-y thing in that place.”

Coming off the heels of a recession, ROI for meetings continues to be important. Unless it’s worth it, companies aren’t going to send their employees to events, and once again, professional development may hit the chopping block.

As a result, MPI says meetings focusing on practical topics, such as training, sales and education, will see the most growth.

WiFiAnd, finally, there’s technology. I’ve written about it many times, and we can’t escape its influence. As technology advances, associations are expected to keep up.

With laptops, iPads and smart phones in hand, participants arrive at events expecting easy connectivity. But some venues don’t seem to have the appropriate Wi-Fi capability.

That’s why Christina Devlin, of MPI’s Oregon Chapter, may purchase a dedicated router to use onsite. She wants to ensure attendees can connect multiple devices simultaneously and enjoy reliable, hiccup-free Wi-Fi.

In short: Event planners may have to plan further ahead and stretch the dollars a bit more. But, from the sounds of it, if you provide good ROI, your guests will come.

As you prepare for 2015, Event Garde wishes you much prosperity. Happy New Year!

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.




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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