Archive for the 'Meetings' Category

17
Mar
15

Your next event needs its own War Room

This month’s guest blog post is by Jordan McArthur, content marketing manager and event tech specialist at Guidebook Inc., which specializes in providing app technology for events. It was originally posted on the Guidebook Resources blog.

Jordan McArthur

Jordan McArthur, content marketing manager and event tech specialist at Guidebook Inc.

As we discuss ways to make events extremely personal and give our attendees true experiences that exceed their expectations, it’s hard not to wonder, “What do the actual logistics of something like that that look like?”

That’s where the concept of The War Room comes into play. That’s right – we’re talking about a central command center where all hell can break loose if it needs to. Just like in the movies.

A war room might be metaphorical at your next event – the name of your emergency game plan, for instance – but we’re suggesting you strongly consider an actual room. Choose somewhere out of the way – a utility closet, a hotel room, a conference room in the next building over – where a team of first-responders can work without the distractions of the event floor.

You’ll also want to make sure you’ve limited access to (and knowledge of) the room itself. This is not the place for the CEO – that will only cause major distractions and may entirely derail the whole operation.

Let’s be clear what we’re creating here. A war room exists at your event for the benefit of your participants. It is solely focused on making sure that the product you’re providing them is seamless, meaningful and tailored to their specific needs. A war room is a nerve center that can immediately and efficiently address the needs of your attendees and/or exhibitors, and it has grown out of an ever-growing expectation that events and meetings will be engaging, dynamic experiences.

Let’s take a look at the type of war room you might want to set up at your next event.

The Social Media Command Center

Your event will be social whether you plan for it or not. The fact of the matter is that people talk about their experiences on social media – all of their experiences.

Establishing a Social Media Command Center means that you’ve embraced social and taken a proactive role in guiding the conversation, rather than falling victim to it.

Talk to your participants

Conversation tracking can be done as simply as establishing an event hashtag to as robustly as using detailed visualization software (such as Buzz Radar). The key, however, is staffing people who are primed to respond no matter the circumstances.

Negative social conversation can alert you to a small problem before it becomes a big problem. For example, your attendees are likely to be the ones to tell you first if it’s too cold in the keynote. People may be discussing confusing traffic patterns or a lack of trash cans – all things that can easily be remedied.

But just as important as tracking the negative is responding to the positive. Liking, commenting on, favoriting and retweeting sentiments from your attendees will create a positive feedback loop and encourage more and more of your attendees to join in on the love fest – and that’s good for you, your brand and your ROI.

PrintCustomize your content

Now here’s where you can really take things to the next level. What if the social conversation started shaping the content of your event? With your Social Media Command Center in place, you have the ability to start dynamically integrating your attendees’ real time conversations into the event itself.

Knowing what’s being said means that a mainstage presentation can suddenly become interactive with immediate audience feedback – or that you could actually start shaping content on the fly based on what people want to hear about. Let your attendees vote on a session’s topic, or really live on the edge and leave a blank spot in your speaker schedule to develop a day-of session based on hot topics at the event. At the very least, curate the best of your social shares on a large screen in plain view so that people are inspired to join in.

The Crisis Management Center

There are going to be mistakes and mess-ups. Let’s all just admit that now and move on with figuring out the best way to handle them.

A Crisis Management Center is the most covert of all the war rooms. Its existence is known to few, and some of your most trusted people are there to make sure that anything that goes wrong is immediately taken care of in a way that draws little to no attention.

A Crisis Management Center will need a direct line of communication with the show floor. (May we suggest the app Voxer?) Once they’ve been linked in to monitoring the most important aspects of the event – time, flow, social, etc. – they should have the authority to make judgment calls as incidents arise.

One of the most powerful responsibilities of the Crisis Management Center will be the ability to actually change the program of your event. It may be as simple as a session time change, but it could be as complex as scheduling a completely new session and alerting attendees of its existence.

For this reason, it’s imperative that the Crisis Management Center has access to updating your event app. By doing so, attendees will always have the most up-to-date information and the team can send push messages as necessary to alert folks of the changes.

The Concierge Center

War rooms aren’t just for immediate reactions and handling problems – they’re also great for making the experience of your event excellent for everyone involved. A proactive mindset can go a long way toward making sure your participants are receiving the personal, experiential treatment.

Happiness on-demand

One possibility for a Concierge Center would be to create an on-demand service for your exhibitors using your event app. It’s inevitable that someone’s going to forget his or her charger or need a roll of duct tape. Allow yourself to save the day by being the provider of such things. Create a feedback form within your app where exhibitors can request commonly misplaced or forgotten items.

You could even take a cue from Uber and deliver fun items for a much-needed mid-show reprieve. Uber made headlines with its insanely popular kitten delivery and on-demand ice cream. Just imagine the wave of positive feelings that instant chocolate delivery would induce in your exhibitors, all at a relatively low cost to you.

banner_customer_serviceContests with purpose

Contests are a great way to get people engaging as well. You might try gamifying your event app in order to get people to follow a particular pattern around your show floor. Another option is to gather prizes beforehand that you know you will give away during the event. Then use your Concierge Center to identify certain objectives you would like people to complete and offer prizes for doing so. Use this to bring foot traffic to a dead area or engage with a sponsor that’s not getting enough love. It’s all about flexibility.

Unparalleled experience

The bottom line is that personalized events take resources. It’s going to cost you a little time, money and manpower to pull off any sort of hyper-personal experience. The payoffs in participant happiness and ROI, however, will be well beyond the upfront costs. Consider the war room structure at your next event and you’ll be looking at unprecedented satisfaction.

03
Mar
15

11 ideas for partnering with local venues

UnknownWhen’s the last time this happened to you? There’s a highly recommended, world-class speaker you’d like to feature at an upcoming program. She’s perfect for your event in every way, except for the associated price tag. After much negotiation, you’re able to secure the “friends and family” discount; however, it’s still more than you’ve budgeted.

If your meeting comprises a qualified audience of planners or other decision-makers, you might consider an in-kind sponsorship with a local hotel or conference center. Following are 11 ideas for partnering with local venues:

  1. Select three venues that might like to showcase their property and reach out to them directly with the understanding that this partnership will be secured on a first-come, first-served basis
  2. Allow venue to give tours/sales kits following the program
  3. Encourage two to three venue staff to participate in the program and to be available during registration, breaks and meal functions to engage with attendees
  4. Recognize venue as the title sponsor in promotional materials (e.g., print, website, social media, magazine, email)
  5. Give venue a couple of complimentary registrations to parcel out to potential clients; venue could make these VIP experiences with a complimentary overnight and breakfast before/after the program
  6. Give venue the complete participant list before/after the program
  7. Allow participants to register at a discounted rate if they complete a brief meetings portfolio survey that is then shared with the venue
  8. Allow venue to set up a booth near registration
  9. Allow venue a three-minute introduction, video or slideshow to kick-off the program
  10. Encourage venue to host breakfast/lunch; during this time, a venue representative should be assigned to each round to meet and engage with participants
  11. Ask venue what other deliverables they would like to receive [perhaps association-related products and services] and do your best to share whatever you can

What other ideas do you have for successful partnerships between venues and associations?

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!




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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