Archive for the 'Professional Development' Category


A look back at 2015


IHS group

From left to right: Jenny Hill, Aaron Wolowiec and Cally Hill

As Thanksgiving approaches, it’s time for us at Event Garde to reflect on the many things for which we’re thankful.

From education to content creation, we’ve had a successful year and have experienced tremendous growth.

And we owe much of that to you. Thank you for trusting us to help you learn, network and transfer differently. (See more on this below).

This year end report is just a smattering of the successes we’ve achieved. It’s hard to quantify those day-to-day “ah-ha” moments, but we hope you enjoy this glance at our 2015.

We look forward to spending 2016 with you, and can’t wait to see what’s in store!

Here’s a look at 2015:

communication_strategy_01Marketing and Communications

In September, Event Garde held a marketing and communications retreat in which we discussed our communications strategy and marketing goals. With so many moving parts and pieces throughout the last year, it was time to reflect on our brand.

So we asked ourselves: What have we become? How are we different from our competitors?

Thus the birth of our new tagline: Learn. Network. Transfer.

Learn – We are educators and we are educated. As responsible contributors to our industry, we participate in professional development while also planning it.

Network – We plan events and programs with an emphasis on providing networking environments and opportunities for program attendees and participants. And individually, we belong to networks and organizations that enhance our personal and professional goals.

Transfer – We realize the needs and wants of an industry that experiences ups and downs and use our collective and individual experiences and knowledge to foster performance improvement.

As for personality, here’s a list of words we think describes us:

  • Authentic
  • Capacity-building
  • Client-oriented
  • Detailed
  • Knowledge-seeking
  • Leading-edge
  • Tenacious

Next month, we’ll be discussing how to implement our marketing and communications plan. So stay tuned.

airplane wing

A view from one of Aaron’s many flights

Speaking engagements

This year, Aaron spent many hours on an airplane for speaking engagements. From Atlanta to Florida to Michigan, Aaron spoke at 25 events on a range of topics. Audience size varied from three to 144, but in total, Aaron spoke to more than 1,200 people. Some of the topics: learning/how the brain learns; how to improve conferences and events; and membership.

And here’s what some people had to say:

“Aaron is knowledgeable and engaging.”

“This is the first webinar I actually paid attention to throughout the whole hour.”

“Very engaging, personable, knowledgeable, understood his market, well prepared, very good at herding cats, great content, well-presented. Kept us engaged and moving.”

EG relay for life team

The Event Garde Relay for Life team

Professional development and community engagement

As stated above, we’re lifelong learners, so the staff of Event Garde attended 28 professional development sessions this year, with topics ranging from instructional design to volunteer training to conference presentations.

At the same time, we value the communities in which we live, work and play. And we understand the importance of giving back. So again this year, Event Garde sponsored a Relay for Life team, walking 24 hours around the track at East Lansing High School in recognition of those fighting cancer, in honor of those who’ve triumphed and in remembrance of those who’ve lost their battles.


In 2015, Event Garde produced 50 blog posts. Kristen Parker contributed most of the content, but Aaron wrote posts at the beginning of each month and each month we featured guest bloggers.

On average, blog posts received about 220 views and the site averaged about 200 visitors per month. Topics of the posts varied, but the most popular seemed to be those focused on hotels – rates and room blocks, specifically.

In addition, Event Garde published a newsletter each month, with an average open rate of 600. As an education resource, each newsletter included links to stories or blog posts we found inspiring and informative. In addition, we featured “bright ideas,” in each newsletter and, of course, an Event Garde-ian of the Month.

Throughout the year, niche media publications re-printed blog posts from Kristen and Aaron, quoted Aaron as expert or included written pieces by Aaron. Key media hits include Michigan Meetings + Events, Naylor Publications, Associations Now, Biz Bash, MSAE Association Impact and TSAE Association News.

Here’s a look at some of the media hits:

Meetings and Conventions

Pure Reinvention podcast

Associations Now

Michigan Meetings & Events

new house

Aaron’s new home and Event Garde’s new headquarters

New headquarters
And finally… Event Garde got a new headquarters this year!

Aaron bought a new house in Kalamazoo, which will serve as Event Garde’s new home.


Speaker coaching: The key to unlocking top-rated conference sessions

J5eu0When’s the last time your organization’s education committee was asked to identify the three to five greatest challenges currently inhibiting its industry speakers from reaching their fullest potential during the annual conference? I recently did this for a client and following were the responses that bubbled to the surface:

  • Attendee engagement within presentations is often minimal or formulaic.
  • Facilitators have difficulty reeling in discussion in the allotted time to cover all topics planned within their presentation outlines.
  • PowerPoint slides are overwhelmed by too much content.
  • Presentations often hit on the “This is what we do at…” but do not identify how the idea may be adapted within other contexts.

Do these sound familiar? What would comprise your organization’s “watch list”? Based upon these areas of focus, we then developed a one-page resource and shared it with all selected speakers, requesting they use this document in designing their conference presentation experiences. Specifically, we:

  • Provided 20 different brain-centric attendee engagement strategies ranging from “Write learning objectives into participant materials” to “Schedule post-session touch points.”
  • Encouraged speakers to limit their content and slide decks, plan appropriately for practice and feedback time, park unrelated topics and leave time at the end of their sessions for questions, feedback and evaluations.
  • Assembled 10 slide tips intended to help speakers overcome death by PowerPoint. Key insights ranged from “Limit bullet points and text” to “Use video or audio.”
  • Asked speakers to share with attendees not only their experiences, but also how their ideas might be adapted to other organizations with differing resources.

28ae5ecBut this is just the first step.

Next year we intend to offer a training webinar (or a series of shorter training webinars) that helps illuminate these and other strategies, and provide individualized coaching that allows for more robust reflection, planning, practice and feedback.

Additional ideas for investing in conference speakers might include one or more of the following:

  • Personal feedback from professional development/learning staff sitting in on conference presentations.
  • Key insights from an outside consultant conducting an education audit during the conference.
  • Aggregate feedback from attendee evaluations focused more on learning outcomes than on attendee reactions.
  • Self-evaluations conducted by speakers and peer-reviewed by staff/volunteers.
  • Online community devoted to questions, answers and other resources intended to support speaker development.

Growth in the delivery of conference presentations is an iterative process. Mastery does not occur overnight. Rather, repeat industry speakers should be provided ongoing learning guidance, opportunities to practice new knowledge and skills, meaningful feedback from seasoned colleagues and staff and job aids that enhance retention and transfer.

What strategies have you found most successful in mentoring your industry speakers in the design and delivery of top-rated conference sessions?


Training truths be told

Can the color of a marker really make a difference in how we learn?

Yes, according to research.

But it’s not necessarily the color. Instead, it’s choosing the color.

“Research shows that giving learners choices – even seemingly trivial ones – can improve performance,” said Stephen Meyer, president and CEO of Rapid Learning Institute. “Bottom line: Embed choices into the learning process, even if they don’t seem meaningful. It’s easy to assume these choices don’t matter, but they engage learners and cost nothing.”

He recently released an e-book, “10 Truths about Workplace Training…that just ain’t so,” which debunks myths surrounding workplace training. Such training, Meyer says, correlates with the ways in which humans learn and the ways in which our brains are wired.

Back to markers (read: choice). Meyer lists four training recommendations regarding choice: Even small choices, like choosing time and location of a training session, will produce results; allow learners to personalize their approach to training; have fun – let trainees choose the kind of candy they get as a reward; and be careful – providing too much choice will backfire.

My other favorite “myth:” Not everything you’ve learned is forever etched in your brain. Case in point: I struggle to help my eighth grader with geometry!

Meyer points to research by neuroscientists about “encoding,” in which the brain decides what’s important enough to retain. And so, when it comes to training, your pupils’ brains will decide what sticks and what doesn’t. According to researchers there are four important cues: social context, activity, connection to existing knowledge and repetition. As such, trainers should integrate these strategies into their methods and curricula.

What does this mean?

Social – Human beings are social creatures, so by creating social situations – rather than just giving lectures and presentations – people are more apt to retain information. So…try role-playing.

Active learning – Rather than expecting your participants to simply memorize and recite lists, put them through a sample exercise.

Existing knowledge – Tie new ideas into familiar concepts and language.

Repetition – While no one wants to beat a dead horse, repetition is important. So, after you teach a lesson, incorporate key messages into following lessons.

training_1The eight other truths:

  • Assessments aren’t just for scoring; they motivate people to learn.
  • Complex concepts can be taught in small bites.
  • Learners who struggle remember more.
  • Sometimes people remember and learn more by watching trainers do things incorrectly.
  • You can train people to perform – and learn – under pressure.
  • People will change their minds if you get them to see the truth. Visuals, such as charts and graphs, work well.
  • Mental rehearsal works just as well as physical performance.
  • Reinforce concepts. Don’t let learners forget.

“When it comes to learning, there are a lot of misconceptions,” Meyer said. “People have different learning styles. Not exactly. Learners are either ‘right brain’ or ‘left brain.’ Nope. We sometimes forget stuff because we only use 10 percent of our brains, right? Wrong. A mix of myth and antiquated science leads us to believe a whole lot about learning that just isn’t accurate.”

At Event Garde, we educate ourselves on how people learn so we can effectively teach. If you’ve got other research to share, please email Kristen at


Bonus content – Event Garde e-news – October edition

Kate Pojeta, conventions and exhibitions manager

Kate Pojeta, conventions and exhibitions manager

Q & A with Kate Pojeta, conventions and exhibitions manager, Event Garde

Q: What are you looking most forward to in your role with EG?
A: Event Garde has some amazing clients and I’m excited to be on the team to help conventions succeed. Conference planning was a part of my work experience for years, and then I took a little hiatus from it. I missed it, yet was able to work with some of my clients on small bits and pieces of their conferences. Now in the role of conventions and exhibitions manager, I’m looking forward to being involved in the full process and experience again.

Q: Give us one little known fact about you.
A: I earned my degree in deaf education from Michigan State University but never used it, as I was working in the association industry at the time. However, I have spent years teaching “Baby Signs” to families around Michigan, and I am an instructor for American Sign Language through Michigan Virtual University.

Q: Which season represents you best, and why?
A: Fall! It’s cozy (hot cider anyone?) and I love being cozy, and because it’s such a variety of colors. Fall speaks to the variety of skill sets I’ve acquired through some unique careers and job opportunities throughout the years.

Q: If you could spend the day with a famous person, who would it be, and why?
A: I’m going to extend the question to include “living or deceased” and pick Franklin D. Roosevelt. He would be incredibly interesting to converse with about the many political and societal changes he made while in office. I find his life work, and that of his wife, inspiring. Our third son was born with a birth defect that resulted in partial paralysis of his lower legs and overall weakness in the lower half of his body, so I would love to learn more from FDR about his experiences and struggles living with considerable physical challenges, especially given the demands of being president.

Q: It’s a Friday night…what would we find you doing?
A: My husband and I have four kids, 6 years and under, so Friday nights are often spent at home! We’re exhausted from the week and usually have busy weekends. Friday nights we try to lay low so you would probably find our family watching a movie and snacking on popcorn until the kids go to bed. Then, depending on our own level of sleepiness, we might attempt housecleaning or some end-of-the-week work or we might just stay on the couch and relax until we fall asleep or one of the kids wakes back up!


Latest ruling could mean more unpaid internships

free_laborIt’s summer…and that means planning season for many of you. Perhaps that planning includes whether to hire an intern for the upcoming year. And with that comes the question: “Should we pay them?”

In September 2013, I wrote a post about the Black Swan case, in which a federal judge ruled that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by not paying interns during the production of the 2010 movie “Black Swan.” (It was one of our most popular posts!)

The judge ruled the interns performed the same work duties for which others were paid and the internships didn’t provide an educational environment, but instead benefited the studio.

Now, just two years later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has thrown a boon to employers – but a blow to interns.

On July 2, it ruled the Federal District Court in the Black Swan case used an incorrect standard – one set by the Department of Labor – to define an internship, declaring that as long as work serves an educational purpose, it can considered an internship – paid or unpaid. Using this test, a person is an employee only if the employer benefits more from the relationship than the intern.

Cutting through the legalese: This could make unpaid internships much easier to justify, and could lead to a surge of them in the workforce.

It’s a touchy conversation among millennials, most of whom expect to get paid for their services. As I wrote in the post two years ago, interns are no longer the “coffee getters” and “copy makers.” Most employers consider interns valuable team members and delegate professional responsibilities to them – many of the same responsibilities for which employees receive compensation.

But the argument remains: Does professional experience outweigh money?

The National Association of Colleges and Employers issued a statement on July 2 in response to the U.S. District Court’s ruling, saying, “At the foundation of such an assessment is the tenet that the internship is a legitimate learning experience benefiting the student and not simply an operational work experience that just happens to be conducted by a student. The core question, according to NACE, is whether or not work performed by an intern will primarily benefit the employer in a way that does not also advance the education of the student.”

Internships-resize200dpi2As further explanation, NACE developed criteria that employers can use to determine which experiences can legitimately be classified as internships:

  • The experience must be an extension of the classroom: a learning experience that provides for applying the knowledge gained in the classroom. It must not be simply to advance the operations of the employer or be the work that a regular employee would routinely perform.
  • The skills or knowledge learned must be transferable to other employment settings.
  • The experience has a defined beginning and end and a job description with desired qualifications.
  • There are clearly defined learning objectives/goals related to the professional goals of the student’s academic coursework.
  • There is supervision by a professional with expertise and educational and/or professional background in the field of the experience.
  • There is routine feedback by the experienced supervisor.
  • There are resources, equipment and facilities provided by the host employer that support learning objectives/goals.
  • Unpaid internships in the not-for-profit sector reflect the fiscal realities and limitations for organizations in that sector and are acknowledged accordingly in current Department of Labor guidelines and enforcement practices.
  • All interns, regardless of their compensation, should enjoy similar basic protections in the work setting consistent with all laws, ethical considerations and sound business practices.

At the same time, NACE’s 2015 Internship & Co-op Survey found the current overall average hourly rate for bachelor’s degree-level interns, adjusted for inflation to 2010 levels, is $15.98. In comparison, the average hourly rate for interns was $17 in 2010.

While associations and nonprofits may not be first of mind for interns, they offer valuable experiential learning experiences, wrote Todd Van Deak, president and founder of Philadelphia-based TVD Associates, in an October 2013 Event Garde post.

So it’s important to consider how your organization could enhance interns’ educational experiences.

As a follow up, tell us…do you pay your interns? Why or why not?


Selecting and coaching speakers to deliver quality digital presentations


This post was originally written by Aaron Wolowiec for the CommPartners blog.

When it comes to identifying topics for face-to-face and digital presentations, there are generally two schools of thought:

Call for presentations; or
Content curation.

In a traditional call for presentations, a general invitation is released to an organization’s key constituents to submit topic ideas for a program. This call provides detailed instructions for submission of papers for assessment and selection by a review committee. Ultimately, constituent submissions are returned to the committee for review, scoring and selection.

In a content curation process, a committee comprised of a cross-section of the organization’s key constituents first identifies the topics of greatest interest or concern to the industry. In some instances, this committee may rely on a content outline such as the one created for the Certified Association Executive (CAE) exam.

If no outline is available, the committee will consider current trends, future trends (five to 10 years or more into the future) and other hot topics likely keeping the industry up at night. Once content is reviewed, ranked and confirmed, the result is a makeshift content outline the committee can use to disseminate speaker asks.

Ultimately, staff inherent speakers from one of these two methods. Via the call for presentations approach, speakers self-represent their content expertise and speaking prowess and are selected accordingly. Via the content curation approach, speaker asks may be more deliberate (e.g., based on credentials or demonstrated know-how); however, they are limited by the committee’s network.

Regardless of the method used, there really is no guarantee speakers will be successful. Your candidate may be an experienced and skilled face-to-face presenter, a 30-year industry veteran and a world-renowned practitioner, but still may not be ready to present utilizing a digital platform.

SpeakerBefore selecting a speaker for your next digital presentation, consider that individual’s digital presentation experience. Additionally, request evaluation data. Where possible, it’s best if the speaker has previously presented (successfully) using the same digital platform you intend to use. Remember, not all digital platforms are created equal.

And regardless of experience, speakers should be open to furthering their presentation skills. Following are 11 challenges and possible solutions you may use to coach your speakers in delivering quality digital presentations. Of course, practice is still the best strategy for mentoring speakers who have no previous digital presentation experience.

Challenge: Attendees seem disconnected from the speaker/learning experience.
Solution: Utilize a webcam to deliver the presentation; care should be taken to look directly into the camera throughout the program.

Challenge: With no facial expressions/body language to draw from, the speaker is uncertain attendees are “getting” the content.
Solution: Consider pausing the presentation periodically to ask an assessment question via the digital platform’s poll function.

Challenge: When joining remotely, participants are constantly distracted by email and other visual cues.
Solution: Set ground rules for participants early in the program and ask attendees to follow along in a pre-printed participant guide where they can complete assignments and take notes.

Challenge: Reflection activities cause a lot of dead space/air time during the program.
Solution: Convert the reflection activity into a pre- or post-program assignment.

Challenge: Practice activities facilitated during face-to-face programs don’t seem to translate into a digital environment.
Solution: Encourage multiple registrants from the same office or gather attendees at centralized locations to participate in the program together; arm them with a supplies list, directions and plenty of activity time.

Challenge: Four or more hours of content may be required to teach a particular skill.
Solution: Segment and sequence content into smaller modules. No more than 60 minutes is suggested, though even shorter is preferred.

Challenge: Learners want to share their experiences, but this is difficult to facilitate when all of the lines are muted for optimal sound quality.
Solution: Allow attendees to demonstrate their interest in speaking and then open up only their phone lines. Alternatively, gather attendee stories in advance of the program and have the moderator read them aloud.

Challenge: Participants are easily bored by digital presentations.
Solution: Incorporate different instructional strategies into the program beyond lecture (e.g., video, poll, chat).

Challenge: The chat function is difficult to moderate so it often goes unused/is turned off.
Solution: Participants crave interaction with their peers. They also learn a lot from these conversations. Utilize a separate chat moderator who can prompt discussion with attendees, respond to questions and pose trending questions to the speaker.

Challenge: The digital platform makes it difficult for the speaker to provide personalized attendee feedback.
Solution: Allow participants the opportunity within 30 days to follow-up with the speaker directly (e.g., ask a question, gain clarification).

Challenge: It’s challenging to ensure retention and job transfer post-program.
Solution: Encourage action planning to focus learner ideas and next steps; create a job aid to guide future performance; or schedule post-session touch points (e.g., 30, 60 and 90 days).


3 E-learning Myths It’s Time to Put to Bed

Jeff Cobb

Jeff Cobb, co-founder of Tagoras Inc.

This month’s guest blog post is by Jeff Cobb, co-founder of Tagoras and co-host of the annual Leading Learning Symposium, a high impact event for leaders in the business of lifelong learning, continuing education and professional development. It was originally published on the CommPartners blog.

With the global e-learning market now valued at more than $100 billion, we are well past the point where e-learning is simply a trend. It has become a fact of life for learners of all ages, and particularly for those who are coming up through the K-12 and higher education systems – in other words, future association members and lifelong learning customers.

In spite of this shift, there is often still reluctance on the part of organizations to fully embrace e-learning and promote it as a flagship offering. In my experience, there are three key myths at the root of this reluctance and it is past time to dispel each of them once and for all.

Myth No. 1: E-learning is not as effective as classroom-based learning

There is – and has been for decades – a reliable, valid body of research that refutes this claim. As Ruth Clark and Richard Mayer put it in their classic E-learning and the Science of Instruction:

“From the plethora of media comparison research conducted over the past sixty years, we have learned that it’s not the delivery medium, but rather the instructional methods that cause learning. When the instructional methods remain essentially the same, so does the learning, no matter which medium is used to deliver instruction. [13-14]”

In other words, if appropriate methods for achieving the desired learning objectives are used, the medium (e.g., online or classroom) matters relatively little.

Perceptions of e-learning tend to suffer from the fact that it is often designed poorly, but in most cases, dramatic improvements can be made with relatively straightforward changes and without breaking the bank. I recommend Clark and Mayer’s book as the first place to look for actionable suggestions.

Myth No. 2: Creating interactivity in e-learning costs a lot

In my experience, this myth springs from a misunderstanding of what “interactivity” means. The default assumption seems to be that it involves adding animation and game-like elements to courses, but effective interaction can be achieved with much simpler methods.

Whether in live or self-paced e-learning, simply posing reflective questions or scenarios to learners is arguably a form of interaction – one that can be enhanced by having the learners respond via chat or discussion board. And simple quizzing is another. Indeed, low-stakes quizzing throughout a learning experience has been shown to be one of the most effective ways to make learning stick. Another is to have learners download worksheets they can make use of before, during or after a course experience.

Of course, if you do want to add animation or game elements to your e-learning experiences, even the cost of doing that has dropped through the floor. Many self-paced e-learning authoring tools now provide a variety of ways for adding in software-based interactive elements with no programming knowledge at all. Used judiciously in combination with some of the other options suggested above, these tools can empower organizations to create highly interactive e-learning without breaking the bank.

E-learning Concept. Computer KeyboardMyth No. 3: People won’t pay for e-learning

This one has staged something of a comeback with the rise of MOOCs and other free content, but it doesn’t take much more than observation and common sense to dispel it.

People have been paying thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars, for online degrees for decades now. The online training site, recently acquired by LinkedIn for $1.5 billion, was operating profitably on around $150 million dollars a year in revenue at the time of the acquisition. I routinely consult with associations that have e-learning businesses generating hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.

I could go on and on, but the point is that it has been clear for ages that people will pay for e-learning that actually delivers value. The rise of “free” content has not and will not change that. What it has changed and will continue to change is the imperative to actually deliver and prove you are delivering value with your e-learning (and all of your other educational offerings, for that matter). If you are having trouble getting people to pay for your e-learning, value is the first issue to investigate.

So there you have it: It is possible to create e-learning that is as effective as classroom-based learning, provide for interactivity at reasonable cost and assuming you do these things and communicate the results effectively, charge appropriately for it.

And that’s no myth.

meet aaron

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

meet kristen

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

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 4,736 other followers

Facebook updates

Twitter Updates

Featured in Alltop


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,736 other followers

%d bloggers like this: