Posts Tagged ‘trends


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).


Is your organization mobile app ready?

Whether or not your association currently utilizes a mobile app for its annual meeting or as part of a larger, annual engagement strategy, the question remains: Just how ready is your organization to deploy a mobile app?

Recently, I had the opportunity to utilize my mobile app prowess – as a former education director and current learning strategist – to partner with mobile engagement company Results at Hand to develop a simple, 16-question Mobile App Readiness Assessment.

Today, you are invited to take part in this brief assessment at no cost to you. With only 16 questions to answer, you’ll receive a unique score and relevant resources tailored to your results immediately upon completion. Assessment topics include intended audience, preferred features, adoption rationale and more.

The results from this assessment will be used to draw conclusions about the current state of mobile practices within the association community, and will offer thoughtful insights and actionable recommendations that may be used by organizations like yours in future benchmarking and strategic planning efforts.

1367683_origThere is no compensation for responding to this assessment; however, all respondents who complete it are eligible for a complimentary copy of the final report resulting from this research. If you choose to participate, please answer all questions as honestly and as completely as possible. Participation is strictly voluntary and you may discontinue participation at any time. Completion of the assessment will indicate your willingness to participate in this study.

Thank you, in advance, for taking part in this valuable research. Should you have questions or require additional information, please contact me.

To begin, click this link. As you complete the assessment, please select the one response—unless otherwise indicated—that best describes your answer to each question. All reported data will be shared in aggregate form only. No individual data will be released.

Thank you again for your participation. We look forward to sharing the results with you later this year. In the meantime, if you’re craving more mobile resources, check out these 17 Stats for the Mobile Skeptic or these 2015 Strategic Mobile Trends for Associations and Event Leaders.


Good news foodies: Conference venues are listening

small_plates_of_foodAt a conference dinner earlier this month, a bunch of us, hungry and tired, sat at the table joking that chicken was most likely on the menu.

And it was. But we had salmon, too. And vegetables, rolls, rice, salad and dessert. Sounds about right for a conference, yes?

So imagine our surprise when the rest of the meals didn’t consist of the typical conference grub, but instead included fancy finger foods, fresh vegetables, flavorfully spiced meats and beautiful presentation. It was straight out of Pinterest or my “Cooking Light” magazine.

For the most part, everything was fairly healthy (except for the desserts). But more importantly: There were options.

According to a new list by International Association of Conference Centres, such palate-pleasing spreads will soon be the norm.

The global organization recently released its Top 10 Conference Food and Beverage Trends for 2015, and healthy tops the list. Farm-to-food eating is gaining popularity across the globe, so conference venues are taking note.

“Recently, there has been an enormous shift toward health and the impact that food can have on concentration and productivity,” said Mark Cooper, CEO of IACC. “The trends identified in our research take this knowledge to the next level and will help meeting planners to deliver the ultimate experience when it comes to catering for conferences.”

Here’s IACC’s list:

  1. Local is everything – The importance of adding a local feel to meetings has been identified as a major trend, as attendees want to experience as much as they can about the area they’re visiting for their meeting or event.
  2. Network your heart out – Small plates of food, continuously served in a reception format, add a nice break to an extended event. Another popular choice is to hold a more substantial networking-friendly dining reception midway through your event, as it provides a great way for guests to meet up in a causal environment and build relationships while enjoying great food and beverage.
  3. Small is the new big – Bite-sized desserts have overtaken larger portions in popularity. Conference delegates are turning their backs on the big slice of cake and heading instead for the signature bite-size desert station. Warm house-made donuts, chocolate truffles, French macaroons, mini cupcakes and house-made cookies are top of the list for planners.
  4. In with flavor, out with fats – Healthy choices don’t need to resemble rabbit food. Conference chefs are increasingly working with exciting new ingredients, including whole grains, protein alternatives (quinoa, amaranth, tofu, beans), green vegetables (kale, spinach), low fat and low-sugar foods that sound, look and taste great.
  5. Making and breaking bread together – Nothing brings the team together more than food. Having the opportunity to cook with someone can unveil a new hidden talent not seen in an office environment or company outing.
  6. Contrasting environments – Utilizing outside space to create a change in scenery and a casual dining experience will revitalize attendees, especially during multi-day meetings and events.
  7. Finale, not gala – Make sure the last night of your event has all the components to create a dynamic environment and brings people together to celebrate the end of a great conference. Be creative and choose your room seating layout and dining style to deliver that finale.
  8. Theatricality – Adding a chef-run interactive station can also highlight the menu with fresh prepared items (Panini, clubhouse or slider). Remember to ask for gluten-free options.
  9. Go micro for max effect – With the explosion in microbreweries offering brews that appeal to all tastes, ask your conference planner if he or she can make pre-dinner drinks a local affair.
  10. Infused tea cocktails – The English drink a lot of it and now the world has caught on to the latest trend: infused tea cocktails. Combine this with trend nine and you can have a double brew at your next reception.

NXT-CRAFTYBEERDRINKER-TBFood and drink bring people together. Case in point: Think about your last gathering. Did everyone congregate around the food, in the kitchen?

Try to create those same casual, memorable experiences at your next gathering. While education and professional development will draw your participants to your event, networking – especially over crisp wine and trendy appetizers – will bring them back.


Good data, good decisions

analyticsBig data equal big opportunity.

It sounds simple, but for most associations, it’s not.

Think about all the data your association has at its fingertips: demographics of your members, conference registrations, product sales, vendor buying habits.

It’s a goldmine, right? But chances are, it’s untapped.

Data are crucial to associations’ decision making, so if an association has “dirty data” (vs. quality data), that’s a problem, said Elizabeth Engel, CEO of Spark Consulting, who recently co-authored a whitepaper with Peter Houstle, CEO of Mariner Management & Marketing, LLC, on evidence-based decision making.

“Much like a successful exercise program, a sustainable data quality management program must become a deeply ingrained institutional habit shared by every member of your team,” Engel said. “Achieving a clean, unified dataset that captures your key data points is a critical first step to implementing the type of evidence-based decision-making that allows you to most effectively allocate your limited resources to advance your mission.”

Elizabeth Engel, CEO and chief strategist for Spark Consulting, LLC.

Elizabeth Engel, CEO and chief strategist for Spark Consulting, LLC.

So where does an association start? Engel suggests answering three key questions:

1. What’s your association’s baseline? What is it trying to achieve? Where and how large is the gap between the two? The answers should be strategic, measurable goals, such as growing membership by 80 percent.

2. What drives success for your association? These are your Key Performance Indicators, the process-related metrics that determine how well your association is doing. So a KPI related to membership growth might be the retention rate.

3. Who are your customers and what do they need from your association? In other words, what do your members need to make membership so valuable that they’ll renew?

For example, think about your last conference. How does your association determine its success? Perhaps your event had the largest turnout in history, but what if several of those registrations were complimentary? Or what if your attendees’ buying needs didn’t match your vendors’ selling needs?

Simply put: When it comes to data, quality trumps quantity.

By themselves, data are just numbers. But inside those numbers are patterns and trends, which sometimes aren’t easy to spot. That’s why there’s a plethora of data visualization tools, i.e. graphs and charts, to help associations analyze data. Engel and Houstle list several examples in their whitepaper.

With such tools, associations can:

  • Plot members by region and overlay income demographics from the U.S. Census
  • Identify the most frequent sources of volunteers
  • Spot trends in member participation
  • Compare attendee profiles across event types
  • Detect common exit points in website visits across various member demographics

Take the Entomological Society of America (yes, bugs). Students comprised 30 percent of its membership, and as such, the association had been focusing on recruiting and retaining students.

But upon analysis, ESA discovered a large membership drop off after graduation. After analyzing membership data, it concluded that focusing efforts on student retention wasn’t paying off. So ESA revamped its membership efforts to retain all members, especially regular professionals, who bring in more revenue.

ESA’s new membership model is just one example of effective data mining. The whitepaper lists several others, such as ASAE deciding to stop one of its print publications.

Tell us, how does your association use data?


New data: Volunteerism at an all-time low

volunteer-11As parents, I think most of us want to instill in our children the importance of giving back. Thus the reason I’m PTA president, I teach Sunday School and chaperone field trips.

As a working mom, it’s sometimes hard to manage professional and personal commitments, but new federal government data suggest that we working moms volunteer the most.

That said, volunteerism is on the decline, according to a new report released Feb. 25 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The report found that volunteerism fell 1.1 percent in 2013, with a total of 25.4 percent of people reporting some form of volunteerism. This figure is the lowest since the bureau started the survey in 2002.

Data were collected through a supplement to the September 2013 Current Population Survey, sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service. The CPS is a monthly survey of about 60,000 households that obtains information on employment and unemployment for the nation’s civilian non-institutional population age 16 and older.

According to the report, about 62.5 million people volunteered at least once from September 2012 to September 2013, averaging 50 hours. And, as mentioned above, women volunteered more than men.

Surprisingly, while we’ve heard that Millennials and younger generations find volunteering important, 35 to 44 year olds volunteered the most, while 20 to 24 year olds volunteered the least.

Why? Because many of us in our mid-30s and mid-40s are parents. Specifically, the report found 44.5 percent of moms vs. 38 percent of dads volunteered. Religious organizations took the top spot for volunteering, followed by schools, sports groups or other youth extracurricular groups.

Other key findings of the BLS survey:

  • Married people volunteered at a higher rate
  • Those who achieved a higher level of education volunteered more often and were more likely to volunteer with multiple organizations
  • Part-time employees volunteered more than full-time employees
Peggy Hoffman

Peggy Hoffman, president of Mariner Management and Marketing, LLC

The data may be surprising, but it’s important for associations to keep them in perspective, said Peggy Hoffman, president of Mariner Management and Marketing, LLC.

“There isn’t clear indication of why [volunteer hours are down], but remember that this study looks at community volunteering, which is different from association volunteering,” she said.  “We do know that people have less time and more work responsibilities, so it makes sense that volunteering is down and will continue to be until we create accessible volunteering.”

So what’s the key, especially to attracting young, energetic volunteers?

Gen Xers are inspired by entrepreneurial approaches and celebrate individual effort and risk-taking, Hoffman said.

In addition, Millennials thrive on cross-mentoring with older volunteers, especially when it comes to technology, said Elizabeth Engel, CEO and chief strategist for Spark Consulting, LLC.

“This presents a terrific way to build relationships between the generations, to create micro-volunteering opportunities for your younger volunteers, to allow them to develop the professional skills they seek through volunteerism and for your Boomer volunteers to learn new skills as well,” she said.

But first you have to ask, Engel added. In fact, according to the BLS study, 40.5 percent of people volunteered because they were asked.

And feedback is just as important. Engel and Hoffman suggest asking what interests volunteers, and it can be done casually during drinks, a quick poll or during a conference call.

Elizabeth Engel, CEO and chief strategist for Spark Consulting, LLC

Elizabeth Engel, CEO and chief strategist for Spark Consulting, LLC

“You can ask people to suggest topics for your newsletter, magazine, blog, webinars or conference, or vote on topics others have suggested. You can ask people to rate an article or comment on a blog post. You can ask people to post a question or an answer to your LinkedIn group, private community or list serv.

“You can ask people to make a personal call to a new member, welcoming her to your association. You can ask people to serve as welcome ambassadors at your chapter events or as meeting buddies for first-timers at your annual conference. You can ask attendees to share their thoughts at a town hall meeting at your next event. You can ask people to take a poll or short survey. You can ask people to share your content through Facebook or Twitter. You can ask them how they’d like to contribute to your association. Truly, you’re only limited by your imagination,” Engel said.

For more ideas on attracting volunteers, check out this previous blog post about mission-driven volunteering.

What trends are you seeing in your volunteers? Are you surprised by the findings of the BLS report?


That’s so…2013

Each month, we’re asking editors and content producers to share with us what they’re writing about, upcoming trends and other behind-the-scenes must-haves for the association industry.

Julie Shoop

Julie Shoop, editor of Associations Now.

If you’d like to contribute, please contact Kristen Parker, digital content manager for Event Garde LLC, at

This week’s guest blog post includes excerpts from “What’s Out, What’s In: Association Edition,” by Julie Shoop, editor of Associations Now.


Out: Aging brands
In: New names, fresh logos

Globalization, digital technology, shifting markets, regulatory change—with so many disruptions in the business environment, it’s no wonder that a slew of associations remade their brands and aimed to broaden their reach in 2013. Cases in point: Lobbyists became government relations professionals; recording merchandisers became Music Biz. Associations in the fashion, mobile, supply chain, marketing and recycling industries hopped on the rebranding bandwagon as well. We’ll be watching for who’s up next in 2014.


Out: Lavish meetings and events
In: Slim federal conference and travel budgets

There’s a new reality for associations serving industries that interact heavily with the federal workforce: Government meeting attendance isn’t what it used to be. The wave of scrutiny that started in 2012 with revelations about a lavish General Services Administration conference in Las Vegas grew higher this year as reports of excessive spending on meetings by the IRS and Department of Veterans Affairs came to light. With slimmer conference and travel budgets now written into law, association events will continue to take a hit. Associations will need to drive home the value of face-to-face meetings to government agencies that will be footing the bill with fewer dollars and congressional watchdogs looking over their shoulders.

Workplace Culture

Out: Constant collaboration
In: Time and space for solitude

This was the year when a “whole world of secret introverts” was exposed, and being quiet was suddenly cool. Thanks largely to Susan Cain, author of the bestselling “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” momentum is building for greater understanding of different personalities and work styles to leverage every staffer’s strengths in pursuit of business goals. It was an eye-opening message for associations, where collaboration is king. Remember the buzz around open workspaces to promote teamwork? Now, not so much.


Out: Long-term commitments
In: Micro-volunteering

Plenty of dedicated association volunteers share their time and talents in abundance year in and year out—but that’s probably a small group of your hard-core enthusiasts. Micro-volunteering is emerging as a smart way to expand your volunteer pool and build engagement among your less connected members. Got people who can’t commit to helping plan your annual meeting, but can spend a few hours being a conference greeter? This is for them.
Editor’s note: See a related blog post for more on this.


Out: Bemoaning congressional gridlock (was this ever in?)
In: Putting pressure on Washington

The government shutdown in October highlighted the power of associations to show policymakers the consequences of their actions—or inaction. From air traffic controllers to businesses to Head Start and Meals on Wheels, nonprofits sent volunteers, activists and cold, hard data to D.C. about the effects of the shutdown. Their collective message: This hurts everyone. Fix it.


Out: Expert-driven education
In: Peer-to-peer learning

With competition heating up from for-profit providers offering free or low-cost alternatives to association education programs, pressure to innovate in association learning mounted in 2013. While we don’t expect to see the traditional keynote address fall by the wayside anytime soon, associations are experimenting with decentralized learning formats where peers interact in smaller groups and more casual settings. Is a “learning village” right for you? Or if you need to beef up your online offerings, digital credentialing may be the ticket. You might be surprised at how motivating a digital badge can be.


Goodbye e-learning

TechStockPhotoAs a former journalist, I love data. And trend data are even better.

So when I came across “Association Learning + Technology 2014,” a recent report by Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele, founders of consulting firm Tagoras, imagine my delight!

Young or old, technology has redefined the way we learn and work. As 8-to-5 days at the office have slowly turned into 24-hour social media networking from the car and virtual meetings during the kids’ soccer practices, social media has filled in the gaps.

“The world of continuing education and professional development has changed dramatically in the past few years,” Cobb and Steele said.  “To meet member needs and stay out in front of the competition, you need to arm yourself with real data targeted to help you grow your programs.”

The 52-page Tagoras report provides such data, which were collected based upon a survey of 200 trade and professional associations. “Association Learning + Technology 2014” is designed to help association leaders strategize for a new learning landscape, while meeting their members’ needs for convenient and quick access to information.

There’s a goldmine of information in the report, which you can get for free if you subscribe to Tagoras’ free e-newsletter.

I’m sure the trends and data provided in the report will provide future blog fodder. But for starters, Cobb and Steele have abandoned the term e-learning and instead use the term technology-enabled or technology-enhanced learning.

Nearly all survey respondents – 88.7 percent – indicated they use some form of technology-enabled learning. The most popular form of such learning, according to the report: webinar.

As for social media, 33 percent of respondents reported using YouTube for learning programs, followed closely by Twitter (32 percent). Facebook was next, followed by LinkedIn. Nearly 37 percent of those surveyed indicated they have a mobile learning platform, and live streaming – rather than virtual conferences – seems to be an upcoming trend.

Another key takeaway: The majority of all respondents report technology has increased their revenue from educational offerings, but less than a quarter have a strategy in place to launch new learning platforms.

Cobb and Steel found organizations that consider themselves to be very successful:

  • Report increased net revenue from their education offerings as a result of their use of technology for learning.
  • Have a formal, documented strategy for their use of technology for learning.
  • Have formal, documented product development and pricing processes that cover their technology-enabled and technology-enhanced learning.
  • Offer facilitated online courses, gamified learning, virtual conferences and at least some mobile learning.
  • Use a learning content management system (LCMS).
  • Offer a formal credential (e.g., a certification or license), regardless of whether the credential is their own.

As the association industry transitions into technology-enabled learning, other trends will emerge, the report said. There will be:

  • Growth in implementation of learning platforms and their integration with other key systems, like association management systems.
  • A continued focus on professional instructional design to help ensure educational products are effective.
  • The slowly growing use of social media for learning and increased dabbling in emerging products, like microcredentials and massive courses.
  • An increase in competition that will, in turn, drive experimentation as associations look at how best to deliver more value.
  • The professionalization of the education function overall, as the adoption and integration of sophisticated technologies increase the demand for savvy, experienced leaders in the continuing education and professional development business.
Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele

Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele

“We want to see more associations develop and use a strategy to guide their use of technology for learning,” Cobb and Steele said. “Gut-level governance can work, but more consistent approaches empower staff all over the org chart.”

While all this may seem overwhelming, “Associations Learning + Technology 2014” is an incredible measurement tool for associations, regardless of size and budget. As associations plan educational programs, sessions and conferences, it’s becoming increasingly important that technology take center stage.

But it’s O.K. to start small. Maybe the answer is a hybrid conference – in-person and live stream. Or maybe it’s establishing a professional group on LinkedIn. Or perhaps smaller associations can establish a YouTube channel and provide “tips of the day.” (By the way, this is a great project for interns, who love to create videos and are social-media savvy.)

The point is: Don’t be afraid to taste technology. And don’t leave your clients and members hungry or with a bitter aftertaste in a world full of ripe and delicious technological treats.

So, tell us, are you embracing technology-enabled learning? How do you incorporate technology into your matrix of educational opportunities?

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.

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