Archive for May, 2014

27
May
14

The Connection Factor

Elsbeth Russell

Elsbeth Russell, senior editor, Naylor, LLC

This month’s guest blog post is by Elsbeth Russell, senior editor at Naylor, LLC, who works with association executive clients to produce content-targeted print and online publications. Contact Russell at erussell@naylor.com.

 

As an editor who works exclusively with societies of association executives, much of the content that crosses my desk each day involves different theories and trends based on the same core areas. From generational differences to governance and strategic planning to technology and leveraging data, it’s enough to make your head spin.

I would argue that while each of those areas are important to keeping an association running, the connections that you facilitate – which members can’t get anywhere else – are equally important.

While attending CalSAE’s annual ELEVATE Conference this spring, opening session speaker Sarah Michel, of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, asked the audience to think of reasons why it would belong to an association. My friend and colleague turned to me and asked about my Twins’ Club and immediately a light bulb went off.

It’s the connection factor.

When my husband and I decided it was time to start a family, we never imagined our journey would include having two babies at the same time. Not one to join clubs or sororities in school, I’ve always described myself as “not a joiner.” Suddenly, though, I found myself searching out groups where I could find others like me.

What I found was a huge community of moms of multiples, ready and waiting to offer advice, support and often just a compassionate ear to listen to questions and comments that only someone in my shoes would understand. I guess I’m a joiner after all.

For an association, the most logical place to start in facilitating these connections is at your events.

I love the idea of a simple survey asking three to five questions that aren’t necessarily conference related. What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream? Which celebrity would you most like to have dinner with? Keep the answers multiple choice and pair the vanilla lovers and those who’d love to dine with Oprah. This gets the conversation started and builds a sense of community with peers who might have, moments ago, been strangers.

One of my favorite parts about my twins’ group is the fact that I know there are moms to whom I can go for answers anytime I have a question or concern specific to raising identical twin boys. That same concept is easy to replicate by simply polling your members to see in what competency area they’re seeking more knowledge before they attend your event.

Are your members looking for information on marketing? They get a red dot on their nametag. Looking for ways to better utilize their AMS to engage members? They get a blue dot on their nametag. Now let’s connect those dots.

Helping members — and potential members — realize how helpful these connections can be in their everyday life helps make the value proposition for membership clear. It’s important, then, to continue to facilitate the connections even after your event is over.

One group Michel referenced in her session found that the bond it made at the conference became so important that the members found each other online, forming online communities through social media platforms like Facebook and Google+.

Similarly, despite sometimes vast geographical differences, my twins group has forged a bond between its members so strong that many moms have planned meet-ups in centralized cities around the country. I’ve been lucky enough to meet several moms in person during travels to different cities for conferences.

The group Michel mentioned is now planning a reunion at next year’s conference. Are your attendees doing the same?

20
May
14

It’s an emergency! So now what?

Flooding in WellsImagine: Your conference is thriving. Rooms are packed and vendors are happy. Things are going swimmingly well and then it happens. You get the call that one of your attendees had a heart attack and has died.

Imagine again: You’ve taken a chance on a new event venue that sits beautifully on a river. Your vendors seem to love the locale and the packed expo hall. But overnight, the weather turned ugly and a torrential downpour caused the expo hall to flood. And in a matter of minutes, products and displays become waterlogged.

Both these scenarios are very real nightmares for event planners. Crises happen, and there’s nothing you can do – except plan ahead.

So ask yourself: How ready is your association to handle a crisis? If something happens at your next event, do you have communication channels defined? Do you have an emergency management plan?

It’s important food for thought. So important it was the topic of Destination Michigan’s Michigan Meetings Expo 2014, which was held on May 8 at the MotorCity Casino and Hotel in Detroit.

In a session titled “Emergency Action Plans: Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best,” participants swapped stories and advice for emergency management. After the event, Destination Michigan compiled scenarios and recommendations from the idea exchange.

The report includes 10 scenarios: participant death, flooding, ice storms, fire alarm, hospitalized CSM, tornado warning, intoxicated board member, concealed weapon, power outage and unruly protestors.

Let’s take weather, especially ice storms, considering the awful winter we Michiganders experienced. We all remember Icepocalypse and the damage it caused.

It’s best to keep an eye on the forecast and cancel ahead if you can, participants reported. And it’s important to communicate the cancellation via telephone calls, emails and text messages the night before. If you decide to hold the event, make sure to have a plan for no-shows and latecomers. If you cancel, there will be a cancellation fee, and one option for the venue is to apply 50 percent of the cancellation fee to future events – if you reschedule.

Admittedly, social events are participant favorites. Often, there’s a mixer or a reception during a conference, which means there will be lots of alcohol. And sometimes, people overindulge. But what if one of your leaders, i.e. a board member, has a bit too much to drink and becomes unruly?

As an event planner, you should find out with whom the person came to the event and alert him or her. Ask if he or she can help remove the person respectfully and quietly. However you do it, it’s important to get the intoxicated person out of the room, even if it means calling security. At the same time, you should strive to maintain the dignity and reputation of the person, so diffuse the situation delicately and swiftly.

In this scenario, the venue should immediately contact the event planner and stop serving the guest. After informing security, the venue should make sure the intoxicated person has a safe ride home or offer him or her a hotel room.

And the list of scary situations goes on and on. So I encourage you to read Destination Michigan’s peer recommendations for the 10 scenarios.

crisis-communicationAs a trained crisis communicator, I echo all the recommendations but I’d like to remind venues and event planners that communication is key. It’s better to over communicate than hide behind fear, and it’s easier to communicate when there’s a plan in place. Plans should include talking points, messaging, target audiences, a list of stakeholders and other key elements (which I’d be happy to share if you contact me.)

But even if you don’t have a plan, act quickly, think clearly and communicate. Say something, even if it’s just acknowledging the situation and expressing concern.

What other scenarios have you encountered in the meetings industry? If you’d be willing to share your plan, please email me at Kristen@eventgarde.com.

 

13
May
14

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?

06
May
14

Back to basics: Education programs

photoI recently facilitated two sessions on meeting planning and professional development for the Michigan Society of Association Executive’s (MSAE) Academy of Association Management. It’s again a reminder of the important intersection and relationship between learning and logistics, particularly as it relates to association education programs.

The course content primarily focuses on two chapters of Professional Practices in Association Management, Second Edition: Chapter 26 on education programs and Chapter 32 on meeting planning and management. Additional insights were gleaned from The Meetings Report jointly published by Event Garde and MSAE.

Following introductions and an outline of the day’s learning outcomes, I shared four big ideas that represent the importance of education to our organizations:

  1. Meetings represent a significant and increasing proportion of association revenue.
  2. Significant percentages of association memberships attend annual meetings or trade shows.
  3. Members believe the most important function of an association is to provide training and professional development.
  4. Six of the top seven reasons identified by association leaders as the reason people join are related to meetings. (Note: The final reason is related to advocacy.)

For a long time, planners have been tasked with coordinating chicken and chairs. Perhaps this is an oversimplification of their role as logistics managers; however, it’s clear that for many they’ve had little to no experience in instructional design, speaker coaching and content development. And most aren’t afforded a seat at the executive leadership table.

I firmly believe that moving forward our meetings personnel must have skillsets in both logistics and learning if they’re to find and cultivate successful association careers. As members become more sophisticated and their options to learn and to network become more bountiful, the status quo is no longer enough to capture their interest or to motivate their purchases.

So it’s time to get back to basics.

Carousel_at_Hyde_ParkAccording to Ralph J. Nappi, CAE and Deborah B. Vieder, “The very purpose of an association—enabling people to achieve common goals, meet common needs, and solve problems—is realized by sharing information, networking, or joining together for a common good. In many associations, education programs help achieve these goals.”

So, what truly is the purpose of education? It seems like a simple enough question. But if you’re not currently asking it each and every time you plan a program—whether new, recurring or inherited—you’re doing both yourself and your organization a tremendous disservice. Our Academy participants—across both sessions—shared with us these thoughts during an initial carousel activity:

  • Advocacy
  • Apply new skills and best practices
  • Better serve clients/members
  • Better understand complex issues
  • Career advancement/professional growth
  • Create a stronger workforce
  • Deliver content
  • Diversity/adaptability
  • Efficiency (i.e., cost savings)
  • Elevate the profession
  • Expand the field
  • Gain experience
  • Hear about developing trends
  • Improve ROI
  • Increase awareness/income
  • Knowledge acquisition/retention
  • Learn about the latest information shaping business/profession
  • Learn things you didn’t know you needed to know
  • Make connections/networking
  • Motivation
  • Personal growth
  • Prepare for certification
  • Problem-solving
  • Provide a ready resource for the continuous learning necessary to keep pace with today’s rapid rate of change
  • Resource acquisition
  • Stimulate innovation
  • Workplace transference

Next, we asked the question: What types of education programs do associations offer? At first blush, this question seems elementary: learning and networking or face-to-face and distance. But when we really dig into the available options, the list grows exponentially. This is especially important when finding the “right” fit for our next generation of learners.

  • Accreditation
  • Annual conferences
  • Board/committee meetings
  • Case studies/reports
  • Certification
  • Communities of practice
  • Competency-based
  • Demos
  • Expositions
  • Face-to-face
  • Facilitated
  • Focus groups
  • Fundraisers
  • Institutes
  • Internships
  • Interviews
  • Knowledge-based learning
  • Networking events
  • Mentoring
  • Online learning/training
  • Peer-to-peer
  • Printed resources/materials (e.g., publications)
  • Regional meetings
  • Research-driven
  • Retreats
  • Roundtable discussions
  • Seminars
  • Social networking sites
  • Surveys/evaluations
  • Symposia
  • Team-building
  • Tradeshows
  • Virtual (e.g., webinar, on-demand)
  • Websites
  • Workshops

Finally, we don’t operate in a vacuum. We must constantly survey the environment to evaluate our competition (specifically as it relates to providers of continuing education our members find relevant, innovative and cost effective). Following is a preliminary list of other education opportunities that likely exist for your association members:

  • Business groups/counsels
  • Certificates/certifications
  • Chambers
  • Clubs/chapters
  • Community colleges
  • Computer-based studies
  • Consultants
  • Corporate training
  • Exhibitors
  • Extension programs
  • For-profit groups
  • Free information online
  • Government agencies
  • Home-study courses
  • In-house training
  • Internet
  • Law firms
  • Leadership centers
  • Magazines
  • Members
  • Networking
  • Non-profit groups
  • On-the-job (e.g., individual unit, corporate office)
  • Other associations (e.g., international, national, state, regional, local)
  • Personal networks
  • Publications
  • Sponsors
  • Suppliers/vendors
  • Topical conferences (e.g., TED Talks)
  • Universities
  • Webinars
  • Wikipedia
  • YouTube

The key takeaways here are relatively straightforward:

  1. Define goals and objectives for each and every program your department offers – and develop unique learning and networking experiences that meets those goals.
  2. Identify program types and formats your members find appealing and valuable; support your speakers and facilitators both in the planning and the delivery of these programs.
  3. Analyze your competition; summarize and effectively promote both how your programs differ and the innate value proposition they offer participants.

In the meantime, tell us what you would add to this conversation.

01
May
14

Bonus content: Event Garde e-News – May edition

The first edition of Event Garde’s monthly e-newsletter launches today (and we’re sharing here some of the bonus content from that publication). If you’re not yet signed up for our quick, fun, easy-to-read tips, news and association industry information, click here to join our mailing list. 

 

Peggy Hoffman

Peggy Hoffman, president of Mariner Management and Marketing, LLC

Reflecting on the ASAE Great Ideas Conference

Peggy Hoffman, president of Mariner Consulting, attended the ASAE Great Ideas Conference, which was held March 8-11.

So what was her biggest takeaway?

Undoubtedly, associations are still in a muddle about what to do about membership, she said.

“We know the world is shifting – we can feel the rumbles – but we don’t really know what to do.”

A couple good examples: AIGA gave a presentation on its shift to a new membership model to draw millennials. And Turnaround Management Association is using its NextGen strategy.

Her second aha moment was that associations can build cool learning opportunities. She attended two active sessions – one swim and one spin – and a fun “Whose Session Is It Anyway?” session, which offered active learning.

What was your favorite part of the conference?

 

Q & A with Kristen Parker, Digital Content Manager for Event Garde

Kristen Parker

Kristen Parker, digital content manager, Event Garde

Q: When you’re not working for Event Garde, what keeps you busy?
A: My kids! I’ve got three kids – 12, 9 and 6 – all of whom are involved in sports and scouting. So we rarely have a night at home. I’m also PTA president at my kids’ school. Oh. And I have another fulltime job. I’m media communications manager for Michigan State University.

Q: If you could be any type of ice cream, what would you be?
A: Coffee with dark chocolate swirl. I’m a huge coffeeaholic and dark chocolate is my vice. Both are rich with flavor, but simple at the same time. I’d like to think that my personality reflects that – I’m fun-loving and vivacious, but low maintenance.

Q: If you were stranded on an island, what two things could you not live without?
A: I can’t stand not seeing my kids every day, so I’d say a picture of them. Also, I’m blind as a bat, so my glasses. Not very exciting, I know.

Q: What is your pet peeve?
A: Grammar mistakes! I’m a grammar freak, so incorrect grammar – written or spoken – drives me nuts. However, a close second is laziness. Life is too short to be lazy.

Q: What are your favorite things?
A: I have quite a few, but here’s the short list: snuggling at night with my husband of 14 years; tucking my kids in at night; the smell of burning leaves in the fall; Christmas morning magic; Michigan State University (I’m a proud alumna and I bleed green!); college football; and Lake Michigan summers.




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 5,351 other followers

Twitter Updates

Featured in Alltop

%d bloggers like this: