Archive for April, 2015

28
Apr
15

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.

21
Apr
15

Advancing association meetings via brain science

DSC_7176Whether you’re a planner, a CEO, a supplier or whether you fill some other role, think back to the very first conference for which you selected/hired a speaker. Maybe it was for an association event, a church event, a community event or some other program altogether. In my role as education director for a state trade association, I remember early in my career my priorities for hiring a speaker: cost, availability and topic (often in that order).

Once a contract was signed, we’d next touch base the day of the event. I’d stand in the back of the room and say a little prayer that in 60 minutes our attendees would be singing my praises. I now know better and am intentionally more involved in the co-creation of a presentation that’s right for my clients and their attendees. But just how high should you set your expectations for speakers? Should you have different standards for professional speakers vs. industry speakers?

In his book Brain Rules, John Medina shares 12 brain-based principles for surviving and thriving at work, home and school. I’ve adapted four of his rules as the basis for advancing association meetings.

Medina claims that people usually forget 90 percent of what they learn within 30 days – a staggering statistic. Without key insights and takeaways, professional development investments are wasted. However, as more organizations offer continuing education both to support their strategic missions and to deliver business results, the threshold to meet or exceed the increasingly sophisticated expectations of attendees is changing.

Learning is now characterized by not only the acquisition of knowledge or skills, but by the retention and application of knowledge or skills in the work setting. By the way, your association scores extra points when it clearly describes the business measures that will change or improve as a result of an education program or if a specific return on investment can be attributed to its implementation.

If you understand how the brain learns and functions, you can greatly improve the retention and application of new information. Ultimately, this drives attendee value and influences member loyalty.

DSC_71781. We don’t pay attention to boring things. Audiences tend to check out after only 10 minutes of content. To regain their attention, invite speakers to tell personal narratives based on their experiences or to create events rich in emotion. You might also consider writing learning objectives into participant materials; using humor to engage and activate learners; or answering the question, “What’s in it for me?”

2. Move to improve your thinking skills. Develop opportunities throughout the program to get participants out of their seats and moving throughout the room or venue (e.g., breaks, meal functions). Additionally, ask speakers to consider flipcharts, manipulatives, networking and roleplaying as excuses to get people on their feet. Other ideas include a wisdom while you walk format (leveraging pre-function/outdoor spaces); small group assignments and activities; or having participants get up/post responses on a magic wall.

3. The brain is designed to solve problems. Encourage speakers to build and implement practice exercises that challenge learners. It’s recommended that practice time comprise between 35 and 50 percent of education sessions. Practice time includes practice activities, facilitator feedback and both pre- and post-assessments. You might also ask learners to elaborate on what has already been presented; share a case study that illuminates key concepts; or encourage learners to reflect on new information.

4. Vision trumps all other senses. The power of visual tools such as PowerPoint, Prezi, videos, handouts and job aids should not be underestimated. It’s said that if participants hear a piece of information, three days later they’re likely to remember 10 percent of it. Add a picture and they’re likely to remember 65 percent. The key here is fewer words and more pictures. And if you can stimulate more of the senses at the same time, all the better for creating memorable content.

IMG_1180While there’s still a lot we don’t know, implementing these simple techniques when combined with quality meeting management can enhance the intentionality of an association’s professional development offerings.

Additionally, associations must work hand-in-hand with speakers and other subject matter experts well in advance to share with them clear expectations. Determine when and what you’ll introduce to instructors leading up to the learning program, the information to be covered during instructor orientation and how instructors will be supported both individually and as a cohort as they apply these new techniques.

For more, view the keynote and deep dive slides presented April 15 for the Georgia Society of Association Executives (GSAE). You might also check out the Brain Rules book and website.

14
Apr
15

Can associations keep pace in the tech race?

This month’s guest blog post is adapted from an original by Hank Berkowitz, moderator in chief of Association Adviser eNews. He wears many hats, however, and to see those, visit his LinkedIn profile.

Hank Berkowitz

Hank Berkowitz, moderator in chief of Association Adviser eNews.

About 60 percent of respondents to our latest unscientific reader poll said they’ve encountered more surprises in technology over the past 12 months than in any other area of association management. That includes membership growth, non-dues revenue, social media and Big Data.

Associations are generally not early adopters of technology, but they are taking steps to close the knowledge gap.

According to Fara Francis, chief information officer of The Associated General Contractors of America, association leadership now welcomes IT to sit at the table to participate in identifying the organization’s business strategy and goals.

“With this posture, technology is now given significant consideration in most associations and as such, a plethora of technology trends are now being adopted and implemented,” she said.

Staying current in this age of “throw-away technology” is a huge challenge for every organization she’s involved with, said Patti Stirk, a long-time IT services entrepreneur and now an investor and adviser to AgeCheq, which creates technology to protect children’s online privacy.

“Not staying current with electronic payment methods and communication methods risks disenfranchising donors,” she said. “It’s no longer simply about email and a Web page.”

Mobile
Members of all ages, not just up-and-comers, are likely interacting with you via a mobile device. That wasn’t always the case five years ago.

According to Naylor’s chief innovation officer Marcus Underwood, as the typical screen size has grown rapidly, so has the way in which people use their devices.

“In the past, messaging and searching for quick answers (through search engines) dominated the usage,” Underwood said. “Larger screen sizes have led to increased consumption of in-depth content. The types of content (articles, video, blogs) allow associations to communicate with their members in ways never before possible.

“This larger screen size has also freed up space that can be used for advertising or sponsorship. This is key for many associations as the non-dues revenue model is often necessary to pay for these new content streams.”

That’s also why designing your sites with responsive design—the ability to experience optimal viewing of a website from any source: web, phone or tablet — is “now mandatory,” explained AGC’s Francis.

As David Trust, CEO of the Professional Photographers Association said, “Trying to do business without tapping into all of the ways people communicate these days is like trying to hold back the tide with a sandcastle.”

Of course, no discussion about mobile technology would be complete without a nod to the explosion of mobile apps. Nearly half (42 percent) of respondents to our unscientific reader poll said mobile apps have had a bigger impact on their association than any other factor. No other tech development came close.

Underwood said gamification is one way that associations have rapidly boosted engagement with their mobile apps. And he said associations can now make content mobile accessible without having to rely on native applications that must be managed through a third party.

“Making your content mobile and web-friendly is far more cost-effective, and it doesn’t require specific downloads,” Underwood said. “The vast majority of ways an association needs to communicate with its customers can be done through smart, adaptive mobile web design.”

technology-727x350Marketing Automation
Another important trend we’ve seen is the number of associations now using marketing automation platforms to automate repetitive member communication tasks. MAPs also enable you to market to members selectively and with more relevance on multiple channels, including email, social media, websites and more.

Chad Lloyd, marketing manager of Boxwood Career Solutions, said MAPs help associations connect to members at the “appropriate time” and on a “personal level” so that your communications seem as though they were created just for that one single member.

Whether built in-house or more often licensed from vendors, MAPs use “digital body language tracking” so you are able to understand exactly what your members and prospective members are interested in and customize your communications with them, Lloyd said. That, he said, has gone a long way toward helping associations avoid two of the biggest member long-time member irritants: (a) Marketing to folks who aren’t interested in what you are sharing and (b) burning your list by over-communicating with your contacts and causing them to opt out of your communications.

07
Apr
15

Social butterflies may learn the most

social_mediaMaybe one of the reasons I love Pinterest so much is that I’ve learned how to use basic household substances to remove stains; how to make cute Thanksgiving pinecone turkeys; how to make pasta from squash; and the list goes on and on.

In other words, I’ve admittedly expanded my horizons with social media.

By now, you know I’m an avid user of Facebook and Twitter, partly because I realize the potential of social media to educate. Yep, I said it: It’s possible to learn from social media.

In fact, the term is “social learning,” and associations are slowly embracing it as part of their learning efforts.

Last April, consulting firm Tagoras conducted an informal survey about associations’ use of social technologies for learning products and/or services, and shortly thereafter released a whitepaper on the topic.

Social technologies are defined as any technology that allows users to communicate with each other via the Internet or cellular networks to share videos, graphics, etc. Examples: blogs, discussion boards, social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn), YouTube and podcasts.

Of the 102 respondents, more than half reported they use social technologies for learning, with 25 percent indicating plans to do so within the year. Not surprisingly, YouTube ranked No. 1, followed by discussion forums and Twitter. Facebook and LinkedIn, thanks to their discussion capabilities, were also popular.

In addition, a placed-based annual meeting of members was the No. 1 type of learning product associated with social technologies.

So why should associations adopt social learning, according to Tagoras?

  • It’s a natural fit. Associations are social in nature, striving to connect people with similar wants and needs. So social tools – for which there are groups, pages and forums to bring together passions – simply make sense.
  • Social learning boosts retention. Discussion forums allow users to learn from each other by asking questions, sharing ideas and reinforcing concepts from classes, while also fostering the building of networks.
  • It’s ongoing. Often, learners attend a class and after it’s over never revisit the knowledge they gained. But by using a blog or WiKi, users can revisit archived topics anytime.
  • Social learning is motivational. It’s exciting to see classmates, colleagues and peers succeed and social media and social technologies make it easy to share such news.

social-learning_smallThe Tagoras whitepaper cites several examples of associations that have successfully used social learning. But in short: Twitter chats; Facebook discussions in which people answer a question or respond to a comment and to each other; and live-tweeting during a conference.

If participation is a concern, associations can require members to participate in weekly discussion forums, contribute blog posts and participate in Twitter chats or Google hangouts.

All this said, the Tagoras survey found most associations don’t have a social learning strategy in place. At the same time, respondents indicated lack of resources and budget as top barriers for dabbling in social media. And some associations fear their staff isn’t skilled enough to successfully engage in social learning.

Nevertheless, efforts don’t have to be expensive or complicated, Tagoras says.

“Given that social learning is effective, why not try it, if you’re not already?” it wrote. “To our minds, the case for social learning is made, and the question at hand is not whether to make use of it but how to incorporate it as effectively, as strategically as possible.”




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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