Archive for November, 2015

30
Nov
15

Bonus content – Event Garde e-news – December edition

Aaron new photo

Aaron Wolowiec, founder and president, Event Garde

Q & A with Aaron Wolowiec, founder and president of Event Garde

Editor’s Note: In celebration of Event Garde’s four-year anniversary, this month’s Event Garde-ian of the Month is Aaron Wolowiec.

Please take a few minutes to share your thoughts with us. As we go into 2016, we’d like to know what you think… how are we doing? Are we providing you with helpful resources? What would you like to learn? Please complete the brief survey by Dec. 8 and you could win some Event Garde schwag!

Q: As the year winds down, and you reflect on the successes of Event Garde, of what are you most proud?
A: As I look ahead to our fourth anniversary (Dec. 8), I’m most proud of the brand we’ve built (and continue to build). Just four short years ago Event Garde was nothing more than a seedling. It didn’t even seem real. With time, hard work and dedication, we’ve watched it grow and bloom. Today, its sturdy roots within the association community represent an established place where people naturally congregate for professional development advice and support. I am grateful every day for the opportunity I’ve been given to do the work I love with people I respect.

Q: What one piece of advice would you share with your colleagues?
A: Struggle. But not necessarily to sign the next client or to cash the next paycheck. Struggle to find balance between work and everything else. Remember to routinely put time and energy into the things that mean the most to you: family, friends, health and hobbies. You’ll come to regret it if you don’t.

Q: What do you think is Event Garde’s biggest strength?
A: Our commitment. Our commitment to people and relationships. 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. Our commitment to learning and professional development.  We are educators and we are educated. As responsible contributors to our industry, we participate in professional development while also planning it. And finally our commitment to learning 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.

Q: What’s in store for Event Garde for 2016?
A: A major theme for the Event Garde team in 2016 will be collaboration. We are partnering with a number of leading industry experts both to create new content and to deliver exceptional client deliverables and experiences.

Q: And, finally, how will you be celebrating the holidays?
A: I’ll be celebrating the holidays in and around my new home in Kalamazoo with family and friends — and painters. Not only is every weekend already booked up with holiday parties and gatherings, but the entire inside of my home will be painted later this month, as well.

30
Nov
15

The circle of [meetings] life: 4 steps to facilitate the most productive meeting ever

maxresdefault

Last month, I had the opportunity to present a session on meeting management (e.g., a staff meeting, a committee meeting or a board meeting) to a group of volunteer leaders. We started by viewing the following (hilarious!) YouTube video depicting every meeting ever.

After debriefing the video, which included a discussion of many of the personalities/bad habits represented (e.g., The Time Nazi, Get Here When You Can Guy and The Negator), we launched into my four steps for facilitating the most productive meeting ever (which you may find helpful in managing your own meetings).

Step 1: Create and launch an effective meeting agenda.

  • The Circle of [Meetings] Life must begin somewhere
  • Agenda should be drafted/distributed a minimum of one week out
  • For the first “formal” agenda, plan for 30-60 minutes of prep
  • Follow the template:
    • Organization
    • Committee/task force/meeting name
    • Date
    • Start and end times
    • Location/dial-in information
    • Welcome
    • Attendance
    • Content
    • Parking lot
    • Adjourn
  • Clarify meeting goals/objectives
  • Be thorough – amass all possible discussion items
  • Consolidate agenda items/content for efficiency
  • Be clear about the pre-work:
    • Ask participants to review the agenda
    • Ask participants for additional agenda items
    • Ask participants to come prepared with responses, decisions, ideas, examples and the like

Step 2: Examine the role of meeting facilitator.

  • Attend to logistics prior to the meeting
  • Learn to be cognizant both of your role as facilitator and of your environment
  • Start the meeting on time
  • Have a welcome prepared (to prevent rambling)
  • Take roll call
    • In person: Allow participants to say their names aloud in a logical manner around the room (perhaps clockwise)
    • On phone: Call out participant names in alpha order
  • Dig into the content swiftly (within five minutes of the start of the meeting)
  • Add off-topic questions/comments to the parking lot and return to them at the end of the meeting
  • Be aware of your environment and truly facilitate/drive the meeting forward
    • Time – consider how much time you think each section of the agenda will take and note these times on your copy of the agenda; move conversations forward that seem to be taking too long or are “stuck”
    • Participation – ensure everyone has an opportunity to participate in the meeting, either by round robin or by calling on quiet participants
    • Action items – as decisions are made, ensure the following questions are answered:
      • What is the action to be taken?
      • Who is to complete it?
      • By when?
  • Be aware of/handle distractors:
    • Thank them for their comments
    • Provide feedback, if appropriate
    • Redirect the conversation
  • Establish the next meeting date/time or commit to sending a Doodle immediately following the meeting
  • Return to the parking lot, time permitting
  • Thank everyone for their participation before adjourning
  • Try to end the meeting early by 5-10 minutes; this will allow everyone time to start in on their action items

Step 3: Identify strategies for writing clear and timely minutes.

  • Minutes should be drafted/distributed the same day as the meeting
  • For the first “formal” minutes, plan for 30 minutes (write this time into your calendar as if it were a meeting)
  • Use your agenda as the template
  • Take draft minutes during the meeting
  • If you’re facilitating a majority of the meeting, identify someone else who can take notes
  • Following the meeting, clean up the minutes and edit out superfluous information
  • Highlight all action items – what, who, when; consider different colors for different meeting participants
  • Ensure meeting goals/objectives have been met
  • Be clear about the post-work:
    • Ask participants to review the minutes
    • Ask participants to complete their assigned action items within the designated timeframes
    • Ask participants to add the next meeting to their calendars

Step 4: Describe a successful post-meeting routine focused on action.

  • Serve as a good role model by completing your action items timely
  • Determine the priority of the remaining action items and follow-up accordingly:
    • Extremely important action items – add to your calendar and follow up with the owner if not completed
    • Less important action items – allow the participants to be accountable to one another
  • Draft/distribute the next meeting agenda
  • The Circle of [Meetings] Life begins again…
What strategies have you found most successful in managing The Circle of [Meetings] Life? What tips or tricks have you found most valuable in facilitating the most productive meeting ever?
24
Nov
15

Time to cut the fat

cutting-fat-thumb18752006Like most businesses, associations have a lot of bulk. Maybe that’s because it’s hard to trim the fat.

That said, eliminating wasted efforts and minimizing defects can lead to new products and innovations, according to a new whitepaper by Elizabeth Engel, CEO and chief strategist for Spark Consulting, and Guillermo Ortiz de Zarate, director of information systems for National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.

From the whitepaper: “Is there a process that can help associations achieve our missions, stay in business, find problems worth solving and make a real and meaningful difference for our members, achieving the sustainable, dynamic impact we seek? Your authors would argue that there is: lean startup methodology, as most fully developed and articulated by Eric Ries in his 2011 book ‘The Lean Startup.’”

Elizabeth Engel

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

I asked Engel to break it down for us, and following is our Q & A. Thanks to Engel for her contribution!

Q: How would you simply explain lean startup methodology?
A: Lean startup is an innovation system developed by Eric Ries that came out of his experiences with lean process improvement, which is all about reducing waste and defects and working more efficiently and effectively. Ries had an insight: It doesn’t matter how quickly you’re moving if you’re headed in the wrong direction.

Lean startup methodology is designed to help make sure you’re going the right way and going there quickly and efficiently.

Q: Why is it important?
A: To quote Guillermo Ortiz de Zarate, my co-author, “There’s no bigger waste than investing resources working on the wrong thing.”

Lean startup methodology has been being used not just in startups, but also in more conventional for-profit business, for several years. And that makes it easy for associations to dismiss: “We aren’t a startup – or even a for-profit. This isn’t for us.”

Guillermo and I would argue that associations share a key characteristic with startups: tight resources (and by that, we mean human as well as financial resources). Those perpetually tight resources are precisely why this methodology is so useful for our community.

Q: How do you think associations, specifically, could benefit from practicing this methodology?
A: In associations, decision-making is often driven by anecdotes, untested assumptions and the HIPO (highest income/influence person’s opinion). “One of our board members talked to a member who said she wants X so therefore everyone must want X and therefore we have to go build X immediately.”

But are you sure you’re solving a real problem that’s important to at least one of your key audiences, in a way that’s useful and makes sense to them – and that they’re willing to pay?

Guerimallo

Guillermo Ortiz de Zarate, director of information systems for National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.

That very situation was what sparked Guillermo’s interest in lean startup methodology. His association, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, is one of the case studies in the whitepaper, and he relates two stories: one of a project that took place before NCARB starting using lean startup that was NOT the right problem, the right audience or the right solution; the second of a project after NCARB “saw the light” that was far more successful for them.

Q: Walk me through the build-measure-learn cycle…what’s involved?
A: The build-measure-learn cycle is the core of the methodology.

In lean startup, you build first. That means you’re trying to get the Minimum Viable Product (that is, the minimum version of the product you can build with the smallest investment of resources and effort that would still be real enough to let you start testing your assumptions) out to your audience as quickly as possible. No theorizing or speculating, no “stealth mode,” no working for two years on creating the absolute perfect thing (that you then discover no one wants). You build a prototype and get people using it and offering feedback as quickly as you can and with as small an investment of resources as possible.

Next, you measure. You’ve identified a problem you think might be worth solving, and you have a hypothesis about what the right solution might be. Now you have to test whether your hypothesis is correct. You have to identify and track a few key measures that will prove – or disprove – your theory.

That testing leads to learning. Did you identify something that’s a real and important problem? Are you targeting your solution at the right audience? Does your solution work and make sense for them, at a price they’re willing to pay?

The only way to reliably answer those questions is to let people use your product and find out what they think and how they act. That information feeds back to your team so you can get closer to where you should be going in your next MVP iteration.

Q: Change can be scary. So what do you think is the best first step?
A: First of all, the whitepaper is just a primer on lean startup methodology and is designed to introduce the concept to association executives and hopefully pique their interest in learning more. If that’s you, I’d strongly encourage you to read some of the more extensive treatments of lean startup we share in the bibliography, to get some formal training (and we share sources in the conclusion) or to join a local lean startup MeetUp group for peer-to-peer learning.

Beyond that, start small, with something that lies completely in your own area of responsibility and is relatively low profile. Once you have a few examples of how the methodology works, it’s time to start sharing your story.

Q: Let’s say associations are ready to start with lean. How do they achieve buy in from the board of directors? members? staff?
A: It’s all about being able to demonstrate that the methodology works, which is different from building the perfect product right out of the gate.

To quote two of the other key thinkers in lean startup, Nathan Furr and Jeff Dyer: “It’s liberating to recognize that no human being can guess correctly when you face uncertainty, and that part of the process is making changes to adjust to these inevitable errors.”

That’s what’s so powerful about lean startup: You are not going to get it right all the time. This methodology is built on that fact and structured to help you move as quickly and efficiently as possible from “here’s an interesting idea” to “here’s a program, product or service that we know – because we’ve been testing it all along the way – our audiences want, need, will use and will pay for.”

LeanstartupQ: And finally, what are two or three takeaways from your research that you’d like to share?
A: I’d strongly encourage people to download the whitepaper – it’s free – and read the stories of four associations we interviewed, all of which are using lean startup. It’s eye opening to see how this methodology works in real situations, where your peers are using it to help their organizations provide better service for their members and other audiences and invest their resources more efficiently and effectively.

Second, one of the concerns we’ve heard over and over from associations is: “What about our brand?” Again, quoting Guillermo: “In associations, we tend to worry that releasing a half-baked program will negatively impact the brand. I would argue that doing the same thing year after year without changing also negatively impacts your brand.”

Also, you have to realize that lean startup may not be suitable for every single initiative of your association or for every single audience – it’s hard to create a Minimum Viable Certification. Some of your members will not be O.K. with beta-testing a new product for you. But some will love that and leap at the opportunity to co-create a new service with the association. It’s up to you to find those people, who are your champions and allies in this.

17
Nov
15

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.

Episode-29-Aaron-Wolowiec
Content

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.

03
Nov
15

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?




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 5,355 other followers

Twitter Updates

Featured in Alltop

%d bloggers like this: