Archive for April, 2016


Bonus content – Event Garde e-news May edition

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Gina Sutherland, director of education and events, CalSAE

Q & A with Gina Sutherland, director of education and events, California Society of Association Executives

Q: If you could be a summer cocktail, what would your name be and what would you taste like?
A: My summer cocktail name would likely be “Blinded by the Light” because my husband always teases me about my pale, Irish-influenced skin tone. I’ll skip over the taste in lieu of styling – a sleek, tall cocktail glass with a Krazy Straw and a festive drink umbrella. (Cool drinks need protection from the sun too!)

Q: It’s a beautiful day in California. What would we most likely find you doing?
A: Ideally I’d escape the valley heat for a relaxing day in the mountains. If we’re at home, we’re indoors during the day and looking forward to the delta breeze blowing in the evening so we can lounge on the deck, barbecue and play ball with our fetch-obsessed Boston Terrier, Just Jack.

Learn: Q: How do you learn best? In a coffee shop with lots of noise or in a quiet, library-like setting?
A: It varies. Sometimes the energy of a coffee shop helps me initially dive into content, but then I need to retreat to a quiet setting for focus. There’s a vacant, small restaurant space up the street from my house. Fingers crossed someone sees the potential for it to be a café. It’s next door to the library, which is surrounded by a tree-filled park. Coffee shop, quiet space and nature – a learning environment dream come true!

Network: Q: Tell us about one of your favorite personal or professional networks. What makes it special?
A: CalSAE, of course (as well as the greater SAE community). I love learning from and sharing ideas with our members and content leaders, particularly those who are exploring new formats for their education programs and events or collaborating with us to experiment with different formats. We can be an education playground and members can take lessons learned from our experimentation back to their own organizations.

Transfer: Q: Think about a topic in which you feel you’re quite knowledgeable. How would you use this knowledge to better your industry?
A: As an education and events director for fellow association professionals, my tendency toward being an extreme learner is perhaps the best way I can better my industry. The more I learn about trends impacting society, association management and events, the better I can design education and event experiences for our participants.



Some must-dos for ASAE’s annual meeting


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Lowell Aplebaum

In anticipation of the ASAE Annual Meeting and Exposition, which will be held Aug. 13-16 in Salt Lake City, Utah, we’ll be providing some tips on how to maximize your experience.



To start us off, Lowell Aplebaum shares his advice. Follow him on Twitter at @LowellMatthew.


Do you have some tips to share? Email Kristen Parker at



  1. For each session time slot, map out a first and second session choice. It is very acceptable at ASAE to switch sessions if the content or format doesn’t accommodate your learning style. Having a second choice in your back pocket can make this easier.
  2. A few weeks before, start following the conference hashtag on Twitter (#asae16). You will see a stream of information about sessions, receptions, etc.  Better yet, you will start to virtually “meet” some of people who will be there. I actually found the colleague who eventually became my CAE study buddy by first connecting on a Twitter chat!
  1. Registration opens at 7 a.m. on Saturday so make sure you get there early rather than waiting until Sunday.
  2. Check out the Hive/New Bee Lounge. Though they shift the name sometimes, this lounge will have a new “bee” sticker (yes, it is a bee) that is unobtrusive on your badge, but a good wink to other newbies too.
  3. Make sure you arrive in time for Opening Reception, which will be held at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Everyone flows differently – some like to show up and just play pinball, bouncing from new person to new person. Others feel more confident when networking with a buddy or even a small group. Think about how you best meet people and try to set yourself up for networking success before you even step in the room.
  4. giveGetOpening Keynote (or any of them) – Move up! The back may fill up more quickly, but that isn’t because that’s where the best seats are located. Want to see and hear better? Sit near the front.
  5. Session selection – Think of the individual sessions you attend as a “choose your own adventure.” Did you just meet someone and are having a really interesting conversation? Pivot, go to a session together and see how you can help each other learn. If you’re following the conference Twitter stream and hear some interesting buzz about a session, attend. Ultimately, you might want a mix of sessions. And don’t count on outlets. Most session rooms won’t have many outlets, if any at all. Those that do will quickly be in use by those who show up to session early. Think about your charging needs and carry a backup battery for your phone just in case.
  6. Attend a Community Section Reception on Sunday. The YP one is a great place to start, though any of these are open and offer smaller networking opportunities to meet new colleagues.
  7. The Expo Hall is a place to secure new vendor relationships and also to see what’s on the horizon for association tools, resources, partners and locations. If you aren’t coming with direct business to do, still walk the hall, using it as a learning experience. Expo Hall hours throughout two days are long. If you find you have exhausted the floor, that’s the perfect time to check out some of the lounges that are available. At a minimum, the ASAE Foundation lounge the past few years has sponsored Chuck Fazio’s Headshot Lounge where you can get free professional headshots. Also, the lounge hosting the ASAE Career HQ is good to check out (or even see if they have a really low-price career coaching session available).
  8. Non-ASAE Sponsored Receptions – By the time you get to Sunday night, you will have met a few people so ask where they are going and join in! Remember – It isn’t about how many receptions you attend, but about what you do with the time you spend at each. If the people attending resonate with where you are/what you’re looking for, stay and talk.
  9. Awards & Recognition Breakfast – This optional event on Monday morning is early. With that said, do you want inspiration and vision for the future of our industry? Come see our next leaders.
  10. ASAE Foundation – The ASAE Foundation is our industry’s entity, supporting our field with research, innovation grants and investments in the future of associations. There is a foundation donor reception on Saturday evening before the opening reception for those who make a certain level donation. Besides investing in your profession, this reception is smaller than the opening and filled with others that have taken that next step to invest in the association field as well. It’s a worthwhile way to get your feet wet at your first conference.

Would Mother Earth approve of ‘green’ venues?

Earth-DayOn Friday, we’ll celebrate Mother Nature’s finest creations. Spring is finally here in Michigan and as robins chirp and flowers start to bloom, it’s the perfect time for Earth Day.

Friday is Earth Day, so in anticipation of all things sustainability, let’s take a look at the Green Venue Report 2015, produced by Greenview and Twirl Management.

In the second annual survey, 30 convention centers, representing more than 57 million square feet of space, responded.

According to the report, there are seven best practices among environmentally friendly venues:

  • 83 percent have achieved a sustainability-related certification.
  • 80 percent donate excess food to local charities on an ongoing basis.
  • 85 percent participate in sustainability programs or initiatives led by their city.
  • 77 percent have an employee green team or sustainability committee.
  • 70 percent have a dedicated sustainability coordinator or sustainability manager on staff.
  • 87 percent have secure bike parking for staff.
  • 72 percent can provide event planners a specific waste diversion report for their event.

As for physical attributes, some venues have a green roof, which means it’s partially or all covered with vegetation. Green roofs reduce building energy use, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, beekeeping seems to be an increasing trend, with some venues practicing it on their green roofs.

Another emerging trend: onsite gardening. About one-third of venues produce food onsite from their gardens.

In addition to bolstering accessibility options for guests, an increasing number of venues offer transportation options for their employees. Fewer cars on the road means fewer emissions, so 63 percent of venues offer alternative transportation, or incentives for using public transportation, while 64 percent of venues offer electric car parking and charging.

The report states that while having someone lead efforts is key to fostering venue-wide sustainability, it’s challenging to keep employees engaged. Managers report they spend significant time training staff on environmental stewardship to help them understand the “why,” not just the “how.”

In fact, some organizations hold incentive programs for employees who are the most dedicated to reducing environmental footprints, hosting things such as luncheons.

global_sustainability-green-integrationAnd, of course, efforts would be remiss without effective communications. At the foundation of communications should be a clear sustainability policy that’s shared with all audiences. In the survey, 97 percent of venues reported having an internal sustainability policy and 64 percent said their policy is publicly available. At the same time, 45 percent of venues produce an annual sustainability report.

All efforts aside, Greenview found there’s confusion about terminology and measurement of practices. Data aren’t consistent and standards are lacking.

From the report:

“If these numbers are telling us that convention centers and planners are actually discussing sustainability, yet planners are still not taking advantage of sustainability programs, then perhaps this misstep in communication highlights a significant problem in the way we talk about sustainability in general. Perhaps there is an opportunity for centers to change the way they communicate their programs. Event sustainability conversations can’t be focused on additional costs and impact reports. Conversations need to happen in a way where planners better understand how utilizing the sustainable programs in place will enable them to create a unique and powerful event experience. An event that can be a showcase of organizational brand values, that has the potential to enhance attendee experience, demonstrate leadership, potentially reduce costs and is more efficient and less wasteful.”

So take some time on Friday and think about how your organization practices sustainability. And the next time you’re booking a venue, ask about its sustainability practices.

We’re all in this together. We only have one Earth, so let’s take care of it!


Use the media to manage your relationships

media_monitoringIn the early stages of my career when I was working as communications director for a nonprofit, I was amazed at how quickly a national issue could become local.

National grassroots efforts steadily trickled down to local and state governments and organizations so I found myself buried in issues management. Every day, I scanned news outlets across the nation and throughout the state to see which issues may affect my daily operations, but more importantly, the operations of our members. Think federal and state funding!

After a few years in public relations, I’ve learned that to build support, staying on top of trends and issues is key, as is listening to your audiences – otherwise known as key publics.

A new whitepaper by Media Miser – a media analytics and tracking company – spells out the importance of relationship management.

“Effective communications means more than just managing issues through the media,” Media Miser said. “Companies and organizations must also be aware of their external publics – the people and groups outside of an organization’s sphere that affect, or are affected by, what that organization does. This is known as relationship management: the discipline of identifying key publics and establishing strategies for building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with them.”

Step 1: quote analysis. Chances are, your communications staff is monitoring media, but pay attention to quotes. Doing so will allow you to see what your stakeholders are thinking and saying about the trends and issues that could affect your organization. If you’re not on track, their words will tell you.

Also look for advocates and “badvocates.” By scanning for quotes and statements, you can assess who’s on your side – and who’s not. If the media heavily quote someone, he or she could be an opinion leader – and a media favorite – so it’s wise to determine whether your organization’s positions align with that person’s agenda.

As I mentioned before, keeping an eye on regional news will give your organization a taste of the key publics within that region, and could help your association strengthen its presence and capitalize on hot-button issues and trends. For example – knowledge. Is there something happening about which you can best educate that region?

And messaging. It’s so important. Whoever handles communications in your organization needs to develop consistent messaging. That said, staff can tailor those messages to a region or stakeholder’s concerns.

“If you want people to trust you and your organization, consistency is a must,” Media Miser said. “Trust is the first step in developing a relationship with opinion leaders and your key publics. The last thing you want is to communicate different messages regarding the same issue: Without consistency, you run the risk of looking insincere. This will inhibit your publics’ ability to trust you, and without trust it’s impossible to maintain a mutually beneficial relationship.”

It goes without saying that people appreciate transparency, so always, I mean ALWAYS, be honest. Your organization doesn’t want to be caught in the middle of a public relations quagmire.

business-relationshipIn summary, pay attention to what media – and this includes bloggers and niche reporters – are writing about. Even if an issue doesn’t seem important to your industry, it could tangentially relate. Remember: Media are key to helping you build relationships.

Other questions to consider:

  • Is there mutual trust between your organization and your key publics?
  • Is there an equal exchange and benefit? Are you seeing a reaction to your relationship management efforts, or are they falling flat? Should you focus your efforts on different key publics who are more likely to reciprocate?
  • Is your company committed to maintaining a relationship with your key publics? Are you continuing to nurture every relationship that you’ve developed?
  • Are you satisfied with the relationship? Are your key publics satisfied? What can you do to improve these levels of satisfaction?

For Better or Worse: Business Relationships Built to Last

Deal or No DealHave you ever looked back on a failed business relationship and thought, “Where did it all go wrong?” Yeah, me neither. Ok, well, maybe once or twice. But more importantly, I’ve found there’s something we can do as service providers to establish a rock-solid foundation with our association counterparts from the get-go. You may be interested to learn that the answer lies in effective communication.

Following a client engagement late last year that ended with kick-ass deliverables but a sour aftertaste in my mouth, I began reflecting on what I could have done better or differently to ensure post-engagement bliss. While I have no illusion that every client relationship will spout sunshine and rainbows (you’re right, I need to lay off the Care Bears with my nieces), I’d at least like to find some balance.

Colleague Advice

As a result, I immediately reached out to a respected association consultant for some advice. (You know who you are – thank you!) The first thing she told me is: “A wise consultant friend once told me if the proposal/contracting process is painful, the engagement will be worse. Walk away.” Touché.

Some additional insights from our conversation follow:

  • Prospective clients should be open to setting aside time to meet and talk as needed; and the process to do so should be relatively easy.
  • During the initial interview phase, ask more human questions (e.g., culture, morale, teamwork and collaboration).
  • What you’re looking for is best cultural/personality fit, which is why conversations and/or meetings in the proposal phase are so important.
  • Ultimately, we’re starting to form and then build a relationship, which means the human side is critically important.
  • Respect, however, is a two-way street. As the prospective consultant, I need to be easy to reach and communicate with and be accommodating to the degree I can, and I need to treat the prospective client with respect and consideration, too.
  • From the very beginning, be sure to form a relationship with the project owner and the decision-maker.
  • Help the prospective client to prioritize projects and processes.
  • Following the initial interview phase, spend some time reflecting on the conversation:
    • How did the initial meetings go?
    • What is the chemistry like?
    • Are there unreasonable demands/timeframes/red flags?
    • How easy/difficult is it to schedule time with the primary contact?
  • Assuming the project moves forward, identify who will participate in the initial kickoff meeting at least one week in advance.
  • During the initial kickoff meeting, discuss roles, responsibilities, expectations and communication preferences.
  • Throughout the engagement, circle back to project management. Are things working? What needs to be tweaked?
  • Finally, always host a project wrap-up meeting.

Agreement Clause

Based upon this feedback, I have added the following clause to my client/contactor agreements:

A “getting started” success guide will be developed by Event Garde and disseminated to you within three (3) business days following execution of this Agreement by both parties. This document will comprise:

  • Key player names, contact information and communication preferences
  • Expectations of all key players, including frequency and mode of status updates
  • Ground rules for successful engagement

Client Section

The success guide includes a client section listing key staff contacts and subject matter experts, their contact information, their preferred communication methods and a summary of their responses to the following questions:

  • How do you generally like to communicate day-to-day (e.g., email, phone, text, in person)?
  • What is your preferred process/procedure for check-ins/progress reporting (e.g., status updates/reports, meetings)?
  • What forms/methods do you prefer to receive check-ins/progress reporting (e.g., email, report on letterhead, in person, verbally by phone)?
  • How frequently and with whom would you like check-ins/progress reporting?
  • How do you like to share documents (e.g., email, Dropbox)?
  • What file formats do you prefer (e.g., Word, PDF)?
  • What else do you need from my team to feel adequately onboarded/successful during this engagement?
  • How do you like to be prompted when there are outstanding deliverables/needs?
  • If you have any additional insights from previous consulting engagements (e.g., what worked, what didn’t and what you learned), please share them.

happy-couple-having-meal-out-horiz_rs3iszEvent Garde Section

Our Event Garde section also includes a listing of key staff contacts, their contact information, their roles/responsibilities relative to the engagement, their preferred communication methods, guidelines for scheduling meetings and the following reminder:

Just like in a restaurant, if you aren’t happy with something, please let Aaron know right away (directly) so he can fix it while it still matters. 

Hat tip to Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CAE for her post on Getting the Most Out of Your Consulting Partnerships and her reference to this analogy.

Ground Rules

I also like to include the following insights into the Event Garde culture as a basis for each client engagement:

Following are some ground rules my team tries to live by. Thought I’d share them to give you added perspective into our culture. Hopefully, they’ll provide a baseline from which we’ll all work, as well.

  • Work hard, play hard
  • Be respectful
  • Stay open minded/positive
  • Listen
  • Offer constructive criticism
  • Don’t micromanage
  • No one is “wrong”
  • Respond to email within 48 hours
  • Respond to phone/text the same day
  • Participate/share ideas
  • Be understanding of everyone’s schedules

  • Life happens

  • Use tech (in meetings) for emergencies only

  • Get to know the person, not just the job

  • Ask questions

  • Assume the best

The success guide then concludes with a recap of the project’s scope of work and tentative timeline.

What resources/approaches have you found most successful in building business relationships that last?

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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