August 15, 2012

Digital Event Engagement Manager: A New Role for Association Pros

The following is a guest post from Maggie McGary, online community and social media manager at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Last year, my first year attending ASAE's Annual Meeting & Expo, I was totally overwhelmed by the experience. This year, I was a little better prepared and went in with a game plan: Pick a session during each timeframe, then two backup sessions in case the first was full. I also spend so much time immersed in social media—learning, doing, speaking—that I thought my time would be best spent not attending any sessions dealing with social media.

At any rate, that's how I came to attend the Learning Lab "The Strategic Impact of Digital Events on Meetings," even though I'm not a meeting planner (currently; in past jobs I have done meeting management). As luck would have it, the session felt a lot like a social media session—a lot of talk about traditional versus new, with face-to-face meetings being the gold standard (like traditional communication media) and virtual or hybrid events the shiny new thing (like social media).

Lots of the same issues were addressed as are addressed in nearly every social media session: How do you get executive buy-in, how do you generate revenue from this new way of doing business, will this new way ruin the old, tried-and-true way we've always done meetings? As with social media, there are a few examples of associations who are already demonstrating success with virtual or hybrid meetings, but there still remains a lot of skepticism about moving into foreign territory.

What struck me most, though, was that I was sitting in a room full of seasoned meeting planners, many of whom are certified meeting professionals and have invested entire careers learning the business of running meetings. There I sat, a person who has spent the past four years in the business of online engagement, and it occurred to me that there's an entirely new field open to online community and social media managers: digital event engagement manager.

If the future of events is driving online engagement and being able to generate measurable results online in addition to, or instead of, face-to-face meetings, community management is at least as valuable a skillset as—if not more valuable than—meeting management. I wondered which education gap would be harder to fill—community manager retraining to learn meeting management, or meeting manager retraining to learn online community management? I also wondered who will fill that gap. Will fundamentals of online engagement and social media management be added to the list of things you need to know if you want to be a meeting manager, and, if so, will that be a new part of the certified meeting professional program? Or will community managers need to learn stuff like what's a BEO and which is a better seating setup for learning, hollow square or horseshoe?

Obviously, I don't know the answers to these questions, but I do know this: Build it and they will come doesn't work for online communities, so it probably won't work for online events either. Meeting managers planning on adding digital meetings to their association's learning mix would be smart to start boning up on the fundamentals of online community management.

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July 3, 2012

What conference planners can learn from bike-sharing programs

As technology has emerged that allows high-quality online broadcasts of conference presentations at a reasonable cost, some associations have embraced it while others have hesitated, concerned that "giving away our meetings" online would give people a reason to not attend in person.

Bike-shop owners in Washington, DC, can tell these associations not to worry. They, too, were concerned that the advent of bike-sharing service Capital Bikeshare would cut into bike sales by giving people a more affordable option to owning a bicycle. But the Transportation Nation blog reports this week that much the opposite has happened:

"It turns out their fears were for naught. Bike store owners say bike sharing is actually helping their businesses by fueling an explosion in bicycling enthusiasm. Moreover, bike shops say they are witnessing a culture change in their neighborhoods as more people leave their cars at home and hop on two-wheelers.

… Annah Walters, 25, says she wanted her own bicycle only after trying Bikeshare first. 'One of the great things about Bikeshare is it's sort of a gateway drug to biking. You don't have to make a several hundred dollar investment,' says Walters."

As successful as Capital Bikeshare has been, it doesn't match the freedom of owning a bike yourself. Likewise, as great as virtual-event technology is, it doesn't fully replace an in-person meeting. But it does serve as a low-barrier entry point, a "gateway drug" to the full conference experience. If you craft your online conference elements in that model, you can expand your audience and get people hooked. And then you can reap the benefits of that enthusiasm down the road, just like the bike-shop owners in DC.


May 3, 2012

Innovating in compartments

sheahan springtime 1.jpg

Association professionals who missed Peter Sheahan's general session presentation at last year's ASAE Annual Meeting had a chance to catch him today at ASAE's Springtime Expo. After speaking broadly about innovation last August, Sheahan narrowed in on innovation within association meetings Thursday, appropriate for the crowd of meeting planners and meetings industry professionals.

Sheahan, author of several books on innovation, including Making It Happen: Turning Good Ideas Into Great Results, acknowledged that innovation within meetings can be difficult, particularly when, for many associations, conferences and events are cash cows. While industry data shows meetings are recovering following the recession, the time to innovate is when life is good, he said. "Will it be easier to innovate now, or in five years?" he asked.

So, how to innovate within meetings without harming something that already works? Sheahan recommended "compartmentalization" of innovation. That's a big word, but it's about innovation on a small scale: Don't change every element of your meeting; instead, just pick one small part to try something new. By keeping change to one "compartment," you also keep risk confined to that one area. If it bombs, the rest of the meeting is still safe.

This concept sounds a bit like "incremental change," but it differs in an important way. While incremental change involves small changes across the board, compartmentalization focuses change in a specific aspect of a meeting. Within that aspect, though, the change can be as small or big as you want, and it allows you to put enough energy into that change to make it great. When you try to change everything at once instead, you end up with everything being "kind of good, but nothing great," Sheahan said.

Lest you think innovation isn't already happening in association meetings, Sheahan cited three examples from articles Associations Now:

As he concluded and sent meeting professionals off to the Expo, Sheahan reiterated his message on compartmentalization with a simple thought: "If you were to pick one element of your annual meeting to innovate, what would that element be?"


August 8, 2011

The challenge of breakout seating

The following is a guest post from Scott D. Oser, president of Scott Oser Associates.

Why is it almost impossible to judge how many people will attend a breakout session?

I was really excited about one of the sessions during the 3:15-4:30 p.m. time slot. I started heading toward the session room about 3 p.m. I ran into some folks, so I had a couple of conversations along the way and ended up approaching the room around 3:25. As I got closer, I noticed that people were standing in the doorway, so I turned around, which is what gave me time to write this post.

This is a common challenge for association meetings. Is there a way to predict what the hot sessions will be so there is enough seating? I think the experience for the association and the attendees would be better if there was, but I have yet to see anyone perfect it. Good thing I have the twitter stream to fall back on. Any suggestions?

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A postevent strategy

How can you make the most of digital content after an event?

It's a definite theme for me so far at this meeting (see my first post on Sunday's general session). I attended the session Improve Member Loyalty via Digital Event Strategies with Dave Lutz and Jeff Hurt, and here was there recommendation.

The tendency, they say, is to have a big digital splash after the conference, sometimes referred to as the afterglow. The idea is everybody will come for a day-long digital content bonanza with facilitated chat and sessions and interaction with speakers and other attendees, etc. They're all for the digital bonanza to extend the experience of the event, and they like that it's scheduled. But better than doing it all in one fell swoop, why not space it out, with a piece of it on one day, some more a few weeks later and so on? Not only does this extend the life of the engagement your attendees have with your organization, but the passage of time will actually work to keep the content fresh. All of your attendees are having experiences in their work, and these experiences are going to continually change how they view the content you provide--new ideas, new conversations will continue the sense of discovery.

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August 7, 2011

Postevent Engagement

Tina Brown.jpgWhat happens when you merge a new media organization with an old media organization?

You get the oldest type of media exchange in human civilization: face-to-face. That's a crucial lesson Tina Brown, editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast -Newsweek, gave attendees at the first general session at ASAE's Annual Meeting & Exposition. She says "high-touch live events... bring life to everything else you're doing." The new ideas, innovation, and sharing "fueled by a topical purpose" that happen there is one of the most powerful ways information gets exchanged.

Associations have a couple hundred years of experience in face-to-face. We could likely learn a few things about integrating information from other media into their events, but she raised another more important point--and is also something associations could do better--postevent engagement. The Daily Beast decided to make the global women's movement the focal point of their face-to-face meetings. After the first event, people were clamoring for more after the event, particularly wanting ways to support the work and causes of some of the presenters. They learned quickly how to tap into that event excitement and carry it forward for months afterwards.


May 4, 2011

A Top Ten list from MMCC/Springtime

Last week, I attended both the ASAE Membership, Marketing, & Communications conference as well as Springtime. I'd imagine most people don't go to both of these (unless they need the hours), as they're basically focused on different audiences. But as someone in a (very) small association, I do both meeting planning and marketing for my association.

So, for those who were not able to attend, I thought I'd do my top 10 takeaways -- both "formally presented" and personally realized.

In no particular order:

-Twitter is amazing. I spoke on a webinar recently in which I said I was not a fan of Twitter but did it "because I have to". MMCC changed my mind - by virtue of the #mmccon hashtag that ASAE urged us social networking types to use during the conference, I was able to not only connect with a large group of my peers at the conference, but also get the best tidbits of ALL of the concurrent sessions I was missing.

-Even content leaders can learn from their own session. I was on the panel for an Association Career Path session at MMCC and while it was "character building" to present, I was amazed at how much I learned from the other panelists, Sue Holzer and Peter O'Neil.

-Mentoring relationships should not be forced. The best mentorship relationships are the ones you "luck upon" yourselves, even if you've never formally admitted to one another that you're a mentor/mentee. Less awkward and obligation-based!

-Providing incentives to members to join/register doesn't have to mean giving the milk away for free. Incentivizing can be anything -- from priority seating to a shout out in a newsletter. And it helps fill your room blocks/meet your budgets earlier!

-The iPad? Also amazing. I was able to arrange my notes easily and quietly (no clicky keyboards on that puppy). I bought it as a toy but it truly proved itself to be a valuable business asset last week.

-Find a way to provide membership/communications values to your members' employees. Knowing someone's administrative assistant by name is a good thing. Send them a holiday card just like you would your actual members -- if they have an emotional connection to your association, the mail you send their boss is more likely to make it on their desk.

-I need to get my CAE!

-This is so simple, yet we don't do it -- segment your surveys. When we all have so many different types of members (credentialed vs. non-credentialed, executive vs. administrative, experienced vs. new to the industry, etc), why are we asking them the exact same questions and analyzing them the exact same way?

-My favorite sentence I heard at MMCC was "Failing to plan means planning to fail". Put in non-cutesy-words, make sure that you have a road map for all of your projects. Have a retention communications plan, regularly look at your strategic plan, plan your week in advance.. everything should have a plan. As long as it's attainable and realistic, it's worth the time it takes because it will save you time (and resources) later.

-Offer to help other people in your office when you need a break. Even if helping someone stuff envelopes "isn't your job", it's still a small mental break from your own task, and that person is likely to help YOU stuff envelopes later when THEY need a break. Sweet!

And perhaps a #11: Blog your takeaways so you can refer back to them later...

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April 27, 2011

Rosabeth Moss Kanter Urges CEOs to Learn from the Royal Wedding

I'm a longtime fan of Harvard University's Rosabeth Moss Kanter, and she pulls through for me again with her latest HBR blog post titled "Why CEOs Should Watch the Royal Wedding."

I had wondered how I could put a business spin on England's bigger-than-the-2012-Olympics event tomorrow, but I've also been thinking more about yesterday's sessions at the MM&C conference. Now Kanter has shown me the way.

In case you're unclear, we're talking about the ballyhooed nuptials of England's Prince William to Kate Middleton, which may manage to pull our ally out of its economic slump by the sheer scale of the event's marketplace of commemorative plates, mugs, apparel, towels, and everything else imaginable.

Kanter calls the global uproar--an estimated 2 billion people are expected to watch--"one more example of the coming of the experience economy, in which people pay for the chance to participate at particular times (Farmville, anyone?), and expenditures on goods and services come in bundles tied to particular events."

Specifically, she identifies three "strategic insights" more relevant to CEOs than the color of the Queen's hat, and here I paraphrase and urge you to read her full explanations:

First, the selling of so-called "soft stuff"--happiness, unity, shared experience, ritual, meaning, and tradition--can touch customers and members in a way that brings them running with their wallets open. "The joy factor ... is a better business theme to emphasize than the fear factor," Kanter notes.

Second, take the experience and share it on many levels, using many media methods and tying it to causes that matter to your customers. In other words, excel at brand management. While most news outlets have joined in the ruckus and are broadcasting the event live worldwide, Kanter points out that even the usually reserved royal PR propers are working Web 2.0 tools with vigor.

You'll be able to catch livestreaming on the Royal Wedding website, tweeting at the Clarence House royal wedding Twitter feed, and blogging by St. James Palace.

Panicked that you forgot to send the couple a "prezzie?" No worries. These "modern royals" are into cause as much as many other we've-already-got-what-we-need-thanks couples today--they're urging well-wishers to donate to a charity in their honor in lieu of gifts.

Third, be aware that not all attention to your events is necessarily good. Here, Kanter warns that big do's "focus attention not only on the message but on the cost of getting out the message, which can undercut the message."

I can see that's true. With an unverifiable but widely estimated pricetag of around $30 million, the Kate-and-William wedding did prompt my British in-laws to make a passing remark about the number of poor people who could be fed and clothed for that amount. And who among associations hasn't heard the occasional complaint that a nonprofit event shouldn't be so showy or expensive (as defined in their terms, anyway)?

As we've examined the latest trends and skills needed to rock the marketing and communications worlds this week during the MM&C conference, we've seen loads of good and bad examples from the association community and the corporate world.

And to me, the lesson that still reigns supreme--whether promoting a worldwide event or evoking genuine emotions and actions through good storytelling--is that content remains king.

Kanter doesn't say that straight out, but "soft" or "hard," stripped to bullet points or gussied up for a global showcase, tailor-made content is the core value to our customers and members.

I'll try to remember that while eating scones and sipping tea from the commemorative cup sent by my mother-in-law while I watch a 5 a.m. pre-wedding show likely focused on Kate's possible dress designer and the royal glass carriage.


April 20, 2011

What if there were no legislators at your legislative fly-in?


So the government shutdown didn't happen, but it certainly had many people in Washington, DC, including associations, worrying over how to adjust if the shutdown had occurred. Perhaps none more so than the American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association, whose legislative fly-in event was scheduled for April 11-12, the first two business days of the would-be shutdown.

I spoke with Tom Fise, AOPA executive director, today about how planning for the event was affected as the shutdown loomed.

"It probably advanced the aging process here a little bit," he said. "It seemed that everything had a contingency to it as we got down to the end."

The AOPA Policy Forum event, which draws about 120 attendees and features education on the first day with meetings on Capitol Hill on the second, had been scheduled about eight months in advance, and by the time the government shutdown became a clear possibility, the event schedule and meetings with lawmakers had already been arranged. Fise and his staff communicated with speakers and Hill staff so they knew who would and wouldn't be available in the event of a shutdown and planned backup options where possible. To a large degree, though, they simply had to carry on with planning and keep fingers crossed that the government would be open.

"There was not a lot of reliable information about what was going on. We took the optimistic view and told everybody, 'Definitely come in,'" he said.

One significant change AOPA made to its schedule—a handy solution, in my opinion—was a kickoff program with two former members of Congress, who would be available in either scenario, to open the event on Monday.

"We had these guys do a point-counterpoint about the budget process and the prospects for a governemnt shutdown, as well as the future issues of debt ceiling and the longer-term budget plan. That was really helpful for the attendees for putting all this stuff that they had been hearing about in context and knowing what they were walking into," said Fise. "When we added that in, we didn't know whether the government would be shut down or not, so it was kind of a way of dealing with whatever the situation was at that moment."

Fise estimated that the contingency planning presented by the prospect of a shutdown increased his staff's prep work by 15 to 25 percent. He credited them with stepping up to the challenge.

"Generally, having the attitude that the show must go on makes a lot of sense," he said. "When you look at the big picture and you think about members who have set aside the time to come in and bought airline tickets that are probably nonrefundable, you've really just got to mount the effort to pull the thing through, if there's any way possible to do it."

In the end, of course, the gamble paid off, as Congress struck a deal at the 11th hour to keep the government running. None the less, AOPA's ability to adjust on the fly is admirable. Many association event planners know the stress of an unpredictable external factor disrupting (or threatening to disrupt) an event. I'm curious how others out there have handled the need for last-minute contingency planning. And have any associations ever negotiated consideration for a government shutdown into their hotel contracts or cancellation insurance for legislative fly-in events?


March 25, 2011

Associations Pledging to Participate in Tomorrow's Earth Hour

If your organization and staff are interested in an easy, fun, and free way to show support for protecting the planet and urging action on the problem of climate change, consider participating in World Wildlie Fund's global Earth Hour 2011 tomorrow night at 8:30 p.m. for one hour.

A phenomenal success, in part because of its simplicity, visibility, and measured impacts, Earth Hour has inspired pledges to participate from government and business leaders in a record 131 countries, along with hundreds of major companies such as Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Coca-Cola, and IKEA, and even more NGOs and individuals. Association participants include Building Owners and Managers Association International chapters, sports associations, astronomy organizations, and hospitality groups. For a partial list of participants this year, go here.

I've also been seeing hotels, restaurants and local shops use Earth Hour this year to plan and promote festive events to engage guests and customers, including dining-by-candlelight dinners, s-more making in hotel lobby fireplaces for kids, glow necklace distributions at clubs, lantern walks in art galleries and shops, and glow-in-the-dark crafts and family-night gaming. You'll also find that hundreds of major international sites such as the Empire State Building, Sydney Harbour Bridge, and San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge are participating, too.

I remember when this all started in 2007. I had heard that several associations were going to participate, and one was planning some tie-in events at its local conference since the events would overlap. Organizers were having a great time finding ways to integrate both fun and information into the single dark hour, and they apparently got rave reviews from attendees, especially about the candlelit pathway up to an outdoor stargazing event that had been put together with the local planetarium and a nonprofit chapter of astronomers.

That first year, Earth Hour drew 2.2 million individual participants and more than 2,000 businesses, according to World Wildlife Fund. Tomorrow, only four years later, those numbers have grown into the hundreds of millions of registered participants, and organizers have expanded the event by calling on each of them to go "beyond the hour" by committing to convert a single hour of darkness into a single commitment to do one regular thing that helps the environment address climate change. Suggestions include easy actions such as commuting to work or the subway station by bike one day a week, switching to CFL or LED lights, or holding "meatless Monday" dinners.

You can learn more about what people and organizations are pledging to do at


October 4, 2010

The Drinking Dilemma

Okay, I've had this post in mind for a long time. I want to preface it by saying that in no way am I a prude or square--but I feel like there is an undeniable truth about many meetings that nonprofit associations propagate: the dilemma of drinking.

We are walking a fine balance, and it scares me sometimes that we never talk about it. Most of our associations promote professionalism, ethics, and in general good and smart behavior. Then, we attend meetings in which a great deal of excessive alcohol consumption takes place, and often we are party to it. In my travels at various trade shows, I've seen or heard of people:

  • Jumping in a polluted downtown city river and being taken to an emergency room (to get cleaned off)
  • Walking alone and getting mugged in a downtown area, losing money and wallet and getting scared to death
  • People who are married or in long-term relationships making regrettable decisions
  • Exhibiting poor or downright embarrassing behavior
  • Missing educational sessions, networking events, etc.
  • Being much less effective on the trade show floor in promoting their goods, services, etc.

Many of these stories come from outside the association management industry, but I'd be willing to bet there are some within our own industry, too.

Again, I am by no means innocent. Especially when I first began traveling as a professional, I had my moments, and I still enjoy a drink at a show with friends. But I am curious to find out how others feel about this.

Here are some related questions:

  • Does excessive drinking add to our association mythology in positive or negative ways?
  • How are associations managing this with staff and event attendees?
  • What is the impact on our health and the health of our event attendees?
  • We focus on helping vegetarians eat veggie at events; do we tailor to non-drinkers too?
  • Does a drinking culture add, or detract, from building strong relationships? Is it an excuse not to get to know someone at a deeper level, or a tool to do so?
  • If you declared your event a "dry event," would people still show up?
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August 31, 2010

Three Cool Takeaways from the LA Community Legacy Projects

Wow, we just finished tallying up the total Annual Meeting attendee participation and results from our Community Connections projects, and the numbers blasted previous "legacy project" metrics to smithereens!

The projects--ranging from a 5K fun run to local tours to bike-building and toiletry-kit/school supply stuffing--brought together 487 volunteers and resulted in 125 bikes, several massive boxes of stuffed school backpacks, and more than $17,000--all for the nonprofit Midnight Mission! In previous years, ASAE averaged about 15 volunteers, who would all arrive to donate time on the Saturday before the conference started. Obviously, we've finally found the right formula that will make giving back to the host community fun, accessible, and high-impact.

Here are three cool takeaways that seem to be making the difference:

1. We added far more options. Indeed, the 5K run early on the second day of the meeting hit its limit of 100 sign-ups weeks before folks started landing at LAX airport. Eager tradeshow participants turned a wrench, steadied some screws, and did whatever else was needed to help build the first 100 bikes in the Milwaukee, Travel Portland, and Pittsburgh booths at the Expo. The remaining 25 bikes and all of the backpacks and toiletry kits were completed on Tuesday, the final day of the event. Offering multiple opportunities, pricing, and time commitments ensured that almost all attendees could do at least something to give back....

2. Which led to a happy meet-up between volunteers and the actual recipients of our efforts--the families served by Midnight Mission! Boy, if you could have seen those kids' smiles, and the energy with which they zoomed around the room on their sparkling bikes--well, that will be a strong and positive memory for everyone there. Think those folks will volunteer again? Oh, yeah. They know first-hand that they made a difference in a child's life--and plenty of parents were there to add their warm thanks as well. The same was true on the Saturday when more than 400 people were fed by our attendees at Midnight Mission. Lesson: Try to ensure face-to-face exchanges with the constituency your legacy projects are serving. And lose the polish--focus the exchange on the homeless, the hungry, or the other vulnerable people being helped by your attendees.

3. We learned that our business partners could be real leaders when it comes to good citizenship, and they can teach us a few things in this regard. The Industry Partners group of ASAE was a driving force behind several of the legacy events, such as the bike-building, and others on the tradeshow floor--such as Virginia Beach CVB with its book collection for Midnight Mission, and Rosen Hotels with its continuing donation drive for Haiti earthquake relief--came up with their own ways to help others. Thank you all!

One final point: Chris Wood, director of social responsibility and coordinator of so many of these legacy projects, and the director of Midnight Mission were so inspired by the impact of our attendees that they are working on a case study guide that will 1) help standardize the process of ASAE-charity legacy projects, 2) develop a sample case study that Midnight Mission can use to guide other associations meeting in Los Angeles, and 3) capture the lessons learned by our 2010 experience.

Again, thank you to each of the 487 people who ran, walked, gave time and money, got their hands dirty with bike grease, brought shampoo and soap, and more!

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July 27, 2010

A Passion for Business

Did anyone else happen to enjoy two articles in this week's Bloomberg Businessweek about associations? The first one is a three-page piece that uses the Romance Writers of America conference as entry into discussion of the rise of the entire "bodice rippers" book industry. I especially liked learning about how rapidly this section of the bookselling industry was being fractured into micro niches that change in a heartbeat to mimic social changes.

Uniting those splinters, though, is a larger theme noted by one of the profession's leading authors, Marie Bostwick: "There is a tremendous desire for community. Somehow in this world, where everyone is constantly communicating, people have lost real friendships."

Maybe that is why the Romance Writers of America and its conferences continue to grow as well--that desire to get together over endless cups of coffee and a common passion for, well, passion. How might the rest of us better identify and leverage the rising and falling (dare I write, heaving) of membership micro-niches that fulfill emotionally driven needs and interests of our members, rather than more reserved connections related to professional function or title?

The other Businessweek article looks not at an association so much as its leader, the new and increasingly influential association executive director, Rose Ann DeMoro. DeMoro rose to power from a supermarket cashier position in Missouri to lead the rapidly growing California Nurses Association (CNA) and--since December 2009--its evolution and merger into a 155,000-member nursing organization. This new player--called the National Nurses United--is composed of CAN CNA, United American Nurses, and the Massachusetts Nurses Association, and the dynamic DeMoro is fully in charge at the top.

Whether you agree or not with DeMoro's rather flamboyant style, you can't deny the heart of the article: passion. One woman's focused, determined battle to ensure that "nurses should win every battle."

That a publication dedicated to business coverage should devote six pages in its feature well to address (however indirectly) the influence of passion and community-building on the workplace was as refreshing as a dewy rose. No? Okay, strike that last phrase. I'll keep it simple: The articles are good reading for folks in every field in our sector.

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June 10, 2010

Easing Content Experts into Collaborative Learning

Few content experts are skilled in designing and facilitating learning experiences so they default to familiar and safe formats like panel sessions when speaking for their associations.

To overcome this weakness, many associations offer content experts basic training in good education design for live, virtual or blended learning experiences. Some associations also rely on their education staffers or consultants to coach selected content experts, especially for technical or professional courses that will be repeated or available in an online curriculum.

If you want to help your content experts become more comfortable with facilitating collaborative learning, here are some simple tactics you might consider:

  • Explain different learning designs in a basic how-to guide. Recommend innovative formats that have worked for your members.
  • Make it easy to set up conference calls for co-presenters to plan a session together. Encourage talking in advance about how to achieve learning outcomes.
  • Give participants an upfront voice in defining their learning needs. Use online registration and social media to make it easy for participants to give this guidance to content experts in advance.
  • Designate one or two people as learning advocates in every experience. Empowering someone to actively represent the learning needs of the group reminds everyone they are in control of what happens in collaborative learning.
  • Celebrate and recognize content experts for amazing learning experiences. Set them up as role models for others to emulate.
  • Work with selected content experts who can help create a tipping point toward collaborative learning. Start with a few people who will innovate and influence others to change.
  • Check out these practical tips on how to turn experts into great teachers.

Your content experts know they stand on the shoulders of other experts. By helping them become facilitators of collaborative learning, you also help them stand shoulder-to-shoulder with others to grow and revise the knowledge in their field

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April 12, 2010

Quick Clicks: Monday morning metaphors

Good morning, and welcome to a Monday edition of Quick Clicks!

- Acronym's Big Ideas Month helped to inspire an unconference aimed at creating an innovative future for the association community, taking place April 22 in Washington, DC. Jeff De Cagna posted more information on the Hacking Associations Unconference here.

- Jamie Notter posted his thoughts about the recent Acronym post that was removed from the blog.

- Jamie also posted an interesting series on leadership skills needed in today's organizations, including truth, courage, and curiosity.

- Elizabeth Weaver Engel has a great post on some of the forces that she thinks are shaping associations today.

- Shelly Alcorn recently posted the last post in her five-part series on how Jim Collins' book How the Mighty Fall can apply to associations. (If you haven't read the first four posts, she links to all of them in the first paragraph.)

- A very interesting post on meeting conference attendees' expectations by Amber Naslund (thanks for the link are due to Shannon Otto at the Splash blog). Representative quote: "We have a fundamental disconnect between what people say they want from a conference session, and what can realistically be delivered under existing models."

- Jeffrey Cufaude is thinking about organizational change efforts, using automotive metaphors; he's posted on detours and dead ends, and what it's like in the passenger seat during such change efforts.

- Eric Lanke at the Hourglass Blog ponders when good leaders make the decision to pull the plug on projects.

- At the LeaderConnect blog, Rebecca Rolfes considers the board-staff dynamic at associations and how it might impact the way associations approach the future.

- Judith Lindenau at the Off Stage blog discusses the collapse of complex societies, Clay Shirky, and how both of those things apply to realtor associations.

- Maddie Grant is also thinking about Clay Shirky and his principle that "Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution."

- Association blogger David Gammel has launched a new blog, Orgpreneur, which will focus on "entrepreneurship in pursuit of goals that matter."

- Andy Sernovitz discusses the importance of leaving a good last impression on your departing customers, with some advice associations could certainly use to help improve relations with departing members.

- Blue Avocado recently published an article by Ellis Robinson on eight strategic mistakes nonprofits can make with memberships.

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April 1, 2010

Quick Clicks: Think outside the office

Welcome to the latest edition of Quick Clicks! I'm actually on vacation for a few days (Scott has kindly agreed to make sure this post goes live while I'm out), so I'm wishing all of you a good day from a remote location.

Here are some of the latest and most interesting posts from the association blogging world:

- There's been some passionate discussion of the decision to remove a recent post here on Acronym. (All other elements of that discussion aside, I'm personally grateful that we have readers who take Acronym so seriously and care so much about whether or not that decision was a good one to make.) KiKi L'Italien considers several sides to the debate, while Shannon Otto comes at the issue from a journalistic perspective. Elizabeth Weaver Engel added her take to her weekly "What I'm Reading" post.

- Deirdre Reid posted a "New Volunteer Manifesto" (and a great discussion sprang up in comments). Deidre will be expanding on her manifesto in a new weekly column on the SmartBlog Insights blog. Maddie Grant highlights some of her favorite aspects of the manifesto in a SocialFish post.

- Peggy Hoffman continues her "Truths About Volunteering" series with truth #17.

- Jamie Notter makes a case for three new leadership mindsets for the future.

- Marsha Rhea at the SignatureI blog offers some advice for associations dealing with chronic unresolved issues.

- The Plexus Consulting blog has some questions about the line between a working environment that's too comfortable and one that's too stressful.

- Jeff Hurt at Midcourse Corrections has some very interesting thoughts on why you shouldn't crowdsource your next conference.

- Speaking of conferences, Joe Gerstandt would like to ask why your commitment to diversity isn't fully reflected in your conference's speaker lineup. And Lauren Fernandez wants to know why more panel discussions don't include a contrarian point of view.

- Jeffrey Cufaude continues his great "What If Wednesdays" series with a post on expiration dates for new products. I love this idea!

- Tony Rossell encourages us to shift from a cost-control mindset to a growth mindset, before it's too late.

- Kerry Stackpole tells a story about the power of passion when it's combined with persistence.


February 25, 2010

Quick Clicks: Home runs

Welcome to another edition of Quick Clicks. Thanks to all the association bloggers who give us so much great stuff to link to!

- On the SmartBlog Insights blog, Rebecca Leaman wonders whether it still makes sense for nonprofits to attempt to drive traffic back to a single website "home base." Her question started a great discussion in comments.

- Andy Sernovitz has some thought-provoking comments on how you can take advantage of changing customer expectations (even if they might seem threatening at first glace).

- Jeffrey Cufaude has started a new series of blog posts he's calling "Wednesday What Ifs?". So far, he's tackled paying for dues and other programs and services in multi-year increments, giving implicit rather than explicit permission, and focusing on consistent quality rather than on the big breakthrough.

- Cindy Butts responds to some recent Acronym posts with her thoughts on the pursuit of perfection.

- Kevin Whorton has a great post at the College of Association Marketing blog on the surprising disconnect between the words and actions of one focus group.

- Jeff Hurt has great advice for pumping up the networking potential of your face-to-face events.

- If you're an "emerging leader" and you've ever thought, "When do I just emerge already?" Rosetta Thurman has a post for you.

- Shelly Alcorn at the Association Subculture blog has launched an interesting series of posts applying the rubric from Jim Collins' new book "How the Mighty Fall" to associations.

- Six is apparently a big number this week: A guest post by Mack Collier on Lauren Fernandez's LAF blog shares six truths of building successful online communities, and Aimee Stern shares six great ideas she got at a recent Super Swap.

- The Nonprofit University blog has some thoughts on the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision and its implications for nonprofit organizations.

- David Patt has some interesting observations about behavorial differences he's seen with older and younger colleagues. What do you think?

- Jeff Cobb at the Hedgehog & Fox blog has four questions whose answers might predict your future success. (And at his other blog, Mission to Learn, he has a post I loved on learning lessons he's gleaned from watching his toddler.)

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February 13, 2010

Winter Olympics Organizers Offer Free Toolkit on Creating Sustainable Events

In anticipation of the next weeks’ of avid TV watching of the Winter Olympics in Canada, I visited the official website in search of potential tools, ideas, and takeaways for association event and meeting planners.

I’m pleased to find that groups involved in sporting events and fundraisers (think golf tournaments, walk- and bike-a-thons, team-building field days, etc.) can download a free Sustainable Sport and Event Toolkit ( created by the Vancouver Organising Committee for the 2010 Olympics and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC) in partnership with the Switzerland-based International Academy of Sports Science and Technology. Topics covered include community and supply chain involvement, transportation, and venue management.

The nine-piece how-to toolkit—aimed at organizers/sponsors of both large and small events--is one of the many social legacy projects completed or underway by organizers and attendees of this month’s Olympics, which kicked off in grand style February 12.

Organizers have spent seven years developing and executing actions and policies aimed at lightening the event’s wide environmental footprint, ensuring an ethical and inclusive competition, and leaving behind a positive social legacy. You’ll find highlights at

However, a summary of 12 of their major initiatives ( provides association meeting planners and

Continue reading "Winter Olympics Organizers Offer Free Toolkit on Creating Sustainable Events " »

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February 8, 2010

Quick clicks: Snowy day edition

This is a bit of a catch-up edition of Quick Clicks, so it's a little longer than usual. But if you're in the DC area (or elsewhere) and snowed in, what better time to catch up on your reading?

First, I'd like to welcome to several new association blogs:

- Aaron Wolowiec, a former Acronym blogger, has launched his own blog at An early standout post: Exposing the silo effect.

- Karen Tucker Thomas recently began the CEO Solutions blog. Early standout: Board orientation or board development.

- Management Solutions Plus brings us The Common Thread blog, featuring a number of staff, including well-known association blogger Jamie Notter. Early standout: Enquiring minds want to know how and why, by Angela Pike.

- If you follow any of the ASAE & The Center listservers, you're surely familiar with Vinay Kumar; he now has a blog of his own, too. Early standout: The Ferrari, the race, the pit-stop.

- If you have an interest in legal issues related to associations, check out Mark Alcon's new Association Law Blog. An early standout post: top 10 signs of a dysfunctional board.

Several existing blogs and bloggers are putting together interesting new series:

- The Vanguard Technology blog has begun a new "5 Questions" series, where they'll be asking five questions of an association professional doing innovative things with technology. This first interview (presented primarily in podcast form) focuses on why email marketing matters more than ever.

- DelCor has begun a weekly "Social Media Sweet Spot" show on Ustream, hosted by KiKi L'Italien.

- The SocialFish blog is hosting a series of interviews with association social media managers.

Many other association bloggers have had interesting things to say in recent weeks:

- Maddie Grant shared a thought-provoking post from Bruce Butterfield on lessons associations can learn from the struggles of the newspaper industry. Kevin Holland responded with his thoughts on what is missing from that comparison. Both posts inspired very interesting comment discussions.

- Elsewhere, Kevin Holland had a great discussion with Matt Baehr about aggregation as a value proposition for associations.

- Shelly Alcorn shares her take on the Supreme Court's ruling in the Citizens United case.

- Joe Gerstandt has a thoughtful post on opportunities he sees for local SHRM chapters to advance the cause of diversity and inclusion. I think his ideas could be applicable to a lot of other associations, too.

- Jeff Hurt shares a meeting planner's perspective on conference housing and attrition.

- Jeff De Cagna shares his five key words for 2010.

- Ellen Behrens argues that many of our current work practices are unhealthy for both ourselves and our organizations.

- Judith Lindenau shares her "A list" advice for association membership recruitment and retention.

- Maggie McGary is starting a list of association and nonprofit community managers.

- Eric Lanke at the Hourglass Blog shares a first draft of principles of innovation for the association community.

- Sue Pelletier responds to one possible model for the future of work and speculates on how associations might fit in.

- Tony Rossell has a simple method you can use to calculate where your membership numbers are headed.

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January 19, 2010

Earthquake Response Efforts Continue

To everyone who has been sending press releases and e-mails about what their organization is doing to respond to the Haiti earthquake disaster, I send you a big thank-you! To avoid weighing down Acronym with the latest updates, all responses are being posted in the commentary section of my earlier blog posts down below. I encourage you to continue emailing me news at Thanks again for all you are doing!


November 30, 2009

Is all professional development doomed to poor ratings?

As vice-chair of the Marketing Section Council I am fortunate to be on the committee that helps guide the programming offered at the 2010 ASAE Annual Meeting. Anne Blouin, Director of Learning at ASAE, held a conference call last week for volunteer leaders like me and one of the things she said was that ASAE was getting dinged for with Annual was that the actual sessions did not reflect what was described in the Program Book. I have witnessed this same thing first hand when going over post-event surveys for the seminars I do with Kevin Whorton under the College of Association Marketing brand. I know we do our best to make sure that it is incredibly obvious what our programs will cover and have experienced that ASAE does its best to do the same.

Why is it that more and more meeting participants are saying that what they thought they had registered for is not what was delivered? Is the participant not paying attention to details of the marketing pieces? Is it the programming decreasing in quality? Is the marketing over-promising or inaccurate? Is it all of the above?

Personally, I am leaning toward a lack of time as the cause of the increase in dissatisfaction for participants. I think that as the economy worsened and staff rosters shrunk individuals were forced to take on additional responsibilities. Remaining staff members still understood the value of professional development activities but they no longer had the time to read all the details of promotional materials they received. They would therefore skim marketing pieces and notice one or two things that really resonated with them that caused them to register. Unfortunately the skimming of the marketing pieces also caused them to miss the true theme or focus of the entire offering so they end up being disappointed after they attend.

This issue is very important for the future of professional development as negative reactions impact all sides of any education program. Negative reactions impact the rate of repeat attendance, they impact the speaker ratings, they impact your positive word of mouth and, most importantly, they ultimately impact your bottom line. Do you have any thoughts about why this is happening? Do you have any solutions? If so, I think the community would benefit by hearing them.

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November 25, 2009

Can this relationship be saved?

I was working on a post on social media and association governance for this afternoon, but then I saw a link that David Gammel kindly shared on Twitter and I decided to switch gears.

If you haven't seen it yet, researcher Danah Boyd recently posted a painfully honest and introspective look at her experience as a presenter whose talk was upstaged by a social media backchannel. (Interestingly enough, her talk was on "Streams of Content, Limited Attention: The Flow of Information Through Social Media.")

As associations are increasingly embracing social media as a complement to live meeting formats, this situation is going to arise. It may have already happened at your association.

Some speakers will have a natural ability to smoothly integrate backchannel communications into their talks. Maddie Grant recently talked about some ideas here. But not every speaker will be as prepared as Maddie. We, as conference and event organizers, owe it to all of them--both the naturals and the newbies--to help them handle such situations positively.

What can associations do to make it easier for speakers and the backchannel to live together in harmony? What changes will need to be made to how we prepare and support our speakers to make more positive interactions possible?

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October 26, 2009

Quick clicks: Risky business

Friday's Quick Clicks is now Monday morning Quick Clicks--my apologies for the delay! Here's some reading to kick off your week:

- Leslie White, who has written some great guest posts for other association bloggers in recent months, has started her own blog, Risky Chronicles. Her first post is all about risk strategy and polar bears.

- Jeff De Cagna has some strong words about what relevance is not.

- Tony Rossell at the Membership Marketing blog suggests a simple exercise to determine the value you offer to your members.

- Jeff Hurt issues a call for next-generation conference and membership revenue models.

- Michael McCurry has some ideas for how to plan for attrition (or attendance growth) in today's economy.

- David Gammel suggests that growth is a trap associations need to watch out for.

- Elizabeth Weaver Engel points to an interesting "FutureLab" experiment Independent Sector is currently undertaking.

- Has your professional development budget been cut? Rosetta Thurman summarizes 11 tips for do-it-yourself professional development.

- Erik Schonher at the Experts in Membership Marketing blog has some tips from a "master strategist" whose association has grown its membership despite the economy.

- Maddie Grant at the Socialfish blog shares some draft social media guidelines; at the Bamboo Project blog, Michele Martin shares another example of such guidelines, focused around "admirable use" of social media.

- Joan Eisenstodt wants to know if you know how your audience learns.

- David Patt responds to Acronym blogger Joe Rominiecki's post on "blowing it up and starting over." (On a somewhat related note, Lindy Dreyer has a great post about ending the quest for perfection.)


October 16, 2009

Quick clicks: Where's my crystal ball?

It's time for your weekly round of quick clicks from the association blogging community and elsewhere. Enjoy!

- The Signature i blog has a great post describing four ways to think about the future, and advice to help you upgrade your futures thinking. Elsewhere, Kevin Holland has some predictions for the future of associations. (And so do several commenters on Brian Birch's recent Acronym post with his predictions for 2010.)

- Jamie Notter says that the future of organizations lies in being human.

- On the SocialFish blog, Lindy Dreyer writes about the power of clarity.

- Michael LoBue at Association Voices is deleting his Twitter account, but Eric Lenke at the Hourglass Blog speaks up for texting in church (and possibly at education events, as well).

- Bob Sutton shares his top 10 flawed management assumptions.

- The Vanguard Technology blog recently interviewed Greg Hill of the Kansas Dental Association on how his association has become a "multimedia powerhouse."

- KiKi L'Italien posts 10 things she learned at her association's recent conference, while Becky Hadley at the Drake & Company blog posts about attending her association's conference for the first time.

- Jeff Hurt has some research to share pointing to the benefits of virtual education. Ellen Behrens, meanwhile, writes about the differences between training and mentoring.

- Short but sweet: Peggy Hoffman posts the 12th post in her series of truths about volunteering.


October 9, 2009

Quick clicks: Swarmball!

Ready for the long weekend? For that matter, is it a long weekend for you? Either way, here's some reading to reflect on:

- Two more association bloggers replied to the Generation X meme that began last week: Kevin Holland and David Patt.

- The Digital Now conference's blog has collected some classic CEO quotes for you.

- Wes Trochlil drew some important lessons for your association from his daughter's last soccer game (I'll admit, I'm linking to this in part for the opportunity to use the word "swarmball").

- Frank Fortin writes in praise of the forgotten power of email.

- The SocialFish blog recently posted a white paper analyzing white label online community vendors.

- David Patt has 15 tips for meeting planners working with older members or audiences.

- Jakub Nielsen's latest "Alertbox" column has some fascinating information on a user's experience on a website from the first 0.1 second to his or her first year as a customer, and even further out in time than that.

- Erik Casey has an interesting post on the importance of making your member communications relevant, while the IMG Associations blog has a related post on making them applicable.

- Marsha Rhea at the SignatureI blog discusses change leadership from the perspective of those most impacted by the change in question.

- Shelly Alcorn's Association Subculture blog argues that associations need to become experience brokers.

- Jeffrey Cufaude describes various staff members' approaches to innovation using an on-ramp as a metaphor (making me nervous for my commute home tonight!).

- Is it a bad thing to have a superstar community manager on your staff? This post from the Museum 2.0 blog says yes.


September 25, 2009

Quick clicks: My favorite things

- Jeff Hurt shares his favorite "event planning things," to the tune of "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music. Click at your own risk--it's possible you'll end up with the tune stuck in your head for the rest of the day ...

- Rebecca Leaman at the SmartBlog Insights blog shares a cautionary tale of what can happen when your budget cuts make your members' and supporters' lives more difficult.

- In a somewhat related post, the NTEN blog talks about why online donors leave and how you can bring them back.

- The Plexus Consulting Group blog says that there's no such thing as a business or management objective that can't be measured. (This post particularly resonated with me today, as I'm struggling to determine what metrics can measure my department's objectives for the year.)

- During Hispanic Heritage Month, Rosetta Thurman is profiling Hispanic nonprofit leaders whose accomplishments she particularly admires (here's an introductory post, and the first profile).

- Judith Lindenau at the Off Stage blog is posting a series of seven steps to building an association online community (steps one, two, three, and four have been posted so far).

- Elisa Ortiz at the Onward and Upward blog lists 7 habits of highly annoying coworkers. (I'm sure no Acronym reader does any of these things!)

- Jamie Notter is thinking about complaining.

- Acronym blogger Brian Birch isn't the only person thinking about volunteers and creativity this week; the CMI Observations on Association Management blog has some insights.

- Aptify's CEO Blog discusses predictive analysis and how associations can use it to improve member retention.

- Stephanie Vance muses about whether success in advocacy can blunt future advocacy effectiveness.

- At The Forum Effect, Jackie Eder-Van Hook has advice for associations on how to work with their attorneys.

- Jeffrey Cufaude has a great list of ideas on how you can be a more "sustainable you."


August 11, 2009

NCSEA Shares Bankruptcy Story

For a moving account of the bankruptcy filing and revitalization plan of the National Child Support Enforcement Association (NCSEA), visit’s article, “Tales from the Downturn: Meeting Cancellation Leads to Bankruptcy.” Kudos to Executive Director Colleen Eubanks for sharing tough lessons with her peers.


August 7, 2009

Quick clicks, part II: Electric boogaloo

Since there were so many good posts to choose from this week, I split "Quick Clicks" into two parts. Here's a roundup of some great non-Annual-Meeting-related posts:

- David Patt of the Association Executive Management blog argues provocatively against contested board elections: "Members should care about the quality and quantity of services. If they get what they've paid for, it should make no difference who holds office."

- In other governance-related discussions, the Nonprofit University blog has seven reasons why term limits are a must for nonprofit boards. And at the Off Stage blog, Judith Lindenau discusses some reasons why nonprofit boards should have no more than three committees.

- Kevin Holland at Association Inc. says the sky is not falling--and associations have a bright future ahead.

- At the Zen of Associations, Ann Oliveri wants to know why associations use so much "generic, homogenized association speak."

- Jamie Notter asks if the staff at your association are learning as they go about their work. Are you capitalizing on informal learning opportunities?

- Have you ever considered holding a meeting or conference in partnership with a related organization? At the Drake & Company blog (which has added several new bloggers lately), Steve Drake has some tips for managing a joint conference.

- Cindy Butts at AE on the Verge shares some interesting ideas for team building activities in a tough economy.

- Elizabeth Weaver Engel has some great dos and dont's for RFPs (a re-post of something she wrote a while back, but I hadn't seen it before and maybe you haven't either ...).

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July 27, 2009

Emergency preparedness: How prepared are you?

On June 11, 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) signaled that a global pandemic of novel influenza A (H1N1) was underway by raising the worldwide pandemic alert level to Phase 6. This action was a reflection of the spread of the new H1N1 virus, not the severity of illness caused by the virus. At the time, more than 70 countries had reported cases of novel influenza A (H1N1) infection and there were ongoing community level outbreaks of novel H1N1 in multiple parts of the world.

Since the WHO declaration of a pandemic, the new H1N1 virus has continued to spread, with the number of countries reporting cases of novel H1N1 nearly doubling. The Southern Hemisphere’s regular influenza season has begun and countries there are reporting that the new H1N1 virus is spreading and causing illness along with regular seasonal influenza viruses. In the United States, significant novel H1N1 illness has continued into the summer, with localized and in some cases intense outbreaks occurring. The United States continues to report the largest number of novel H1N1 cases of any country worldwide; however, most people who have become ill have recovered without requiring medical treatment.

Given ongoing novel H1N1 activity to date, CDC anticipates that there will be more cases, more hospitalizations and more deaths associated with this pandemic in the United States over the summer and into the fall and winter. The novel H1N1 virus, in conjunction with regular seasonal influenza viruses, poses the potential to cause significant illness with associated hospitalizations and deaths during the U.S. influenza season.

As many of us prepare to host annual conventions and expos this fall, now’s the time to consider issues of emergency preparedness. At its core, emergency preparedness is an issue of social responsibility. As meeting professionals and association executives, we are obligated to make decisions and take actions that will enhance the welfare and interests of not only our members, but of the general public, as well. As we consider the number of people who will travel to our next major event, can we honestly say that we’re adequately prepared for an outbreak of H1N1? What about any number of other crisis scenarios that could affect our next meeting or expo?

Take a moment to reflect on your association’s emergency preparedness. How prepared are you? What crisis scenarios have you experienced first-hand? Was your crisis response plan successful? What did it look like? What would you do differently given the chance? What resources would you recommend to others who are just now considering issues of emergency preparedness?

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June 19, 2009

Quick clicks: No whammies!

Some links for weekend reading:

- David Gammel argues for benevolent dictatorships, at least when it comes to website design.

- Blue Avocado has an interesting article on the portrayal of nonprofits in popular culture, with a number of comments providing additional examples. (Although I can't think of many pop culture references to professional or trade associations. Can anyone else think of some?)

- Tony Rossell imagines what he'd do if he was building an entirely new membership marketing program from the ground up.

- The Nonprofit University blog talks about survival, sustainability, and the differences between the two.

- Frank Fortin was inspired by Jim Collins' new book.

- The Busy Event blog shares what your exhibitors, attendees, and sponsors are thinking--and not telling you.

- The Vanguard Technology blog has four reasons why mobile matters to associations.

- Jeff De Cagna has a podcast interview with Alan Webber, co-founding editor of Fast Company magazine and author of the new book Rules of Thumb: 52 Principles for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self.

- Cindy Butts reminds us all to be kind.

- Ken Zielske at the Association Media blog asks if your association has a "whammy bar"--something really cool that sets it apart. (Clearly I don't know guitars, because all I could think about as I read the post was that 1980s game show where the contestants would yell "No whammies!")

- Peggy Hoffman asks, "What's the difference between social networks and communities?"


May 19, 2009

Is social media hurting face to face meetings?

As we all know, there is more and more top-notch information being shared online, especially through all of the social networks. Twitter seems to be the hottest for now and the number of links to good, and not-so-good, information I receive on a daily basis is overwhelming. Social Networks now give us almost instant access to many of the experts that we used to have to attend face to face meetings to hear speak. Is this good or bad or both for associations?

My experience at the face to face meetings I have attended most recently is as follows—great networking, lots of good people to meet and connect with but the content was just average. A lot of the presentations were people talking about things I had already heard, or read before, poorly hidden sales pitches or just “performers” up on stage keeping the audience entertained but not really providing much value. Overall the education did not make it worth my time and money to attend. Fortunately the networking did.

Has the purpose of having face to face meetings changed? Should they be all about “entertainment” and networking? Or do associations need to do a better job of really getting fantastic speakers who share information you cannot get online or at almost any other meeting? Since many associations derive a good amount of revenue from face to face meetings I think this is something we need to figure out sooner rather than later. What do you think?

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May 7, 2009

Shirky: Associations must be the broker of connections

Community is one of those words that an old journalism professor of mine told me to never use because it doesn't mean anything. Or, more to the point, it can mean about 100 different things depending on context, so you should always find a more specific word to use.

Well, Acronym is going to focus on community this month anyway, and we'll embrace it for all its different meanings.

First up is some keen insight from Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody and a Thought Leader at the 2009 Annual Meeting & Expo this August. He spoke at the Digital Now conference in April, and I had the good fortune to pick his brain for about 30 minutes. He offered some great thoughts on how community is evolving for associations.

On gathering people around knowledge:

"With this forwarding and forwarding and forwarding possibility, the ability of organizations to use what they have and know as kind of bright, shiny objects to attract the population they'd like to be serving or addressing—whether it's their own members or potential members, or even just the sort of penumbra of interested people—means that anyplace you can get sharing to happen at low enough cost and high enough redistribution value, there's a model available now that didn't used to be available." 

On the survival of conferences and meetings:

"If I want information about a Cisco product, I'm so much better off getting it from Cisco's [web]site than I am going to a conference and hearing about it. The reason to go to a conference is to be around the other people. ... The conference business that struggled ... were the ones that assumed that a conference business was basically a way of broadcasting information to a passive audience. And the conference businesses that have done well are the ones that say, 'You're going to be in a room of people you'll be glad to be in a room with, and in the design of the conference we're going to respect that by carving out some space for you all to create value for each other.'"

On connecting your audience members to each other:

"When an association can broker introductions or can create a way that people can have conversations around shared interests ... you [the association] can benefit from that, but not if you imagine that you can control it or that you can decide whether or not [the converstation] is going to happen."

On member engagement:

"It's not clear that getting more of those mailbox members in should be a first-order goal. ... Wikipedia's ability to deliver value to people who have never and will never participate is a big part of the success of Wikipedia. ... So, the question isn't about 'How do we get everybody to participate?' You can, but what a nightmare that would be. The question is, 'How do we get enough people participating so that it ... raises the value of the organization for the whole group?'" 

With those wise words to set the stage, what does community mean to your association, and what will it mean in five, 10, or 20 years? Keep an eye out here on Acronym throughout the month of May for more thoughts on community.

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May 5, 2009

"Green Desks"--An Option for Meeting Attendees?

While many association meeting planners are adding special educational programs and tracks on adopting more environmentally friendly work habits and goals, the Association of Woodworking & Furnishings Supplies has crafted an additional approach for its upcoming conference: a "Green Desk."

The Green Desk, which debues at the July 2009 AWFS Fair, provides “a place where anyone in attendance can stop by to ask questions related to green practices and issues that are impacting virtually all businesses.” This one-on-one approach is in addition to the association’s education track, “Going Green,” to help corporate members move to more sustainable products and processes, and to meet new “green building” standards.

I like the idea of associations offering such "green coaching," even if it isn't more complicated than serving as a one-stop resource desk at an event to pick up relevant tips lists, discuss the latest industry eco-trends and benefits, or connect members interested in the same green steps.


April 22, 2009

Using social responsibility to build meeting attendance

The Springtime expo last week showcased a number of companies, products, and education sessions related to greening of meetings and the strong business case for social responsibility, especially in this difficult economy.

Kicking off was Trailblazer session speaker Gary Hirshberg, “CE-Yo” and cofounder of Stonyfield Farm, whose $340-million company is the largest organic yogurt producer in the world. Hirshberg, fresh from a similar presentation to an association of convention center managers, shared his compelling story of how he built Stonyfield Farm as a socially responsible business to prove that you can make both an outstanding profit and a positive impact on the planet. Sustainability also helps businesses “get to the Holy Grail: customer loyalty.”

Asked what specific socially responsible actions could be taken by meeting planners to attract more people to their events, Hirshberg suggested two in particular:

1) Hold a service day as part of any conference or major event. “People want to connect and interact,” he said, noting that working side by side on a community project creates a feel-good experience off the bat. “The networking is incredible…. And right away the meeting is a success because people think, ‘I gave instead of just received.’”

2) Consider offsetting greenhouse gas emissions. Hirshberg noted that figuring out total airline or other transportation mileage of attendees is fairly easy, and the carbon emission totals can then be easily calculated online and offset through tree planting, energy credits, and other options.

“It’s not expensive [to offset],” he emphasized, and it helps “create symbols that show this [commitment to social responsibility] is a conscious effort.” To generate more SR-related ideas, he urged meeting planners to talk directly and frequently about sustainability, noting that “you’re only limited by your imagination.”

You can learn much more about integrating SR into your organization by reading his excellent book, Stirring It Up: How to Make Money and Save the World (Hyperion, 2008). A longer interview with Hirshberg will appear shortly on the ASAE & The Center’s Social Responsibility page.

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February 27, 2009

Carpooling to Your Meetings?

The Green Convene, a coalition of 60 businesses and organizations in the Louisville, Kentucky, area, set up a tool on its Web site that allowed meeting attendees to find others interested in carpooling to the event. (The tool was taken down following the event.) The Green Convene also provided attendees with a link to another site that maps the most efficient routes for drivers to get to the meeting.

Event planners are finding that member interest in carpooling to events may be on the rise, as associations seek ways to cut costs while still conducting core business. Carpooling also can boost camaraderie.


August 25, 2008

Annual Meeting Hotels--Green and Sustainable

The hospitality sector has long been community-minded, and now many of them are including the planet in their “community,” with special programs, services, and operational practices and goals to lighten the environmental footprints of hotels and other accommodations. I heard about some of these actions from annual meeting attendees staying at the 15 official hotels in San Diego at the recent Annual Meeting & Expo.

Among the variety of sustainable amenities and practices—not all of which were available at each hotel--were the following:

· Reusable towel and linen options
· Biking and walking maps that help you avoid driving
· Water conservation measures such as low-flow faucets and showerheads
· Solar film on certain guestroom windows to reduce heat and UV rays
· Energy efficiency fixtures and light bulbs
· Recycling (sometimes in-room is available now)
· Wellness kits for travelers
· Organic or locally produced food and beverages
· Eco-messaging on hotel television channels
· Organic or sustainability-certified flowers and plants
· Donations to associations and nonprofits operating sustainability-oriented programs such as diversity initiatives, natural resource conservation projects, supply chain management assistance, and more

Other hotels by these leading brands are experimenting with additional options, such as retrofitting facilities for increased energy efficiencies and reduced carbon emissions, preferred parking for low-emitting vehicles and carpools, nonprofit partnerships to offset emissions or help obtain green or sustainability-oriented certifications, organic cotton linens and toiletries, grants for “volunteer vacations,” and employee/guest community engagement programs.

Attendees at the annual meeting were already been asking our staff about such practices in Toronto and Los Angeles, sites of the next two ASAE & The Center annual meetings. Please consider asking those questions at the front desks or concierge stands at hotels during your future business travels as well. Vocal customers, such as meeting planners, will help accelerate the move of hotels toward even greater social responsibility.

Meanwhile, congrats go to our partnering hotels at the meeting for communicating greener and more socially responsible options to recent attendees!


August 7, 2008

Plug in to the Annual Meeting backchannel on Twitter.

Are you on Twitter? The last three conferences I’ve attended have all been “powered by Twitter” so to speak. And they weren’t all techie conferences like SXSW. In fact, a fairly large group of ASAE Twitter-folk were following both the Marketing & Membership Conference (where we organized an impromptu “unsession”) and the Social Responsibility Summit.

For all you folks wondering if a tool like Twitter could help your attendees break through that glass wall at your association’s meetings, here’s your chance to try it first-hand. Whether you like to talk or prefer to listen, the conversation on Twitter will be worth following. Here’s how you plug in.

1) Sign up for Twitter.

2) Follow asaecenter08.

3) Go to asaecenter08's followers page.

4) Follow as many asaecenter08 followers as you like. I'm following everyone.

Thanks to Scot McRoberts, who e-mailed me for the steps. Great feedback, since sometimes I forget to explain important details.

For a list of the speakers I’ve found on Twitter check out my blogpost, First-timer’s guide to cracking the ASAE Annual Meeting.

Having @asaecenter08 to follow has made it really easy for us all to connect around the meeting…the rest is up to us.


July 29, 2008

Secret shopping your inclusiveness

In one of the classes I attended today, the subject of "secret shopping" came up, and one chamber executive shared an interesting story: She knew two people that were considering moving into her area and were coming to visit for a few days. Since they were new to the area, she asked them to play the part of newcomers at one of her chamber's networking breakfasts. Acting the part, they sat by themselves at a table to see if any of her members--and more specifically, her volunteer ambassadors--would welcome them. She was shocked to see that no one, including the ambassadors, greeted the visitors or sat with them.

Based on this secret shopping experience, she was able to revitalize her ambassador program--she had a very specific example to show them of how the program wasn't working, and that gave everyone involved a better understanding of what it would take to make the program a real success.

Have you considered secret shopping to see how welcomed and included a newcomer might me when attending one of your association's events? What do you think the outcome of such an experiment would be?

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July 23, 2008

Quick clicks: The survival of associations

Lots of interesting discussions are going on this week:

- If you like controversy and are interested in the future of the association sector, you should definitely be following this debate: Ben Martin at the Certified Association Executive blog wonders if associations are really the best solution to the needs they currently are filling, and predicts, "As long as people don't really care, associations will survive." Matt Baehr agrees, at least in part; Tony Rossell disagrees; and Jeff De Cagna strenuously disagrees, while Lindy Dreyer has a slightly different take on the issue. (Be sure to read the comments on each post for additional thoughts and discussion.)

- On the Beaconfire Blog, Elizabeth Weaver Engel shares a wonderful story about a visitor to her tradeshow booth at the AMA conference.

- Jake McKee at the Community Guy blog shares an interesting chart that summarizes the drivers of brand credibility.

- Lee Aase shared seven steps to help nonprofits get the most out of YouTube, which reminded me that I mean to link to Jamie Notter's post on the value of online video. Elsewhere, Cindy Butts shares a cautionary tale about an association that ended up on YouTube without meaning to.

- David Gammel offers three reasons that online communities often fail, while Michael Gilbert at Nonprofit Online News has some thoughts on what nonprofits are doing wrong with their own online communities.

- If you're coming to Annual Meeting, you may be interested in Maddie Grant's list of 10 things she plans to do while she's there.

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June 27, 2008

Insanely cool conferences

Over at the Principled Innovation blog (as well as a post on the Beyond Certification blog), there's a great discussion going on about what makes a conference "insanely cool." Based on the comments so far, "insanely cool" is being defined as a conference where you meet great people, there are great speakers/content, your assumptions are challenged, it's interactive and immersive, innovative technology is used to enhance the experience, attendees are all together in one place, and there are surprises everywhere.

Should every association aim to have an "insanely cool" conference, I wonder? Or are there some professions or industries where "insanely cool" either wouldn't work (or where the definition of insanely cool is very different from that listed above)? And if you do want your conference to be insanely cool and it isn't there yet, what can you do to create that kind of experience? (If any meeting planners or learning folks out there have stories about insanely cool things they've done at their own conferences, I'd love to hear them ...)

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June 24, 2008

Quick clicks: Program killers, campaign thinking

A few links for your Tuesday afternoon reading:

- The Association Marketing Springboard blog has been on fire lately--if you don't subscribe, you should! My favorite quote this week: "But in a realm where member evangelism is our highest goal, campaign thinking just doesn't cut it." Read the whole post here.

- Kevin Holland at the Association Inc. blog talks (in a very inspirational way) about how associations should be giving their members something to aspire to.

- Should the person in charge of your association's strategy also be in charge of killing things that don't work? David Gammel has some interesting thoughts on this.

- Association Meetings posted some stories from readers about wild and wacky requests from meeting attendees and speakers.

- Wes Trochlil is posting some intriguing case studies on association business intelligence efforts on the Effective Database Management blog. The latest one is here.

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June 19, 2008

Deviant leadership ideas

I'm at the Exhibition & Convention Executives Forum today, an educational event that Sam Lippman, founder of Integrated Show Management & Marketing, produces every year and that Associations Now sponsors.

The keynote address was delivered by Greg Reid, the chief marketing officer of YRC Worldwide -- they're the huge transportation and logistics company that you likely know from the "Yellow" truck force on the highways. As the CMO of one of the largest transportation and logistics companies, he gave his insights on how tradeshows are part of the current mix in large corporations, and where it's going.

He gave some advice -- what he calls deviant leadership advice -- that I thought resonated, and while he tailored it to tradeshows, I think it has pretty broad applicability. He gave six points to the exhibition and conference executives:

1. Create change - There are three things that you can do about change: resist it (if you choose this course, good luck), embrace change (better, but not where you'll find success), create change. The deviant leader will drive change and thrives in change. It's about creating the change you want to see.

2. Let go - YBR used to shun less-than-truckload (LTL) deliveries, it simply wasn't profitable. Rather than leaving it at that, with pricing and process changes, they made the change happen, with LTL becoming a dominant delivery format. This meant letting go of current business models and their underlying assumptions.

3. Realize you're not in the exhibition business - when he meets with Walmart, he doesn't talk about transportation and logistics, he talks about the retail business. His goal is to understand the business his customer is in and what challenges they face. Same should be true when you approach potential exhibitors -- work to understand their business.

4. Get me there without the need to go there. Travel will always be a part of business, but there is just too much to do and too many places to go -- people can't cover all the ground that needs to be covered -- so be prepared to work with people and companies virtually.

5. Stop selling booth space -- this goes hand in hand with number 3. "When you meet with me, don't tell me the great booth space you have for me. Tell me who's coming and why I care about them and how I can reach them and what it will mean to my business. How will you improve my ROI? How can you help me calculate my ROI? The booth space -- that's why you're there, I need to know why I should be there. It will come up in conversation later, but don't lead with it." Note: quote is paraphrased.

6. Educate. Don't entertain. - we all know that it is important to create an experience for attendees, but the real nuts and bolts of meetings are what is most important. In the larger sense, whether you're talking about a board meeting or dinner or a magazine or a website, some pomp and circumstance, some razzle dazzle is nice, but under the flash is the real constructive meat of what you are trying to do, and that's what's really important. If I'm designing Associations Now and I put a beautiful illustration with a dud of an article, it's still a dud of an article.


June 16, 2008

Quick clicks: Meeting ideas, customer service

Happy Monday!

- There have been some interesting meeting ideas up for grabs in the blogosphere lately. Matt Baehr suggests offering an "unsession" room at every meeting, while Nancy Wilson points out that reusing conference bags can be both green and a creative networking tool.

- Ben Martin ponders whether the process of becoming a board leader tends to squash productive dissent among those future leaders.

- Wes Trochlil has a great question for associations out there that are conducting surveys or other data-gathering projects.

- Bob Sutton shares a wonderful story that shows how a customer's problem can create an opportunity for even better customer service. On a related note, the 37signals blog reminds you that the customer just doesn't care whose fault it is.

- Jeremiah Owyang shows some really interesting examples of how to track a particular issue and how it's being discussed among bloggers, Twitterers, and on the web more generally. (Note that the issue in question relates to the Democratic nomination battle, but, setting politics aside, I'd think these same techniques could be useful to any association.)

- How often do you get to see association management presented as a dream job? (Admittedly, this article focuses more on the industries these trade associations represent than on the profession of association management, but still, it's nice to see some association professionals recognized in this way.)


May 28, 2008

Quick clicks: Stand ups, co-creation

A few links and recommendations for your Wednesday morning:

- Hugh McLeod of posted a valuable thought to his blog (originally something he posted on Twitter): "Word of mouth is not created, it is co-created. People will only spread your virus if there’s something in it for them."

- Jeff Cobb of the Mission to Learn blog has launched a second blog, focusing on business and marketing strategy: Hedgehog & Fox.

- Jeffrey Cufaude talks about the value of stand-up meetings. (I remember reading somewhere that the best way to have an effective meeting is to remove all of the chairs from the room ...)

- A bunch of other association bloggers have already linked to this, but I really feel like Acronym should as well: Seth Godin tells us that the bar has been raised for meetings and conferences. "And here's what a conference organizer owes the attendees: surprise, juxtaposition, drama, engagement, souvenirs and just possibly, excitement." Do your association's meetings deliver on those expectations?

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April 25, 2008

Quick clicks: Dithering

- This week, Ann Oliveri had one of my favorite blog post titles in a while: The Knowing-Dithering Gap. I know I've seen that gap before.

- Are meeting attendees beginning to expect more opportunities to engage with presenters? Or can a lack of such engagement driving people away from traditional education events? Jeremiah Owyang at the Web Strategy by Jeremiah blog shares some direct experience with changing presentations based on audience response, and Krys Slovacek at the Gathering blog talks about creating engagement with audience response systems.

- Welcome to another relatively new association blogger: Chris Davis at the Beginning Marketer blog. Chris, thank you for blogging!

- Jeff Cobb at the Mission to Learn blog is launching a newsletter focused on free learning opportunities--great stuff for smaller associations or those forced to reduce their staff development budgets as the economy gets bumpy.

- If you've enjoyed Joe's posts on Acronym from the DigitalNow conference, you may also be interested in the official DigitalNow blog. They're doing some neat things with incorporating photos via Flickr and video into the blog, as well as providing a lot of presentation materials through the blog.

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April 24, 2008

Travel troubles

Travel problems seem to be common lately: Mike Mason at the Communicatio blog is stuck waiting for a flight this morning, and Joan Eisenstodt at The Meetings Collaborative has had some sticker shock when booking upcoming flights. I attended a meeting held by the U.S. Chamber a few weeks back, and I saw their staff struggle when one speaker scheduled for breakfast didn't arrive until lunch, and two others weren't able to make it at all. (They were able to switch their breakfast and lunch speakers, which worked well--and luckily the other two speakers were two of eight simultaneous sessions, so while there was disappointment at missing two popular speakers, attendees were able to attend other sessions instead.)

I'd like to think that most associations have contingency plans for travel-related mishaps, but I don't know that any of us are fully prepared for major disruptions like the recent cancellations and bankruptcies. What have you done to manage the situation when flight cancellations cause havoc with your meeting plans? And, to pick up on Joan's post, is your association planning for continued cutbacks on travel due to the related pressures of an economic downturn and rising airline prices?


April 3, 2008

3 critical keys for planning international meetings

Here are the tips from Leslie Zeck, director, meetings & conventions at the American Council of Engineering Companies, in her session: “A First Timer’s Guide to International Meeting Planning.”

1. Hire a professional conference organizer in the country of your meeting. “This is not the time to be proud of those three initials after your name,” she said, referring the certified meeting planner credential. “It’s not the time to know you have your checklist and your experience and you can do it. Convince whoever you need to convince to hire a PCO—it’s money well spent.”

2. Network with your colleagues who have held meetings internationally and attend a meeting in the travel and meetings sector that is being held overseas.

3. Hire a customs broker. “If you’ve held a few international meetings and haven’t had trouble in shipping and receiving, then you must be touched by an angel.”

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March 16, 2008

Overseas Meetings - Why not Japan?

It's a very good question. I have just got back from a trip to review meeting facilities in Japan, and, amongst all the hype about China and India, they seem to have been forgotten.

This was my first trip to Japan (other than changing planes there - which my wife says does not count) and I have to say how impressed I was as a location for events.

First, cleanliness. It took me two days to see a piece of litter. Second, safety. I never saw a policeman, and only heard sirens once - of course, it many heave been an ambulance. By the way, their murder rate is 1/10 of the US! The total crime rate is 1/4 that of the US. Third, efficiency. every time I doubted their ability to do something like deliver luggage to the right location, I was proved wrong. Fourth, friendliness. Yes, they are a little formal, but very open and accepting of our informality! Fifth, facilities. From the large cities of Tokyo and Osaka down to the smaller convention cities, they are geared up to receive groups from 50 - 5,000.

Issues? Costs. Let's get this one up front, with the $ at about Y100 again, this is not a cheap place - move away from Tokyo for better deals on everything. Language. English is widely, if inexpertly spoken, and to get up to a rudimentary level in Japanese would take a huge effort. But, I would say that is no different in China.

Although our goods may now be manufactured in China, a lot of this activity is controlled from Japan. Ignore Japan at your peril!

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March 4, 2008

Quick clicks: Free, annual meetings, volunteer management

Association bloggers have been putting up great posts lately:

- Mike Mason of Communicatio has been busy for a while, but he's back with some great lessons learned at his annual meeting (note that the links go to two separate posts).

- Several association bloggers have read the new article "Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business", a preview of the upcoming book by Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail. (Based on what they have to say, I have to make time to read it myself.) Ann Oliveri reacts here, and Cindy Butts shares some notable points from the article as well.

- The Dear Association Leader blog shares some ideas for using good personnel management techniques to be a better volunteer manager.


January 18, 2008

Your Meeting - The Soundtrack

One way to make your meeting more memorable is to consciously brand your event via all of the senses, including sound.

As I write this, I am listening to the soundtrack of a three-day event I attended last March. The first track, Red Hot Chilli Peppers' "Hard to Concentrate," triggers all of the positive memories and feelings I have for that event, the people I met, and what we accomplished together. If this music was delivered with the email promoting the next event, I would register again in a heartbeat.

Each of the three days had its own playlist, building on the theme. At the time, I am sure I was barely conscious of the music, much less the lyrics, but now listening again, both combine to reinforce the intellectual and emotional take-aways.

Although I have frequently heard music at meetings, loosely themed to the city, I can't recall another event where the organizers planned an event, conscious of all five senses.

Do you score your meetings? Do you make the playlist available to participants?

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January 16, 2008

Quick clicks: New association blogs, PCMA posts

- I’ve come across several new association blogs recently (well, new to me, anyway) and I thought Acronym readers might like to check them out as well. David M. Patt, CAE, is blogging at Association Executive Management; Helen Thompson is blogging at X.0 (I love the subtitle “Guilt by Association Management”); and Margaret Core is blogging at Event Management 2.0. Most recently, David posted about financial and contracts management; Helen wondered if she should pursue the CAE designation; and Margaret discussed converting website visitors to conference registrants. Give them a visit!

- Sue Pelletier of face2face is blogging from PCMA’s meeting, and is sharing tons of good information that she’s heard at the conference.

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January 14, 2008

Small Rant Re: No Way to Sell a Meeting

I have been invited to a AMA conference for "medical communicators" - seems like a great opportunity to network with my counterparts from around the country, and it's even on 'my' coast - which heightens the appeal. So, I've told them I'm planning to go. In fact, I've told them four times, and counting.

Three separate sources in the organization have sent me emails inviting, then prompting me to reserve a spot. The first message, from someone I’ve met, wrote "Respond to this message to let us know you're coming, and you'll get a discount." So, I did, and he confirmed it, twice.

The next message, from someone else, sent two weeks later, said "Respond by the early-bird deadline to get your discount."

Confused, I wrote my contact to ask whether I needed to pay by that early-bird deadline, or just reserve a spot, which I had already done. Twice.

He apologized, and assured me that my place was held, and I had nothing more to do – real registration wasn’t open yet, anyway. Fine. A bit miffed, I waited to hear when *real* registration was open.

Except then I got another "Early Bird Deadline Extended!" message from the original contact on January 9, telling me about the new 'pre-registration deadline.' Which, thinking I've already responded, I skipped, until this weekend when I looked more closely at the message. This one actually links to a registration site. And the language has changed!

Suddenly I'm confused and a touch panicky - have I just cost my employer money by assuming I was all set? 'Pre-registration deadline' sounds like the date by which one must *pay* to get a discount.

So I go online this morning to register, though I may be late. Better to get it done, anyway. But there is no program, there is no fee to pay, and aside being forced to RSVP for a luncheon identified by acronym I don't know and that is not defined, there’s nothing specific at all.

I think all I’ve just done is tell them I’m coming. For the fourth time.

This is no way to market a meeting. For all their outreach, I still have little idea what I’m in for.

I don’t know yet: when is the housing deadline? When will real registration open? Now that I’ve pre-registered through their system, will it let me register again when it’s time to choose my itinerary and pay? And when exactly might that be?

Lessons: 1) ‘Save the date’ marketing is great, but keep the number of messages at that end limited – to one or two. 2) Know what the right and left hand are doing. It confuses and alienates people when they get duplicated messages that don’t acknowledge what they’ve already done to respond. 3) Don’t aggressively market the event until you’ve got the program, deadlines and details set. 4) If you want people to pre-register, make it *real* pre-registration, so that it’s possible to pay at that time. We don’t want to register twice.

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January 4, 2008

Tradeshow on life support? Pull the plug.

I have a lot of great ideas about running an association...

Dues? It's a decaying model that needs to be rethought.

Member retention? Forget about it. Work on engaging the people who want to be involved and don't worry about member numbers.

Tradeshows? Well, that's the topic of the day for me. Recently on ASAE & The Center's Meetings and Expositions listserver, someone asked how to enliven a tradeshow so attendees will visit booths.

There really is only one good answer to the query: make sure the exibitors have products, services, or information that the attendees want to talk with them about. Anything else is a cheap gimmick that won't do any long-term good.

Don't get me wrong, there are some things to do. I don't want to call them "best practices" because they're really more like "don't-be-stupid" practices. Don't schedule education over top of tradeshow time. Put food in the hall to draw people there. Things like that.

But raffles and bingos and prizes and scavenger hunts—all just gimmicks. If you put people in a hall together and they don't talk to each other, that's a tradeshow on life support. You need to go through the steps to find out why people aren't talking to each other and maybe even try a few different, nongimmicky approaches to try to jumpstart conversations, but be prepared for them to fail... and pull the plug.

You don't have to be a particularly astute observer to notice that I'm ripping apart some pretty fundamental and significant revenue streams for associations. Perhaps you also have noticed that I'm not king... or even an executive director (...or even, as Kevin Holland is so nice to point out in a comment, senior staff). I don't have the financial solution to these questions. But I know this—if you are constantly fighting member attrition or (gulp) decline, then it's time to at least consider how your organization stays relevant (and solvent) anyway. And if your exhibitors are complaining because no one is talking to them, it's time now to be thinking about how that revenue stream is going to be replaced or otherwise accounted for.

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January 3, 2008

Hotel Fam Trips—Thai Style

Things get a little different when you ‘step offshore’ to inspect sites for a possible conference.

It all starts at the Bangkok airport – I was met by a uniformed driver in a Mercedes.

The first thing that hits you at the hotels is the service. Multiple people escort you and you bags to the room, and there is no discreet cough for a tip – they are gone before you can reach into a pocket. The second thing is how new and clean the rooms are. Huge bathrooms with separate showers and double sinks. A bathtub that you can almost swim laps in, a bedside console to control lights, TV, A/C and drapes (only seen at the Wynn in the US by me) and a TV the size of a movie screen.

And the rate I was quoted for my 2010 event? $225 a night. Only one hotel in town quoted me a rate over $300 a night, and they were almost apologetic about it!

The cost issue in Bangkok is an interesting one. Yes, you can get a (fake, and bad ones at that) Rolex for $25, and knock-off t-shirts for $3. You will notice that the people buying this junk are all western. The Thais are in the many high-end malls that surround the better hotels, shopping at stores like Prada and Gucci. Similarly, you can get a great meal at a ‘local’ place for $5, but I paid over $35 for the dinner buffet at a good hotel. Overall for an event, your costs will be lower than had you done it in a major western location like London or San Francisco – but not exponentially lower. Realistically, the greater the ‘labor input’ to what you are buying, the greater the savings. So the cost to rent an LCD might seem about the same as in the US, while the cost of an engineer to run A/V for the day would be much less.


October 11, 2007


I just finished reading a shattering novel for young adults called Sold (Hyperion, 2006) about a Nepalese girl who is sold into prostitution. While attending the recent National Book Festival in Washington, DC, I was compelled to buy the story after hearing its best-selling author--investigative journalist Patricia McCormick--share her emotional experiences from a month spent researching the child sex trade in Nepal and India. Bear with me while I explain the relevance to associations and their business partners.

During the Q&A, I asked McCormick both if she still communicated with the girls and women who described their horrific existences to her, and if she had been moved to activism by her findings. She affirmed both, noting that part of her earnings go to nonprofits that fight child trafficking.

More important than money, though, has been the simple fact that, despite post-trip trauma, she managed to write the book at all. Further, it just won the prestigious Quill Award for Best Teen/Young Adult Book, which will raise the visibility of this under-publicized social atrocity even more.

Association executives may not feel particularly connected to child trafficking as a business issue. But some of our sector’s largest industries—such as tourism organizations concerned that this crime is often conducted in hotels--are among the leaders working to stop the abuse. In addition, since associations hold events in many cities and nations that have become major centers for child trafficking—India, Korea, Thailand, San Diego, London, Sydney and New York, for instance—the problem has grown more relevant.

McCormick’s story of Lakshmi, the 13-year-old main character from an impoverished family, depicts a tale similar to that of millions of children ages 10-18 who are trafficked for sex annually in what has become a multi-billion-dollar business. Brazil alone is home to 500,000 child prostitutes ages 10-17, with some as young as six, according to UNICEF.

The author’s Web site links to some association efforts, including an international Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism” project by the World Tourism Organization and nonprofit End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT).

Created in 1998, the code outlines six conduct criteria based on the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of Children. It also helpfully includes model language that associations can add to contracts with global suppliers of everything from accommodations to tours.

Members of the Code Steering Committee include the International Hotel and Restaurant Association, Federation of International Youth Travel Organizations and Tour Operators’ Initiative for Sustainable Tourism Development, among others. In August 2007, the group helped gather support for 21 congressional leaders who sent letters to CEOs of the four largest U.S. hotel chains, urging them to sign the code. To date, two of them—Choice Hotels and Starwood—have responded with interest in the code, and Hilton Hotels noted that its soon-to-be-issued Global Code of Conduct “will specifically address issues of child exploitation.” Regent International Hotels and Radisson are among the 50 companies that have already signed.

Here’s hoping that other associations and industry partners “get” Sold.

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October 4, 2007

Live conference chat

During ASAE & The Center’s Annual Meeting in Chicago, there was a healthy amount of chatter going on through a text-message backchannel set up by Ben Martin of the Certified Association Executive blog. Ben set up what amounted to a cell-phone listserver—where backchannel participants could text message all other participants with their thoughts and opinions during the meeting (and set up face-to-face meetings as well).

On the Logic + Emotion blog, there’s a related idea that I found quite interesting: Allow text messaging as part of a panel format. Blogger David Armano will be hosting a panel discussion where attendees can text message directly to an interactive screen—so that everyone in the room can see the text messages that appear, and the panelists can address questions that the texters submit. Will it lead to chaos? He freely admits that he doesn’t know, but he’s interested in trying something new and finding ways to increase the interactivity of the panel discussion format—certainly worthy goals!

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August 14, 2007

Speaker prep

Another thought from yesterday's “Diamonds in the Rough: Turning Speakers into Exceptional Content Leaders" session Jan Ferri-Reed and Gail Swanson: one of the audience questions was on how to prepare a conference of, say, 100 speakers. My immediate thought was of a webinar or teleseminar. Thinking myself pretty smart, that was one of the options given, and, noted Swanson, it's something that ASAE & The Center did for this conference. Ok, so I'm not so revolutionary smart--but I do have access, so I caught up with Senior Manager, Learning Megan Denhardt, who pulls together the Learning Labs for the annual meeting.

She said there are more than 250 speakers in the labs. This year, ASAE & The Center did a conference call only, in previous years, they've integrated the Web into it. She estimated that 50 to 60 percent of speakers participated, and noted that they record the session and send it to all speakers on CD.

Gary Rifkin, himself a speaker at many ASAE & The Center events and someone who trains speakers as part of his work, facilitated the discussion with Denhardt. The session covers all the basics--the room sets, the demographics, how to tailor a presentation to the audience, and just basic tips on delivering a strong presentation from a variety of different settings (single-person presenter to facilitated discussion to panel discussion).

They also open it up so that anyone can share their own tips and tricks. She also noted that the Speaker Orientation session is only one of several ways they prepare speakers for the annual meeting.

A final note: the 3 general session speakers and the 20 thought leader sessions receive more one-on-one care and handling.


August 13, 2007

Dishing with the White House Chef

I’m not sure that many meeting planners would want to serve one of President Bush’s favorite lunches at their next event, but they might secretly smile as they munch them in private: peanut butter and honey, BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato), grilled cheese (white bread with a single slice of Kraft American cheese) or a nice burger.

Walter Scheib made a lot of those during his four years as White House chef to the Bush family, but he created plenty of fancier foods as well, of course. Hired away from the Greenbriar resort by then-First Lady Hillary Clinton in 1994, Scheib was charged with bringing “what’s best about American food, wine and entertaining to the White House.”

To Scheib, that meant food that was flavor-driven, not technique-driven, and meals that reflected the changed ethnic landscape of the country with its resulting influence on regional and local cuisines. It meant more unusual flavor combinations and cooking approaches, an emphasis on seasonal and local produce, greater attention to origin and nutritional value, and incorporation of new and emerging organic and sustainably produced food options.

If you’re in Chicago at ASAE & The Center’s Annual Meeting & Expo, you’ll be tasting a few of Scheib’s memorable recipes, seasoned with some stories behind their inspiration. The man himself is featured chef for Monday night’s Food & Wine Classic at Chicago’s Navy Pier from 7 to 9:30 p.m., and frankly, I’m so psyched to be going that I read Scheib’s new cookbook, White House Chef: Eleven Years, Two Presidents, One Kitchen (Wiley, 2007), in one night.

His emphasis on healthy cooking is clear, and Scheib readily agrees that chefs and other food professionals have become more attuned to the obesity epidemic and other public health issues—and adjusted their cooking accordingly. “It comes from two directions,” he says. “Obviously, chefs--while they are artists of a sort--also are business people, so as demand for these sorts of [socially conscious menus] increases from clients, they are more apt to fill that need. Also, many forward-looking chefs are trying to do these things ahead of the market….

“That’s got two benefits—it’s responsible to the client in terms of nutrition and flavor, but more importantly, it allows chefs to do what they do best…. If a chef uses that style of locally produced, tremendously fresh and seasonal product, he’s 50% toward a great dish before even putting the first grain of salt on it. It makes common sense to use that style of product, and on top of that he can talk about how it’s better for his guests.”

“… The biggest dilemma as we try to dine healthier is that we have a tendency to get preachy,” he continues. “The last thing you want to do is lecture somebody.… The secret is to change the style of dining very subtly. You can still have a piece of steak. It’s the accompaniments that go with it [that could change]. Instead of a baked potato, for instance, you might have a peach and ginger chutney, a Malaysian peanut sauce, a spice rub or a corn and chipotle sauce.”

Scheib notes that in addition to the trend toward healthier dining, taste preferences of businesspeople have been changing because they’re traveling more, especially abroad, making them “more aware of all the wonderful flavors and cooking styles that are available to them.” That presents a challenge to meeting planners who want to wow members.

“For meeting planners, they need to be a little bit brave,” he advises. “I do a lot of event planning and cooking for associations and other private clients, and I always tell them, ‘Don’t be afraid to try something new. Don’t always fall back on the standard 4-ounce filet, a chicken breast, a piece of salmon or these mix-and-match plates. Pick a theme and stick with it. Break the rut.

“Meeting planners have as much influence as just about anyone in the country in terms of exposing great numbers of people to great kinds of foods if they just challenge the chef….” he continues. “I think they will find that their clients are a lot more open to that kind of thing than they might suspect.”

Scheib also supports the concept of food as an important element of community-building, a key goal of many planners: “Dining isn’t about food--it’s about socialization…. Anything we can do to get people conversing is really good, whether it’s a new type of food, a new type of service, a tasting, family-style [serving] or something that takes action or involves participation at the tables.”

One recent event he attended started with a Korean-style first course of a dozen components, including a small, steaming pot of broth, raw beef and vegetables that everyone assembled to their personal taste under the instruction of a waiter.

“It really broke the ice!” Scheib enthuses. “We were a table of 10 strangers, but by the time we were done with the first course, we at least knew something about the other people because you had to show something of yourself as you assembled your own first course. These sorts of things really work, and people like them. Everybody’s had enough salads or shrimp cocktails put down in front of them for life, and that’s tedious and boring. They want to try something new and a bit more fun.” Sounds like four-star dining to me! Special thanks to Leading Authorities for arranging this special guest visit.


August 12, 2007

No Free Wi-Fi in McCormick?

I realize that convention centers and hotels are looking for revenue, but can we please, please, please get past charging guests for access? I find it ironic that many associations have figured out that charging for access to information isn’t working, but many of our partner venues still charge folks to get on the ‘net to begin with. There’s got to be a better way to make a dime. I’d make it a point to patronize properties that provided free internet access to guests.

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July 12, 2007

Posts you shouldn’t miss

The association/nonprofit blog community has been posting some great stuff lately—perhaps summer is recharging our batteries! I thought I’d pass along a few links to posts I found particularly interesting.

• Jamie Notter argues for the importance of healthy conflict on a senior staff team and, as a bonus, gives five tips on how to handle it productively.
• Ben Martin provides some analysis the current status of online social networking and why associations should be getting on board this train now.
• For the membership folks out there, two complimentary posts: Joe Grant discusses some important steps to take to determine if you’re solving your members’ problems, and Tony Rossell provides a helpful template for a dashboard to capture key information about your membership program.
• On the Bamboo Project blog, Michele Martin has some great ideas on how to build a better conference.

What good stuff have you been reading lately? Feel free to add your two cents in comments!

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June 30, 2007

From a meeting planner's nightmares

Mickie Rops has a good post up on her Association Knowledge and Credentialing blog that should be of interest to the meeting planners out there: What would you do if the speaker for an educational workshop wasn't able to make it because of a flight cancellation? You have less than 24 hours to come up with a solution ...

Mickie shares a story from Elliott Masie about how he coped with that exact situation. I'm sure she'd love to hear from others who have dealt with such last-minute cancellations (which should only become more frequent, given the rising numbers of cancelled flights this summer). Go over to her blog and share your thoughts! What would be your plan B in such a situation?


June 13, 2007

Creating good vibes

Seth Godin has a short post on his blog today that is of special interest to association professionals. He begins with a question:

Have you ever been at a banquet or in a boutique or at a concert or a meeting or a company where the vibe was incredibly positive?

At my last association, we talked a lot about building conference "buzz." Well, nothing builds buzz like having a great, positive vibe at the last conference. When people feel that wonderful energy and start to feed off of it and feed into it, they want to come back—and they tell their colleagues to come along.

What are some things your association is doing (or ideas you'd like to pursue) to create the right vibe at your next meeting?

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May 10, 2007

Data gives picture of the experience - live blogging

As promised, here's the follow up on Ralph Nappi's panel presentation at ECEF. Nappi is president of the Graphic Arts Show Company. He gave a pretty frank look at his large show, Graph Expo, which is held annually in Chicago's McCormick Place. He actually revealed things I'm sure he wouldn't want shared too broadly, but I hope I'm safe by sharing these points.

These are lessons he learned are based on data he partnered with ethnoMETRICS to obtain, including extensive videotaping of the show floor, and other more traditional meetings quantifiable data, such as electronic leads generated.

We found the back of the hall does get good traffic.

People enter and go straight or turn right. Much fewer turn left.

Learned needed space at the front of the hall so that attendees can get their bearings when they enter the hall.

Learned we need an extra entry aisle.

Attendees are not necessarily stopping and engaging at the front of the hall when they first enter.

Big, large booths did not necessarily attract attendees. In fact, in study of five large, important exhibitors, the attraction rate -- the number of people who stopped at a booth divided by the number who walked by -- was less than the average booth at their show. More important is what the exhibiting companies did to attract people.


What your exhibitors say about you - live blogging

The after lunch session at ECEF (see the previous posts for what ECEF is) features a couple of frequent exhibitors to different tradeshows who are giving their perspectives on what it is like working with show management. Here's a couple of their points:

I wouldn't look at selling the exhibit space, I'd look at how they can maximize exposure and value. It needs to be a strategic pitch -- it's not about smiling and shaking hands. It's about how they're going to drive people to talk to us and what strategies they're going to use to do that. --Frank Amoruso, CEO Tower Case Technology.

One thing that's important to us is the media. It would be helpful if there was a set time to talk to the media, different from when buyers may be coming by the booth. Maybe the show floor could be open only to media for a short time before other attendees. It's important for us to talk to the media, but I hate to have to worry about losing a potential sale because I'm with a member of the media. --Monica Ash, chief operating officer, EAT IT!

Update: posted 20 minutes after the original post: Amoruso made an interesting comment that his company isn't old enough to have been to a tradeshow for 10 straight years. He says he's seen how long-time exhibitors are rewarded with attention and perhaps perks at some shows. He notes that show organizations would do well to actively take steps to welcome new and new-ish exhibitors.


Trials and tribulations of international attendees

Reporting again from the Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum (ECEF), I wanted to relate some of the Q&A that followed a session presented by three people from the federal government, who addressed the difficulties and challenges of international travel into the U.S. The panelists were:

Helen Marano, Director, U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Travel & Tourism Industries
Tony Edson, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Department, Consular Affairs
Tara Riordan, Business Liaison Director, Department of Homeland Security

(The following is paraphrased, so it is not intended to be direct quotations unless quotes are used.)

Q. - What can we do when we seem to continually have trouble getting expedited visas for someone -- say for example, a speaker cancels and we find a last-minute replacement?

A. - The State Dept. has set up a business visa center, and you should email with problems. They may not always be able to help with the particular issue at hand, but it helps them know if they have areas that have particular problems. Edson said they have set processes that their visa offices are supposed to be following. He also noted that "letters to your events are widely forged throughout the world." He noted that attendee lists from associations can help. Also, advance notice, again to that email, could help if there is a large contingent expected from a particular location.

Q. - Is there a way for attendees who come every year not to have to go through the long, tedious process every year.

A. - Edson said that some of that is a function of the countries involved. China for example, puts significant restrictions on U.S. travelers, so the U.S. reciprocates, meaning visas are only good for 12 months, whereas with a country like India, where the U.S. does grant 5- and 10-year visas. There are also new technologies and procedures being implemented that will expedite the reissuing of visas.

Q. - The experience of a noncitizen entering the U.S. is abysmal. Is there any effort to make the entrance process more welcoming?

A. - Riordan reported that customs experience at two U.S. airports are being given a thorough examination and testing to see how this experience can be improved while continuing to be vigilant about security issues. The airports -- Houston and Dulles (Washington, DC) -- were chosen because they are significantly different from each other and lessons from them can be applied to other airports. There are currently proposals to expand the process to 30 airports, though results are ongoing.


The complexity of designing simple experiences

I'm at the Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum today, and thought I'd take the lunch break to give a couple of tidbits about the sessions so far.

(FYI - the forum is the brainchild of Sam Lippman, president of integrated show management & marketing, and is not affiliated with ASAE & The Center, except Associations Now is a publication sponsor of the event.)

The first keynote was delivered by Mickey McManus, president & CEO of MAYA Design. The message was simple. And by that, I mean the actual message was "simple." McManus took attendees through a quick tour of the experience design process. What is the experience design process you might ask? It sounds pretty simple, until you dive into, and it gets pretty complex. The simplicity of it is this: if you're in charge of a meeting, for example, your job is to create an experience where your users can easily find the answers to the questions they have.

He had one terrific slide that I will try to get and place up here for you. McManus' mantra is to study the user experience from their perspective. A poorly designed meeting (or website or product or anything) leaves the user confused, feeling dumb, and even apologetic. We're in membership organizations, so you can add to that things like frustrated, angry, and looking for somebody to blame. A good design, makes your users feel empowered and even, as McManus puts it "smug" as they discover for themselves where they need to go and how to get the information they need.

This isn't especially groundbreaking stuff. But McManus shared the story of taking his son to the emergency after he had basically run over his own foot with the lawn mower. McManus dropped him off at emergency and then parked the car. Going back into the hospital was a maze of corridors and elevators and signs with no discernable direction to the emergency rooms. Being a design consultant, McManus went back later with a map and a camera and showed just how impossible the situation was -- and add to that the stress of trying to find a son who had just mowed over his foot.

The point is, even if you think you've designed a user-friendly experience, you should look again. Go at from the perspective of someone who has no familiarity of your meeting or your organization. There should be no compromise in which complexity wins over simplicity.

I'll post on this topic a little bit later as one of my favorite association execs -- Ralph Nappi, president of the Graphic Arts Show Company, talks about what he learned about his large tradeshows by videotaping how attendees got into and around the show.

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March 1, 2007

Go In Style

I visited New York City for the first time in December. The hotel where I stayed was directly across from the Charmin's Pottypalooza restrooms on Times Square. I remember reading about it at the time as experience marketing, or "experiential marketing" if you prefer longer words - letting customers interact with the Brand.

I heard the Charmin song. I did the Charmin cha cha cha. I got my picture taken with the Charmin bear.

But it never hit me until this morning while reading about a new white paper on experiential marketing that these Charmin restrooms are just like our annual meeting - customer interaction with a brand.

Wikipedia defines experiential marketing as: "Experiential marketing uses brand relevant experiences to engage key audiences while creating a forum where these audiences interact with a brand. It involves high levels of interactivity and sensory impact and seeks to elicit an emotional response among the target through a more personal level of engagement than other media."

High levels of interactivity. Sensory impact. Emotional responses. Engagement. It's our annual meeting. (Be gentle, meeting planners. I'm sure many of you are shaking your head, rolling your eyes and thinking, "Duh." But I'm not a meeting planner, so this is a salient moment for me, OK?) ;) I just had never thought of our annual meeting as experiential marketing before today.

I knew it was an experience economy. I knew we were creating an experience. I had just never thought of it as a three-day marketing campaign with intense, hands-on brand interaction with our top customer base.

And experiential marketing is not the same as event marketing. It's a different animal.

I'm still pondering on how to use my newfound knowledge to the betterment of my annual meeting. In the meantime, go check out the blog of Max Lenderman, Experience the Message. Lenderman was one of the founding board members of the International Experiential Marketing Association (IXMA).

See. I already have one thing to be thankful for least I'm not having to experientially market to the members of IXMA this coming June. Sheesh. Talk about a tough crowd! It's making hospital administrators seem like a cakewalk into town now.

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January 30, 2007

Sticky idea

Here’s an idea courtesy of Jill McCrory with Leadership Outfitters. During her “I’ve Been Seminared” presentation at the Great Ideas Conference, she had participants put an idea they wanted to try out up on a “sticky wall.” Then she shared how you can make a sticky wall at your meeting.

But a large piece of fabric called rip-stop nylon. Spray the shiny side with 3M Spray Mount (she recommends spending a little extra and getting the name brand). Hang it on the wall of your meeting room and hand out index cards. The index cards will cling there for longer and stronger than an alternative such as Post-It Notes.

Here’s what her sticky wall looked like:

sticky wall for blog.jpg

And here’s one idea on that sticky wall:

sticky idea 4 blog.jpg

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January 27, 2007


Do you dream of an annual event that sells out the following year before staging the current year’s program? Impossible? Not if that conference is TED.

Hatched by Ricky Saul Wurman in 1984, the architect who morphed into the first information architect, TED was an event that embodied the merger of technology, entertainment, design into a high tech, high touch experience—an idea we now take for granted.

And now, that unique cultural experience and gold standard of meetings, TED, is morphing into a membership organization. Rather than charge a $4,000 registration fee, participants will pay 50% more for a year-round experience. Owned by the 501( c)(3) Sapling Foundation, Donor Members paying $100,000 will qualify for an extraordinary collection of privileges. The membership options are tiered by the level of access to the people who are attached to TED.

Over the years, this extraordinary event expanded to include: “…scientists, philosophers, musicians, religious leaders, environmentalists and many others. Those who have spoken at TED include Bill Gates, Frank Gehry, Jane Goodall, Billy Graham, Herbie Hancock, Murray Gell-Mann, Larry Ellison. Yet often the real stars have been the unexpected: Li Lu, a key organizer of the Tiananmen Square student protest, Aimee Mullins, a Paralympics competitor who tried out a new pair of artificial legs on-stage, or Nathan Myrrhvold speaking not about Microsoft platforms, but about dinosaur sex.”

So, is your organization an association with an annual event or are you really an event with a year-round membership?


January 10, 2007

What does it take to create community?

I recently completed my third year of study in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute of Organization Management program. (One year to go!) One thing that’s really struck me during my time at Institute is how rapidly a sense of community and connection can spring up within a class.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Institute program, attendees spend one week a year for four years at a variety of sites around the country, learning how to run an association or chamber. In theory, you attend at the same site each year and begin and end the program with the same group of classmates. (In practice, some folks “fast-track” by attending multiple sites in a year, and others change sites for various reasons.) As you go through the program with this group of fellow professionals, you get to know them, you learn with them, and you become committed to helping each other succeed.

For me, it was returning for the second year that really sold me on the program. Coming back, seeing these folks again, feeling welcomed by them—that was when I felt our little community of classmates really solidified.

Online communities are in the spotlight right now. And they certainly have their place. But there is something special and important about an in-person, face-to-face connection.

Imagine a mini-Institute for your members: Recruit groups of 10-15 people that plan to attend your next annual meeting. Set up those groups with a series of things to do together during the event—sitting together at general sessions, attending one or two education sessions together each day, eating brown-bag lunches in an extra meeting room, going out to dinner one night. The meeting itself will serve as a common topic of conversation in the beginning, and then things will branch out from there.

Have those members commit to attending the next two annual meetings together in the same way. (This might work particularly well for associations with very large meetings where members can feel lost in the crowd.) Between meetings, a listserver or other method of communication can help keep ties fresh, but the face-to-face element would renew their connections each year.

I bet those folks would build a community—at no (or minimal) extra cost to them or the association. Would that be something your members would appreciate?


January 9, 2007

A meeting with passion


MacWorld San Francisco is happening NOW (as of 12:54 EST), and it's got almost live coverage. How do we get that, association professionals?


December 11, 2006

Ideas for meeting planners

Jeffrey Cufaude is guest blogging this week at the Meeting Industry Gurus blog, and he's already posted some simple ideas that could liven up education sessions and make it easier for attendees to connect.

Speaking as someone who isn't always comfortable striking up a conversation with a stranger--even at an association event--I think Jeffrey's ideas could provide extra ways for more introverted members to network without fear. And a few of his other proposals suggest ways to add value to things that are easy to think of as purely utilitarian, like speaker bios and nametags.

I'll certainly be following the MI Gurus blog to see what else he has to say this week ...


Panel discussions 101

Nearly every conference has them: the dreaded panel discussion. And although there are many brave association professionals out there finding new and better ways to educate their members, the fact is that sometimes a panel discussion really is the best approach. If you have five experts who can pull off a lively discussion of a hot topic, why wouldn’t you put them on stage and let the audience learn from their debate?

The problem is that we tend to use the format as a default when we have people who aren’t experts; people who aren’t comfortable enough in front of an audience to be lively and interesting; or a topic that doesn’t lend itself to discussion.

All of that said, if you’re going to have a panel, you might as well have a good one. Several bloggers have written some great tips for speakers, meeting planners, and moderators that could take your next panel discussion from a snooze to a conference highlight:

• 12 Guidelines for Great Panel Discussions (be sure to review the photos down the right side of the page)
• How to Kick Butt on a Panel
• 10 Rules for Being a Great Panel Moderator


November 17, 2006

An open forum

In recent entry on the Face2Face blog, Sue Pelletier links to several new websites that provide opportunities for any individual to post information, comments, or feedback about conferences and meetings—much like Amazon’s customer review system. Confabb is a good example if you’d like to check one out.

I would guess that most associations do some kind of attendee survey either during or after their major meetings. But it’s not likely that most associations will post those attendee comments for the world to see (except for the really good ones, which might make an appearance in future marketing materials).

What effect would it have if your association used Confabb or a similar system to solicit open feedback about a recent or upcoming meeting? Would it improve the experience for attendees? Would it allow you to proactively fix problems in an upcoming (or ongoing) event? Would it let you have real dialogue with attendees who had negative experiences, instead of just hearing about their concerns after the fact?


August 13, 2006

The No Fly Annual Meeting

The news this past week has me thinking about what the association world would be like if business travel as we know it ends.

Seems far fetched, and I hope it is, but the UK has begun to ban electronics from carry-on luggage on their flights. How many of you are confident that a checked laptop will make it to your destination unscathed? Or even arrive? I know of people who are contemplating going to London via Paris and the Chunnel in order to avoid UK flight restrictions. Such draconian measures seem likely to depress business and other travel.

If these trends continue and spread, I can see business travel by air drying up significantly. The first things to be cut in that kind of travel-unfriendly environment are often non-essential meetings, which basically defines the association event.

How could you hold an annual meeting or convention in that environment? One though I've had is that you could convene simultaneous local meetings within drive distance of a majority of your membership. Each locality would recruit their own concurrent speakers. The national organization could provide keynotes via satellite, a common web site, virtual exhibit hall and supplemental online community space for attendees around the country to interact and network. It would have to be a different economic model, of course, but the current one would not survive the death of air travel.

I am interested in what you think about this idea or other options under the assumption that business air travel might be severely restricted for an extended period of time. How might associations innovate around this kind of challenge?

(Update: News this morning says that laptops are being allowed back onto UK flights.)

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