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But behind-the-scenes roles are equally important to pulling off a great event!

Wicked at the Omaha Orpheum theater


I was in Drama Club in school and one thing I remember our advisor telling us over and over is that every role is important. Whether on stage or behind the scenes, everyone has a part to play to create a successful production. Over the course of my career I have helped manage numerous client meetings and conferences. It is exciting and challenging work and an aspect of association management that I truly enjoy. There have also been many times when I have not been directly involved in the planning or on-site management of an event. Instead, I’ve found myself in more of a “behind the scenes” role back at the office. No matter what, I always want to be as helpful as possible so even if I am not directly involved in planning or traveling to the conference, I have found ways to contribute and help make an event great.


Stay informed: An upcoming client event usually means an increase in inquiries from potential attendees. Knowing as much as possible about the event is important in order to effectively and efficiently answer questions. In particular, make sure you are familiar with aspects of the event that are most likely to generate inquiries. Examples include registration policies, schedule highlights and sponsorship and exhibit opportunities. If there is an event website make sure it is bookmarked on your browser for easy access and that you are familiar with the information and where it is posted. If you are going to be processing registrations over the phone, familiarize yourself with the process and be aware of different registration options, fees and deadlines.


Offer assistance: Leading up to a conference there are numerous tasks to be accomplished, and the simple act of offering assistance or support can be incredibly helpful. Maybe you can help print name badges or pack up supplies. Even running out to grab lunch or a cup of coffee for a stressed colleague might make their day a little easier. During the event, make it a priority to stay in contact with colleagues who are on-site in case something comes up. Also, remember that the time immediately following a conference can be hectic, too. Catching up after having been away and dealing with the event wrap-up is a lot of work. If you have the time and opportunity to assist with post-meeting tasks such as unpacking or organizing and archiving conference files, definitely do so.


Take notes: Throughout the meeting planning and management process you may find yourself making mental notes about things that have worked exceptionally well or things that could be improved next time. Perhaps it’s a suggestion or comment you heard from multiple callers. It might be your own observation while navigating the website or processing registrations. Write these down! If you do end up with a list, make it a point to share it with your colleagues after the event is over. This is a useful exercise for everyone on the team and your notes may provide valuable insight when planning the next event.


Conference planning and management is a group effort and the advice my drama coach gave me definitely applies - every role is important. Whether on site or “behind the scenes” at the office, the ultimate goal is a successful event and everyone’s contribution matters!

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CSIA staff group 2015

If you haven’t noticed, most of our AMPED blogs are posted in the form of some sort of “How To” or “Helpful Tips” guide. Can you blame us? While we may not be experts on every single topic, many of us do have a lot of experience and we want to share our knowledge with you! I have my own long list of helpful tips and lessons-learned that I’d like to share, but those lists can wait for now. I’d like to share a different aspect of our work with our clients.

It’s been two weeks since we wrapped up the CSIA Executive Conference in Washington, D.C., an annual event held each year at the end of April. It was a long week filled with early mornings and late nights, leaving us staff members in a bit of a blur. But now that things have settled down, I am able to look back and truly appreciate just how rewarding (and fun!) these events can be. So, instead of sharing thoughts on how to improve your mobile app, complete follow-up efficiently, etc., I’d like to share my favorite things about being onsite instead.

First, I love the face-to-face contact. It’s so fun to see old friends while also getting the chance to meet new people. We spend the majority of our time communicating with members via email or phone so it’s extra special to see them in-person. I’ve found that the members really enjoy this aspect of the meeting as well. We get a lot of “Oh! You’re the one I’ve been emailing all week – nice to meet you!”

Second, I find it exciting to learn more about the various topics that are of interest to our members. As staff, we aren’t necessarily experts on the industry side of things for our clients and so we appreciate the opportunity to be able to learn more through the educational programming. Sure, we are busy running the logistics of the meeting, but every once in a while we get the chance to pop into a session or two. When we have this opportunity, I think we’re able to better understand and appreciate the challenges our members are facing.

Lastly, it’s so fun to see all of our hard work come together. We spend almost a year preparing for these annual meetings and to be honest, it can get exhausting. The hard work really becomes worth it when we get to see it all come together and, more importantly, when we get to see the attendees enjoy the meeting.

We spend a lot of time figuring out how to improve ourselves and our meetings – what can we say, we’re perfectionists! But sometimes it’s important to just enjoy and reflect on all of the good things. Plus, we have to enjoy the results of our work while we can since there is only a small window to do so. It’s only a few days after the meeting before we’re on to planning the next!

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closet 

I recently cleaned out my closet and finally rid myself of all the branded shirts I had stashed away from conferences past. I was saving them, I guess, for an inevitable painting party or garden overhaul. I didn't plan to wear them again in public.

I’m sure I’m not the only one with mixed feelings on the subject. Receiving one of these goodies at conference registration is a nice gesture, but one I could just as well do without.

Some associations have a tradition of handing out shirts to all their conference attendees as a benefit of registration. Some love it; they collect them even! Others couldn’t care less.

From the view of the planner, a clothing give-away is a great way to grow excitement and brand the event beyond the conference. But, it’s a logistical challenge to select styles, collect sizes, and take a wild guess at quantities when placing the final order several weeks before registration closes.

Send your registrants on a shopping spree
For a recent global conference, here’s how AMPED found a way to make both registrants and our planners happy AND save our association partner loads of money in the process.

AMPED partnered with Lands’ End, a national clothing retailer to build an online store specifically for its association partner, the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). In reality, it was the full Lands’ End catalog with a home page and URL branded for CSIA. Both the association and conference logos were preloaded on the site and ready for personalization.

Conference registrants were emailed individual Lands’ End voucher numbers several weeks before the conference and directed to the site. Here they could apply their voucher toward the “official” pre-selected conference shirt (the value of the voucher covered this and shipping) or toward hundreds of other items, paying the difference above the value of the voucher. Registrants could purchase any item they liked as long as it was branded with the association or conference logo. Their purchases were processed by Lands’ End and delivered directly to them before the conference.

Response to this new offering was overwhelmingly positive. Registrants enjoyed the option to personally select a shirt style (no more debates over long-sleeve, short-sleeve, golf, button-down, etc.), and planners could breathe easy knowing that everyone was happy with their styles and sizes.

Unexpectedly, the majority of vouchers were never cashed in. Only 40% of the registrants purchased clothing from the site, saving CSIA thousands of dollars that would have otherwise been spent on unwanted give-a-ways.

AMPED and the CSIA Board considered the initiative a huge success and look forward to doing it again in 2015.

Crowd fund your event attire
Maybe you’re a smaller nonprofit organization that wants to offer shirts for an upcoming event, but at no cost or risk to you. Enter the world of crowd funding. Sites such as teespring.com help you leverage crowd funding and social media to sell your uniquely designed tees. Just design your shirt, name your price, and set a quantity goal and timeline. Then broadcast it via social media. If enough orders come in to reach your goal within the timeframe specified, the shirts get printed and shipped to the buyers. If not, all payments are canceled.

There’s a fund raising opportunity here, too. Price the shirts so that you make a profit above and beyond the base cost. The more you sell, the more you rake in – a great tool for churches and school groups.

 

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CSIA Reception-small

For every one of our client meetings, staff pre-plan, re-plan, adjust, pack, ship and prepare for the unexpected —and the expected.

In preparing for the “big show,” however large or small, I reiterate to both our client and property staff the important aspects of the meeting, my expectations — and some of my pet peeves.

  • Remember why we’re here. It is a privilege to be working with our members. Treat them like royalty.
  • Best foot forward. For sure!
  • First impressions count. Hotel, meeting space room sets should be in tip-top shape. The meeting room is the living room for your attendees. Are you proud to have them over?
  • No garbage. No boxes, scraps of paper, used coffee cups or plates anywhere that attendees can see them.
  • No eating at registration. It’s important for staff to keep up their energy in order to be on the top of their game, but eating should be done in the staff office or with attendees. One of my pet peeves when attending meetings as a registrant is “interrupting” staff from their breakfasts at the registration counter. Drinks are OK.
  • Communication is essential. I schedule daily, or twice daily debriefs with client and venue staff. It’s just a few minutes to plan for the day’s events, make adjustments, set expectations, etc.

Case in point

We just finished another record-breaker, world-class event for AMPED client, www.controlsys.org. Upon arrival at the CSIA conference and following the pre-con, my meeting planner and I were not pleased with the physical condition of the property and expected the hotel to be more proactive with us in communicating some deficiencies we discovered on our own. This is where communication comes in. We swiftly requested a meeting with the general manager and heads of key departments to express our concerns and expectations. I was extremely impressed with their ability to respond, make changes and quickly adjust – a true sign of professionalism and value.

The real-time, back-stage adjustments that take place at an annual meeting are a very tangible example of those that association managers make each day as we respond to members’ needs, requests from leaders and new opportunities – all while focusing on the proactive work of retaining members, growing the associations, advancing the strategic plan and improving governance. It is a pleasure to have industry partners who share the same values and can turn things around quickly!

Communication is typically the key. And starts at the top!

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huemmer biz cards

When I was brought onto the AMPED team in January, one of the first things we did was book my flight for the annual conference of one of our clients. It was several months away, and I didn’t think much of it, as I was trying to learn and retain everything about my new position as quickly as possible. It really wasn’t until the week before that it occurred to me that I had never been to a conference of any kind, and I had no idea what to anticipate. So if you plan on attending a conference for the first time, here are some tips on how to prepare, what to pack, and what to expect.

How to prepare:
Determine what you hope to accomplish there. Making a small itinerary or schedule gives you an idea of just how much time you have available. Plan to meet with colleagues whom you’ve only ever talked with over the phone, as it will put a face to the voice and help you connect better. Put aside time for programs and presentations that you would not normally have access to outside of a conference venue. And if you are giving a presentation yourself, have duplicates of your visuals handy, whether it be on a thumb drive or in the cloud.

What to pack:
It’s hard to anticipate everything you will need once you’re there. Pack your essentials, of course. Plus, I suggest packing an extra day’s worth of clothing. It’s always good to remember that with your clients, it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed, so having several nicer outfits is important. Also make sure that you have everything that you will need to accomplish your goals at the conference: business cards, notepads, phone charger, etc. And comfortable shoes. I don’t think I can stress that enough.

What to expect:
There will be a copious number of people to meet and names to remember. Business cards will help, but following up with connections afterwards, and sometimes writing notes on the card itself will help you remember who they were. The days will be early and long, but fun and informative. Make sure you meet new people, as everyone will be a part of the conference and will have several things in common with you right off the bat. Who knows – the person you sit next to at lunch could be a potential business partner down the road.

The most important thing to remember is to enjoy yourself. Though it’s a whirlwind of activity, the days are long and the work is hard, remember to step back and appreciate the experience. People are there to enjoy themselves and to connect, so you should do the same. I thoroughly enjoyed my first conference and look forward to more down the road!

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