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Game plan: When your meeting staff can't make it to the meeting

SWS staff 2017

After 11 months of planning for a conference hosted in Puerto Rico this week, I'm taking it all in from my office in Wisconsin and hoping that the staff handling logistics onsite has been equipped with all the details and knowledge behind each day’s events. My random text at 2 a.m. to a colleague would say otherwise, but I’m also 29 weeks pregnant and keep hearing about pregnancy-induced brain fog, let’s blame that.

Early in the planning process, with the ongoing concern of Zika in Puerto Rico, staff members were free to decide whether or not they felt comfortable attending the conference. This gave us plenty of time to ensure there were replacement staff onsite and that everyone felt prepared for their roles.

Undoubtedly, the staff representing our client onsite are doing an amazing job (see photo). Here are a few tips to help if you find your team in a similar situation:

Develop a game plan. With all of our client meetings, we prepare a Staff Roles sheet which outlines core events and responsibilities. Develop this plan early and think about who can fill in for any staff unable to attend onsite. Nail down those who will be involved in order to keep them in the loop as planning proceeds.

Brief staff from the start. Meet regularly throughout the planning process to keep staff up-to-date. Our team schedules weekly check-ins to get everyone up to speed and discuss any concerns. This will also help avoid a “brain dump” right before the meeting (although this won't necessarily prevent one…see below).

Create a staff operations manual. Equip staff with a comprehensive guide that can be easily accessed onsite. Include all meeting contracts, banquet event orders, floorplans and other important documents. Add in contact information for vendors, board members and staff. List your sponsors, exhibitors and VIPs. Use this as your main resource for event information.

Communicate with outside vendors. Once you’ve decided who will handle responsibilities onsite, reach out to vendors and introduce them. Include staff on important communications as planning wraps up and arrange a time for vendors to meet with staff once they arrive at the meeting destination.

Schedule a pre-conference briefing . . . or brain dump. Run through the meeting from day one to the conclusion to make sure all staff are aware of the schedule and their role at the meeting. This is the time to answer any last-minute questions and get the team excited for a successful meeting!

Be in regular contact with onsite staff. Maintain contact by email or phone and make yourself available as a backup if needed. There will be questions and unexpected stresses, so offer to help back at the office. You may also get a few calls from vendors that are used to contacting you. Help direct them to the right person onsite.

With the conference wrapping up today, I am eager for staff to return and hear all about the conference and its successes as well as improvements for next year. We only get a second to breathe before 2018 planning begins!

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Food and Beverage - The Other Attrition

cheesecake

For meeting planners, the word “attrition” is a pretty common industry term, most often used in reference to guest rooms. However, paying attention to food and beverage guarantees — the “other attrition” — is equally important.

Usually hotel contracts have a food and beverage (F&B) clause that requires a group to generate a minimum amount of F&B revenue through the course of the meeting. The F&B clause goes on to say that if the minimum amount of revenue is not generated, the group is responsible for making up the difference. The F&B clause will require the shortfall plus the tax. Whether it’s called an F&B guarantee or minimum, it really is an attrition clause.

Here are a few tips to avoid paying more than you need to if a shortfall occurs:

Know the profit margin
Often, clauses are based on the difference between the guaranteed F&B revenue and the actual F&B costs incurred by the group. If you can, do not agree to terms that require monetary damages based on lost revenue. Instead, try to base it on lost profit. Know the profit margin!

Last year, we were negotiating with a hotel in San Diego for a large convention taking place in 2018. The hotel incorporated an extremely high food and beverage minimum in the contract. Knowing the profit margins for F&B helped us successfully negotiate terms to minimize the potential amount owed if a shortfall would occur.

Industry standard profit margins for food and beverage are between 35 and 40%. For example, if a group signs a contract with a $50,000 minimum, but only realizes $40,000, there is a shortfall. However, it does not make sense to pay for the full amount of $10,000. Despite the shortfall, the hotel never had to order the food, pay any staff to prepare it, or serve it. Instead the group should negotiate to pay between 35 and 40% of the shortfall.

To calculate the amount owed, take the total shortfall amount and multiply it by the agreed upon profit margin percentage.

Know if F&B damages are subject to sales tax
Before agreeing to pay taxes on shortfalls, check with the state in which your meeting is being held to see if taxes are required by law. If a portion of the F&B minimum guarantee is never purchased, then usually no sales tax is owed because nothing was sold in the first place. Know this before you sign the contract.

Consider ordering more food rather than paying the shortfall
If there is a shortfall, consider purchasing enough extra food to make up the difference. This could mean enhancements to a menu, upgrading a reception or ordering a fancier dessert.

Attendees will likely have a more favorable impression of the event and the group will avoid paying F&B damages to the hotel without getting something in return.

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The ROI of attending industry events

Czosek at association meeting cropped

I recently had the privilege of attending an event, Disruption + Innovation: The Future Association Landscape, put on by .orgCommunity’s “Association 4.0 Think Tank.” The event gave me an opportunity to participate in excellent educational sessions, make wonderful new connections and catch up with long-time Chicago-area association friends.

Do you ever return to the office after attending an event like this, see all of the email that has piled up, and wonder if the time away from the office was worth it? I do. So I always take time to think about what I learned and how I can apply it. I evaluate whether attendance was a good use of my association’s resources, time and money and what I might have accomplished if I’d stayed in the office.

How do I know if an event was time well spent? Here are some quick questions I ask myself and how they played out for this particular event.

  • While at the event, do I feel inspired? Do I jot down notes? Do I collect tangible tools or information I can use to benefit the members of the associations I manage?
    I took way too many notes and had several ideas for potential articles and conference topics. I thought of a new product offering and how I could make it happen.
  • Do I make 3-5 new contacts who can help my clients?
    The answer on this one is a definite yes. I confirmed two presenters for an upcoming client event, approached a third individual for another and secured an author for a magazine article.
  • Are existing relationships strengthened?
    Another yes. I caught up with two people I’ve known over 25 years. As an added bonus, a number of members from the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives (an AMPED client) were present.
  • Am I intrigued enough by a topic to do additional research when I return to the office?
    Let’s just say that I spent a little time one evening reading and ruminating on CNBC’s Disruptor 50 list — a list of companies they say have the ability to upend multi-billion dollar industries. I thought about how those companies could impact the association industry, the hospitality industry and the industries represented by my client associations. Powerful stuff!
  • Do I share my experience with others?
    You bet! This one was an excellent experience and worth discussing.

By evaluating the answers to these questions, I determined that the “Association 4.0 Think Tank” event was definitely a wise use of my resources!

What was your return on investment of time and resources spent at your latest event? Do you have additional ways to evaluate whether your attendance was a good use of your time? If so, I’d love to hear about them!

 

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The handshake: An art form many fail to grasp

michaelangelo gif

 

Handshaking is an art that many of us, even some of our highest ranking officials, have not mastered. The truth is the simple act of shaking hands is anything but simple.

A proper handshake is critical to making a good first impression, particularly in business settings. While some etiquette rules have eased in recent years, my 1990 copy of Emily Post on Business Etiquette and the Emily Post Institute’s current advice for are remarkably similar. Here are some tips from the etiquette experts:

When meeting someone or greeting an acquaintance after a period of time, it’s appropriate for either person to extend their hand first. In the United States and most European countries, “Your handshake should be relaxed but firm (never limp), and you should look the other person in the eyes, smile and say, ‘I am very pleased to meet you’ or give another cordial greeting. Do not hold on to the other person’s hand or pump his or her arm,” writes Emily Post.

The “relaxed but firm” instruction seems to be particularly tricky. People who wear rings or have arthritis can recall a handshake painful enough to make them want to run screaming from the room. If in doubt, connect in the web between the thumb and forefinger, gradually clasp the other person’s hand and attempt to gauge their comfort.

On the other hand, a limp handshake or extending only the fingers and not connecting web to web gives the impression of weakness or passivity – not how you want to be perceived in either work or social situations.

What about the excessive arm pumping we’ve been seeing in the news? Even if you’re posing for a photo, the range of motion need not be more than two or three inches. In addition, twisting the other person’s arm or pulling them toward you is unnecessary and possibly offensive, as this could be taken as a sign of aggression.

Your left hand has a part to play, as well. Watch two powerful people shake hands and note how often the person who is (or who wishes to be) higher ranking, will reach up with the left hand and touch the shoulder or pat the arm of the other person. You will never watch political debates again without noticing this little dance at the beginning and end, when candidates traditionally shake hands. If in doubt about your rank, leave your left hand at your side.

Feeling under the weather? Some people have substituted a handshake with a fist bump, usually reserved for social situations. You can extend your fist and say something like, “I’m recovering from a cold.” Better yet, skip all contact, apologize and say you would rather be safe than sorry about passing along a virus. People will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Finally, what about hugging and kissing when greeting a business colleague? That’s subject for another blog. In the meantime, check out Beyond the Handshake: Hugs and the Social Kiss from the Emily Post Institute.

Embedded within the physical act of handshaking are subtle expectations involving rank, age, gender, nationality and degree of familiarity. Study the art of handshaking and you will be well on your way to making a great first impression.

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Meeting mascot boosts association’s visibility, brand

AM2017 logo as doc banner
When our graphic designer, Kristin, first released the branding for the Society of Wetland Scientists’ (SWS) 2017 Annual Meeting, we all knew that the little tree frog that was featured was going to be a star. There had already been extensive discussion among the Society’s board as to the accuracy of the frog, in relation to the meeting’s destination: Puerto Rico. As a group of wetland enthusiasts, it made sense why they were so passionate about the frog’s geographical accuracy. With that conversation alone, it was clear that SWS had already embraced him as the unofficial mascot of the meeting; so, staff thought, “Why not just make it official?” From then on, the tree frog was at the center of all meeting promotions.

We started using the frog as a mascot as a way to promote different aspects of the meeting. At the end of each meeting-specific email, the frog spokesman would include an interesting fact about the meeting’s theme, field trips or hotel and convention spaces.

Humberto meetinginfo
In a similar way, we would use these “Did You Know” facts to promote Puerto Rico as a destination. While the Society of Wetland Scientists is an international association with over 3,000 members, most of membership resides in the continental United States. Therefore, most of our annual meetings do, as well. With that in mind, it was that much more important to support this year’s “destination” location.

Humberto passport
As members became more acquainted with the mascot through email, we determined that it was important to put a name to the face (plus, he was too cute not to name). And with the association already so invested in this little guy’s authenticity, it made sense to put the power in the membership’s hands.

Humberto namethefrog
We polled the membership on Facebook and Twitter, keeping it as simple as possible, by asking them to either comment on the Facebook post or tweet at us with #namethefrog. Admittedly, suggestions were hard to come by at first; however, once prominent members within the Society started submitting suggestions, others soon followed.

By hosting the contest via social media, we knowingly limited the member response. Yet, it was strategically marketed to encourage others to “like” and “follow” our social media pages. Those who had subscribed to our pages were then rewarded by having the privilege to vote for the frog’s name.

Humberto votethefrog

In the end, SWS cared just as much for the authenticity of the frog’s name as they did for his physical form. “Humberto” was chosen specifically for its connection to the Spanish word for wetland: humedal.

Humberto name
We used the momentum from the #namethefrog contest to create Humberto’s own Twitter account. Those facts that we had been including in the meeting emails were then also highlighted as #frogfacts on Twitter. While the account was specifically created to promote the annual meeting, we’ve since used it to cross-promote other SWS event and marketing campaigns. For instance, to celebrate Earth Day, we’re encouraging followers to share and tag us in their Earth Day photos, using #SWSEarthDay. To kick off this initiative, we had Humberto share one of his photos.

Humberto EarthDay
Social media, specifically Twitter, has enabled members to actively engage with Humberto. It has become a main source of meeting information and a direct line to ask meeting-specific questions. Any interaction helps to increase visibility, not only for the meeting, but for the Society, as well.

Humberto cousin
Humberto was originally intended to be an outlet for relaying important meeting information, organically. He has since formed a personal brand that has helped reinforce the overall brand of the 2017 meeting, and to some extent, rebrand the Society of Wetland Scientists, as a whole. SWS will always be a professional society, focused on wetland science, but its membership has shaped the Society into one that appreciates fun, too.

Mascots won’t work for every association, nor will they help for every meeting. In this case, from his inception, SWS was invested in this frog. Members’ dedication to accuracy, paired with their willingness to embrace his mascot status, made this marketing campaign successful.

 

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