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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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Crisis management: What to do when a speaker cancels at the last minute

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If you’re a seasoned association conference planner, you’ve undoubtedly experienced some sort of last-minute disaster at your conference, or shortly before it. If you haven’t, don’t worry; the conference powers-that-be will surely test your sanity at some point. It’s only a matter of time!

Last week, our team of experienced conference planners was faced with possibly the worse situation I’ve heard of in my time in the association industry. There we were, in the middle of a three-day technical seminar and everything was going fantastic. Attendance and participation were on target. The speakers were doing a great job during our general sessions. The food and beverages were delicious. Nothing could stop us at this point, right? Wrong.

The night before the final day of the technical seminar the phones started to ring. It was our speakers, sitting in airports, trying to find a flight to our location because theirs had been cancelled due to inclement weather. Not one, not two, but three of our speakers for the final day had to cancel. Mind you, they were the only three speakers that day. There we were, just about to head to dinner, and now we had try and Houdini our way out of this mess. Somehow, we had to come up with three speakers to fill three to four hours of general sessions the very next morning. Over the next five hours, via countless emails and trips to any available outlet to charge our phones, our able team lined up three new speakers to fill the entire day’s agenda.

Here’s how we pulled it off:

1. Tap into those already onsite
One of the first things we did was reach out to those on the Board of Directors who were attending. We knew that they would have a vast knowledge of anyone onsite who might be able to present. Keep in mind that in nearly every industry, and at nearly every conference or seminar you’re going to have other professionals who have done speaking engagements. Get the word out that you’re looking for speakers to fill a spot and you’ll be amazed at how many people have access to presentations they have already prepared, and are willing to help.

2. Reach out to your local contacts and resources
No matter where you are, more than likely there are professionals from your industry who are based near the event. Reach out to them to see if they or anyone from their organization would be willing to speak. This can be quite fruitful because little to no travel is required. Make sure to let any potential speakers know that you are open-minded to the topic (keeping in mind, of course, your association’s guidelines for speakers).

3. Use available technology
If your speaker isn’t able to make it due to travel glitches, see if he feels comfortable giving the presentation electronically. One of our stranded speakers was able to present remotely using GotoMeeting.com. It actually worked pretty seamlessly. One thing to note if you go this route is to make sure your venue has the technical capabilities to pull it off. We were extremely lucky to have the expertise of onsite A/V professionals. They were able to get things set up about an hour before the presentation was scheduled.

All in all, we were very fortunate things turned out so well. Having an amazing team like we do, who didn’t panic in the face of adversity, was key. We were also lucky enough to have a great Board of Directors willing to help at a moment’s notice. Their experience and their contacts in the industry really opened up the pool of possible replacements. If you plan enough conferences and events, something like this will happen to you. Just remember to keep calm, and plan on.

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Badges on-demand: A game changer for attendees and staff

badge on demand

As my wonderful colleague Brittany Marsala Olson suggested in her recent blog post [March 23, 2017], once you make the transition to badge-on-demand printing, you’ll never go back. I agree so strongly that I decided to rave about it, too! As excited as I am about how smooth the onsite registration attendee experience was, I am even more excited about how this technology changed staff’s experience as well.

1. No more organizing badges onsite – No more badge organizers, no more alphabetizing, no more pulling VIP badges or badges with open invoices, and no more printing badges onsite for last minute registrations. As you might suspect, this saves you A LOT of time to focus on other things – like stuffing registration bags, organizing your daily signage and making sure your speakers have everything they need.

2. No more fussy reprints – Is an attendee’s name in all caps? Was their name misspelled? Did they lose their badge the night before during your awesome welcome reception? Having on-demand badge printing eliminates the hassle of juggling reprints with limited badge stock on a foreign printer and trying to remember which way to load the tray.

3. No more guessing and counting – This one is my personal favorite. When you move to this registration model, you have access to amazing data collected when your attendees check-in. Instead of an attendee walking up to the registration counter and giving you their name, they are given a personalized QR code and registration ID for check-in. Having that assigned information allows the system to track when they check in. This is powerful information when applied to your whole meeting and it gives you important statistics for planning future meetings. You can track how many of your attendees checked in, how many did not and who those attendees are. You can see what date and time registration check-in was the busiest. You can see how many attendees staff assisted and how many onsite registrations you had per hour - which leads me to my next point…

4. No more paper registration forms – With our badge on demand partner, Expo Logic, the kiosks allow for check-in and badge printing for both pre-registered attendees and onsite registrations. This was a huge improvement from last year where staff processed onsite registrations. While it was amazing to have roughly 100 onsite registrations in 2016, it required the use of paper registration forms just to keep the lines moving and staff spending hours processing those registrations so that we could print their badges and assign their registration IDs. With the new setup, registrants entered their own registration information quickly on the self-registration screens and then our system printed and assigned registration IDs for us in real-time, freeing staff to assist registrants with questions.

5. No more data clean-up for badge printers – Our vendor offers integration with AMS or registration systems, which means that your registration information automatically flows to their system for on-demand badge printing. This eliminates the need to pull a final registration report after online registration closes and spend hours formatting your data before sending the information to a badge printer. It also means that the onsite registration and payment data flows back into your AMS or registration system. We were unable to use their full integration this year, so we still had to dedicate time to data clean-up, (as advised by the data expert at Expo Logic, because in his words “garbage [data] in, garbage [data] out”), but the clean-up took place within our registration system. We understand how powerful the full integration is and are excited to see what next year will bring. Regardless, clean-up was much easier than it had been previously and some of the stress was taken out of the process knowing that reprints would be hassle-free.

The badge-on-demand printing service was convenient, seamless and efficient onsite for both attendees and staff and I whole-heartedly agree with Brittany when she said that it is “AN. ABSOLUTE. MUST.” I am excited to continue using this technology and hopefully implementing it for all of our clients!

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