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So much to learn: Tips for gaining association know-how

embracing elearning

“There is a first time for everything,” as the saying goes and my career in association management has yielded many examples of this. I have always enjoyed the wide variety of tasks and responsibilities involved in this work because there is always something new to learn. However, I’ll admit the prospect of facing anything new can make me a little anxious. Given that this was not a career I planned for while I was in school (my degrees are in political science and political management) virtually everything about association management has been a new experience at one point or another. This has meant a lot of learning on the job. Luckily over my 10+ years in this field I have been able to figure out some strategies that make taking on a new experience a little less intimidating.

Go back to school. Ok, maybe not literally but there have been many instances when I have sought out some extra educational resources to help me better understand something new. I have found this especially useful in cases where I am required to learn a new program or skill. For example, once, early in my career, I was asked to learn html coding to help design and maintain a basic website. Having no background in this kind of work I did a little research and found a great online course. It was comprised of six weekly sessions and some “homework” that I could complete based on my schedule. I walked away with a much better understanding and enough knowledge to get started. A more common occurrence is the need to learn new software or web programs. A habit I’ve gotten into is checking out the program’s online help/training component. These types of resources usually prove very beneficial as I’m initially learning how to navigate the program and later if more in depth assistance is required.

Ask someone. Working in association management means I have the privilege of working with some very amazing people! Over the years I have worked alongside attorneys, journalists, economists and graphic designers. Basically I’m surrounded by people with an amazing variety of backgrounds and skills. My colleagues are always eager to offer guidance or advice. It’s an incredible pool of knowledge! In addition to colleagues I find online forums to be helpful. Even if I’m not submitting a question myself, a quick search often yields answers to my exact inquiry.

Be confident. Learning anything, whether new skills or about a new project, can be daunting but it is possible! No matter the assignment I’m facing, I have confidence in my ability to learn new skills and to effectively apply these new skills to achieve a successful result. Taking time for some training, research or collaboration can go a long way toward making a new program or project more manageable and a successful outcome easier to achieve.

My career in association management has certainly been a series of “firsts” and these are just a few of my strategies for managing them. How about you? Any tips or tricks for handling the many new experiences and assignments we face as association management professionals?

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8 Ideas for easing your stress, naturally

chocolate

STRESS! We know it all too well. We all experience it on a daily basis at work, at home, and everywhere we go. In the AMC business, many are preparing for the busy meeting season along with site visits for future events which can mean lots of travel and deadlines. Stress, in manageable doses, can actually provide the needed motivation and energy needed to survive these seasons. So…stress in and of itself is not the enemy. Our reaction to it, however, is key!

Author Andrew Bernstein said “The truth is that stress doesn’t come from your boss, your kids, your spouse, traffic jams, health challenges, or other circumstances. It comes from your thoughts about your circumstances.”

Before, I offer a few ideas on stress reduction, I must provide the disclaimer that I have in no way mastered a state of total inner peace! As one of the newest members of the AMPED team, this is my first ever blog post, which in and of itself has generated a considerable spike in cortisol levels and therefore qualifies me to speak on the topic — right?! Actually I have had a long-time passion for natural health solutions and organic, clean eating.

First a little chemistry. Stress is, in part, the result of heightened levels of cortisol. What is cortisol? DrAxe.com offers the following explanation:

“The adrenal gland, following signals from the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, is responsible for the secretion of cortisol, a type of essential glucocorticoid steroid hormone. Cortisol levels are highest in the morning around 7 a.m. and lowest at night (called a diurnal rhythm). Cortisol is also present in both chronically stressed individuals and those who are perfectly healthy. This vital hormone possesses dozens of different purposes within the body and makes numerous chemical interactions every single day.”

In fact, we depend on cortisol production in order to respond to our surroundings, stay motivated, and to stay awake. However, overproduction can lead to “brain fog”, mood swings, and fatigue and insomnia-just to name a few. Chronic, long-term elevated levels of cortisol can lead to high blood pressure, compromised immune system and a whole host of diseases. Okay, enough about cortisol for now.

Natural solutions to help curb everyday stress are numerous so I will simply mention a few I have incorporated or whose effectiveness I have closely witnessed on someone else.

1. Exercise - Most of us have experienced the positive mental effects and energy boost from regular, moderate exercise. Just a caution that the risks of overtraining are as great as doing no exercise at all.

2. Acupuncture - Can help reduce symptoms like pain, insomnia, headaches.

3. Essential Oils - Breathing in lavender, ylang ylang, bergamot, and frankincense, for instance, can effectively help with sleep, cortisol reduction, balance hormone levels and improve immunity.

4. Deep breathing exercises.

5. Humor - Laughter is, of course, the best medicine. According to the Mayo Clinic, it enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.

6. The great outdoors - Simply getting out in the natural world around us and unplugging can promote relaxation. Also, a daily dose of unfiltered sunshine hitting our skin creates a reaction that allows our skin cells to manufacture vitamin D. The growing list of diseases and conditions linked to vitamin D deficiencies warrants further investigation of specific sun exposure guidelines recommended for your skin type and where you live. Regardless, it is well documented that light therapy boosts immunity and mood, thus reducing stress.

7. Sleep - Adequate and quality sleep allow the body’s cortisol levels to naturally drop in the evening and rise again in the morning giving us energy. Those with chronically high stress will likely experience the opposite by being “wired” at night and fatigued all day.

8. Adaptogenic herbs and superfoods - They have the ability to help balance blood pressure and blood sugar levels which in turn help lower fatigue and provide a natural antidepressant.

One superfood we almost all love is Cocoa. Yes, CHOCOLATE, for example, has been used for thousands of years to promote better overall health. Keep in mind, choosing dark, minimally processed chocolate will yield the maximum benefit. (This of course goes for all food — choosing unprocessed or minimally processed fresh, organic, seasonal, grass-fed meats, and wild caught fish whenever possible will give your body the proper nourishment to combat stress.)

Avocado is another superfood that has gained popularity for good reason. It is a healthy fat, containing 20 essential nutrients including fiber, potassium, vitamin E, B vitamins, and folic acid. It acts as a natural hormone balancer which helps protect the heart and improve mood. Whether you love avocado or you avoid it, give the following recipe for Chocolate Avocado Spread a try and you just might change your mind! (recipe-courtesy of erikaelizabethnutrition.com).

There you have it! A few of my favorite ideas to consider as you approach the busy meeting/travel season! Lastly, credits to some of my favorite sources in natural health: JJ Virgin, Dr. Axe, holistic nutritionist Erika Peterson, Dr. Mercola and many more that influence the choices I make.

What’s one of your go-to stress reduction tips?

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Running a successful association: It takes a village

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As in most things, running an association successfully takes a village of committed, talented people who listen, trust each other, and lean on each other for support. It’s important to check in with your team to make sure that the village continues to run efficiently, effectively, and collaboratively to ensure success.

Here are some good ways to make sure your team is successful and your village is strong:

1. Have an understanding of how you’re going to be with one another when times get tough. Running associations and meetings is full of fast-paced activities and doesn’t always come without problems. Having an understanding of how you’re going to treat one another and react to problems together when the tough stuff hits, will help you get through smoothly to the other side.

2. Good communication is key. Being able to effectively communicate with one another can make or break your team. Clear communication ensures that everyone is on the same page which is essential and will help to mitigate any problems that may arise.

3. Allow people to get excited about their projects and “own” them. Essentially, don’t micromanage. We all have our unique strengths, it’s important to allow people to let those strengths shine. When people are excited about the work that they do and can really “own” it, the work is better and the team is better.

4. Make sure everyone can be heard. Does each person on your team feel that they have a voice? That they can assert their opinion and have that opinion really taken into consideration? Do people feel like they can ask questions? Making sure that everyone on the team has a voice is important for collaboration and trust. It can also lead to exciting new ideas or foster a different way of thinking.

5. Listen to understand, not respond. This is one of my favorite Stephen Covey “habits.” Are you solely listening so that you can jump on a response right away or are you really understanding where your team is coming from and the way they understand things to be? Ask good questions to make sure you are understanding, not just responding.

6. Spend time with one another. Away from the office. Get to know each other on a personal level and have fun with one another. This will certainly help in listening to understand, building better communication, and increases the trust you have in one another.

7. Learn from the mistakes and celebrate the successes. We certainly try to be mistake-free, but, they are bound to happen. Be sure that you’re utilizing mistakes as learning opportunities and work as a team to come up with ways to “do it better” next time. In the same vein, identify ways that successes can be replicated in other areas, and make sure to celebrate even the smallest win!

Ensure your village is healthy and strong by checking in with your team regularly on these things. Ensure there is effective communication and that everyone is collaborating together to achieve a common goal.

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What makes or breaks the deal: Five things I look for on a site visit

chef impression

The success of your meeting may rely on a carefully planned and well executed site inspection. Having been on the hotel side of things and now as a planner, I see the site inspection as a unique face-to-face opportunity to kick off a lasting relationship between the planner and sales team.

A few of our AMPED staff recently went to San Diego to check out a hotel for a large client event in 2018. Based on the particular needs of this medical conference, the property was selected because it was in a great location, was symbiotic with our client’s goals and attendee personalities and had the appropriate space and guest rooms to comfortably accommodate all the various space requirements. However, what really clinched this property for our conference was our sales manager. From our first conversation, Jennifer was very easy to establish a rapport with and took the time upfront to fully discuss the meeting goals, objectives and purpose, and the demographics and meeting behaviors of our attendees. In summary, she nailed our site inspection experience! Early dissemination of conference information allowed the property to demonstrate on-site how they could best meet our needs and appeal to our attendees. This customized experience instilled confidence with us that she was truly our partner in the complete execution of our event and not just a sales rep trying to close business.

While onsite, what are some factors to be considered and can be influential when conducting a site inspection?

1. First Impressions: ….Go a long way so make sure the hotel properly represents your own expectations and branding of the conference to successfully execute them. Sometimes, it will not matter how well the meeting itself goes, if the hotel has an inadequate feel or attendees are not experiencing good customer service, that will be their lasting impression. We arrived at this hotel the day after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. The lobby was abuzz with all kinds of activity and we knew the staff had to be exhausted. All staff we encountered were extremely pleasant and genuinely ready to assist, despite coming off a very hectic week.

A few things to consider observing upon arrival at the hotel:

  • How you are greeted by the front desk and bell staff?
  • Is this area well-staffed and there are plenty of employees greeting guests and carefully driving cars through the valet area?
  • Are their uniforms updated, clean, and fitted?
  • Are they pleasant and friendly

2. Hotel Management: In my past hotel days, we were trained on the “meet and greet” technique. Well-trained sales managers should be ready and prepared to meet you upon your arrival at the hotel. Nothing goes further than feeling that your arrival was anticipated and planned for. When our team arrived on this particular visit, hotel staff were enthusiastically waiting to welcome us to San Diego and the hotel. Our room keys were provided to us so we could proceed directly to our upgraded, expansive suites in which we each had a customized in-room welcome amenity. This little, but effective, touch reassured us that the hotel was eager to earn our business.

3. Presentation: Has the sales manager prepared in advance to show you exactly where your meeting and banquets will take place, as well as the variety of guest rooms and suites you need for your guests? So often hotel sales managers don’t take the time to go through your agenda prior to the visit and you end up seeing meeting spaces you’d never need and room categories you don’t want. Our sales manager, Jennifer, did her homework prior to our arrival through the many conversations. She also took the time to research our client to completely understand the dynamics of our conference. Our tour started with a relaxing lunch that set expectations for how the rest of the day would go. We were able to discuss in greater detail things that make our conference successful, get an understanding of the overall “lay of the land” before we began the tour, and also get to know their team a little better.

4. Hotel Quality: How recently was the hotel renovated? If there have not been recent renovations, be sure to ask about future renovation plans. Are the guestrooms, suites, meeting rooms and public areas updated? Are the bathrooms clean? How fast are the elevators and are they clean? This area in particular, is where the hotel has complete control to ensure the property is properly being taken care of. When it comes to cleanliness and working order, there are no excuses. While onsite, I built in some time to wander the hotel on my own to experience the hotel as our attendees would and to really pay attention to these details. Remember, the hotel will be part of your branding for this event and you should be assured the hotel meets your standards.

5. Food Quality: Food trends have come a long way from the clichéd “rubber chicken,” making planning meal functions a more engaging experience. In an effort to meet the changing needs of conference clients, hotels are transitioning from traditional banquet service to more, specialized opportunities like healthy, local fare and customized menu options. To see if the hotel is true to its word on these trends, visit the various restaurants onsite and note their differences in cuisine/gourmet experiences and price points. Order room service to evaluate delivery time and quality of food. If time allows, arrange a chef tasting to create menus and experience what your attendees will experience and also to ensure various dietary needs will be met.

A successful and productive site inspection, such as we experienced in San Diego, is fundamental in establishing confidence during the planning and execution process of your event. Considering our experience, our team at AMPED is looking forward to working with our new hotel partner for the upcoming conference in 2018!

 

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It’s called meeting “planning” for a reason. Use post-meeting time to prep for next year.

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Spring is a busy season for meetings and events in the AMPED office with one association’s annual meeting ending and another just a few weeks or even days later. For some meeting planners, the much-anticipated summer months allow a minute (only a minute) to breathe before the planning process starts all over again for the next year’s meeting.

During this time, what can we do as planners to start off on the right foot and plan an even better meeting the following year? Here are a few tips to get you started:

Take a look at your post-event survey to find out what your attendees loved and didn’t love so much. What do your attendees really want? Are there areas that should stay the same? Are there changes that should be made right away? Many of these factors could impact your meeting budget or may need a vote from leadership, so it’s a good idea to run through the survey responses as soon as you get a chance.

Update your planning timeline right after the meeting ends to keep details fresh and plan more time than you think you need on big items. Things often come up but accounting for these incidentals can help relieve tight turnarounds and stressful deadlines. If you have a team working on the meeting, make sure to assign roles and walk through the timeline together. Also, check other meeting timelines in your office to make sure major deadlines aren’t hitting at the same time.

Plan your marketing strategy while you are planning meeting details. Note important dates in your timeline and plan communications around these. If you want to notify your attendees about important launches (registration, abstract management system, mobile app, etc.) or upcoming deadlines, work this into your timeline.

Go back to your meeting contracts and review. Look at your hotel room block compared to your most recent pick up report. If it's written in the contract, you may have room to renegotiate your block. Go through your concessions and make sure to incorporate into your planning timeline so you don’t miss out on the added benefits.

Reach out to vendors early. If you haven’t seen your meeting venue for a while, schedule a pre-planning meeting to refresh your memory on the space as well as to meet the staff that you will be working with over the next several months. If your budget doesn’t allow for a site visit, ask your venue to give you a virtual tour to see the space and meet the team along the way.

If you work with a committee to plan aspects of your meeting, schedule a committee call as soon as possible to begin tackling items that need their input and feedback. This also may help alleviate email trails that fill up your inbox.

How about you? Do you have any tips for starting off on the right foot?

 

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