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Growing pains: What happens when your meeting outgrows the venue?

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Record-breaking registration numbers is every meeting planner’s dream. But what if attendance grows so much that the contracted meeting venue is no longer the ideal location? Put on your thinking cap because it’s time for a creative backup plan that will appear flawless to the participants.

AMPED recently encountered this very situation when hosting the world’s largest single gathering of multiple sclerosis physicians, clinical researchers and scientists in Boston. The convention center contract was signed years ago, prior to our full-service management, at which time a realistic growth goal was 6,500 attendees. This attendance projection made for the perfect match between the venue and the program. However, when we saw a huge surge in registration numbers just weeks before the kickoff of the live event, it was time to think outside the box.

The convention center auditorium could not accommodate our nearly 9,000 registrants. Thankfully, technology made an overflow plan possible. We were able to stream video of the keynote presentation from the auditorium to the largest ballroom in the convention center. In the event we needed another overflow room, we were prepared to stream into a second ballroom.

We had originally planned to have all food and beverage in the exhibit hall to drive traffic to our valued exhibitors and supporters. Unfortunately, the packed exhibit hall could not handle the 38 percent increase in attendance, so we had to rethink our menus as well as the food and beverage placement. It would be impossible for all attendees to go through a buffet line one by one; the length of time for decision making and serving would create unacceptably long lines. Boxed lunches were the best solution fulfilling our need for a “grab and go” scenario.

The sheer volume of people meant we also needed to reconsider the staffing plan. Having additional team members on hand to direct traffic to either an overflow meeting room or the nearest food station was key.

Make no mistake, finding the best solution for your attendees is not a one-person task. You’re going to need your entire team behind you to make this successful. Bring in your logistics professionals, audiovisual crew and catering team, in addition to your program experts who truly understand the heart of the event.

Although stressful at times, I am so proud to have been a part of a passionate team that was fully committed to producing an outstanding event. The compliments and positive feedback continue to pour in. Congrats to all!

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Out of the office? I got your back!

animals I got your back

Traveling outside of the office is not a foreign concept in our line of work at AMPED. From board meetings to site visits, you can usually find at least one of our staff members traveling around the country at any point throughout the year. While the majority of these trips are quick, sometimes our “out of office” replies are scheduled for a much longer period of time. During these longer meetings, I’ve come to learn that supporting your colleagues while they are out of the office and vice versa is crucial. 

Just this week, half of our AMPED team is in Boston, Mass. organizing an 8,000-attendee conference. With a meeting of this capacity, our team certainly has their hands full. There’s a lot to consider, both with this client’s meeting and our other clients who still deserve our attention. With so much on the line, how does our office make everything run so smoothly?

The first step is to make sure that everyone is knowledgeable about the event that is taking place. There’s a very high chance that those who are most familiar with the event are onsite and may not be available to answer emails or phone calls. So it’s important that those in the office know enough about the meeting to respond to any questions that may come up. It’s typical to have phone calls pour in after the launch of the meeting. Everyone must be prepared to answer questions like, “Can I still register onsite?” or “Where can I find parking?”

One way to educate the entire staff is to hold a staff meeting – something that AMPED President and Owner Lynda Patterson did one week prior to our event in Boston. A high-level overview was provided, as well as detailed instructions on where staff could locate valuable meeting information. This type of planning makes it easier on all of those involved – onsite staff aren’t distracted with minor questions and staff at headquarters aren’t tirelessly searching for answers.

It’s also important that we provide support to our colleagues and their other projects and clients while they are out of the office. At AMPED, we are committed to providing ongoing attention to all our clients. Just because there is a big meeting taking place for one client, doesn’t mean our other clients take a backseat. We accomplish this by shifting some work around in the short-term so that all of our bases are covered. Adhering to deadlines, responding to emails and remaining on top of things are always a priority — meeting or no meeting. Before our colleagues leave, it’s essential that we meet with those who need your assistance while they are away and create a list of assignments that must be completed. Reviewing and prioritizing the assignments will ensure that there is a complete understanding of expectations. It’s also a good idea to check in periodically with your colleague while they are out of office.

Traveling out of the office for business can be exhausting. With flights to catch, meetings to coordinate and endless logistics to consider, there’s always a lot on one’s mind. It’s important that you’re able to focus and to give it everything you have onsite. You don’t need these important moments to be shadowed with worry as you wonder what’s going on back at the office or what your email looks like. Depend on your colleagues – they have your back! At least I know mine do.

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Going electronic: How this accountant got converted

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This is the electronic era, so we should be storing files electronically, right?

But I like my paper files, I say. I am much more comfortable with paper and file folders.
Well, that’s wonderful if you are in the office and can physically access those paper files. But, what if you need to work remotely? Not so good.

While I argued many years for paper, due to a recent move and remote work set up, I am now understanding just how convenient it is to have the files you need stored in “folders” on your network. Now, when someone asks me to email them a document, instead of saying “I will get it to you as soon as I scan and email it,” I say “I will have it to you right away.”

AMPED has developed a system of saving and storing all our files in electronic format, including the biggest storage user of all — paid bills. We have an efficient system of scanning bills to an “inbox,” then to QuickBooks and finally an electronic “paid bills” folder. When the check is written, we add the check number to the bill description.

And we’re not stopping there. Our next step toward complete electronic filing will be integrating bill.com to download bills and checks paid into QuickBooks, further reducing storage on your own servers. Here’s the process: Bills are entered into bill.com and accessible to whomever would otherwise sign the checks. There, the bills are authorized for payment by the signer. Finally, the checks are printed. No more need to make sure a signer is on hand for that last-minute check request; she can authorize payment from the airport on her way to an important meeting. Need a copy of the bill? Just download it from “the cloud.” Further, electronic bank statements with corresponding electronic reconciliations will be easy for the organization’s treasurer to review and approve.

Consider converting your paper file system to an electronic system. As long as you can log in to your server remotely, you’ll always have access to all of your important files. If I can become a convert, so can you!

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What summer break? New technology keeps us studying all year round

studying technology

It’s back-to-school season, and even though I’ve been out of school for a while now, I’ve found myself doing a lot of studying lately. Two of the online programs I use on a daily basis have come out with new releases so I’ve been spending some extra time participating in training sessions, reading release notes and occasionally, just staring at my computer trying to familiarize myself with the new layouts and features. After using a program daily it’s easy to become comfortable with the way it looks and operates. I try not to get too comfortable though. One thing I’ve found is that, even in the absence of a new version's release, there is always something to learn. Here are some of the ways I stay up to date with our frequently used programs.

Participate in training webinars. Anytime a training webinar is offered I make sure to listen in. I find these webinars to be extremely useful. They usually focus on one topic at a time so they’re not overwhelming. Most are scheduled to last an hour or less so they’re easy to fit into the schedule. The best part is they’re usually archived so I can always go back to them for reference.

Take advantage of the online support community. I log in to the online support communities that are set up so I can check for new tech support documents and learn about any upcoming training sessions. I also take a few minutes each day to read through the daily emails that arrive in my inbox overnight. These emails are compilations of daily support community activity. It can be very informative to see what other users are commenting on or issues they have run into.

Finally, one of my colleagues had the great idea to establish a how-to file. Anytime we learn a new procedure it is documented with quick step by step instructions and (when applicable) screen shots. Anytime I encounter an issue, the first place I look is the how-to file. When a new release comes out or a procedure changes we just update the existing instructions. The how-to file is a great resource for everyone in the office and a real time-saver!

I’ve found that these resources really help me stay up to date and provide me with the information I need to keep using technology programs effectively. How about you? Do you have any tips for staying up to date on technology and programs you use?

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Responsive design: Why you need to make the switch, now

responsive-design

Responsive design. It's all well and good. Your site adjusts to the screen size, and your users get a good mobile experience, without having two or even three separate websites. But the process for making your site truly "mobile friendly" is a bit more complicated.

Why would someone view your site on their mobile device? What info do they need? What do you want to offer them and why are they different from your desktop computer users?

All these questions need consideration when creating a responsive design.

What is responsive design?
Responsive design is a design technique for websites that allows a page to rearrange itself based on the size of the screen displaying it. Modules rearrange themselves or even hide themselves so that nothing gets too squished and too small to view on a smaller screen, meaning mobile users have the same viewing experience they would have when visiting your website on a desktop computer.

The introduction of responsive design solved a few problems for website viewers. First, they were able to see the proper display of the website. But another, perhaps more important problem this solved, was the need to have a separate, dedicated site for mobile viewers.

Most large, modern websites now use a content management system (CMS) of some kind. To have the same CMS service content for two separate sites — a normal desktop site and a separate mobile one — was an extremely complicated and frustrating task and required a lot of extra administration time, skill, and effort.

Responsive design solved these issues. Simply having a design or template capable of responding to any screen width meant that you needed only one site, and that site worked on any device.

But there are some other really important reasons why you should make the switch to responsive design for your website.

Mobile usage is increasing
Take a look around and you'll notice a lot of people on their mobile phones. In fact, it seems that just about everyone is attached at the hip with their phone, tablet, or other mobile gadget. Consider the following stats from Smart Insights.

• More than 20 percent of Google searches are now being performed on some sort of mobile device.
• In 2012 over half of all local searches were done on a mobile device.
• 25 percent of Internet users in the United States only access the Internet via a mobile device.
• 25.85 percent of all emails are opened on mobile phones, with another 10.16 percent opened on tablets.
• In 2014 mobile Internet usage is expected to overtake desktop usage.
• Out of the 4 billion mobile phones in the world, 1.08 billion are smartphones and 3.05 are SMS enabled.

Recommended by Google
We all know that Google is a really big deal. In fact, Google claimed 67 percent of the search market share in 2013, making it the most popular search engine in the world. So, if Google claims that it prefers responsive web design as the recommended mobile configuration, hadn’t we better listen?

Why does Google prefer responsive design? For starters, it's more efficient for Google to bot crawl the site and then index and organize all the content that is online. This is because with responsive design, all your sites have just one URL and the same website coding across all devices. When a business has a separate mobile site and desktop site, there will be separate URLs with different website coding for each. This forces Google to crawl and index multiple versions of the same exact site.

A better user experience
Responsive design gives users a better experience. For example, users don't have to mess around with zooming and shrinking, swiping and pinching, to see the text or images on screen. Instead, all of the content automatically adjusts to the screen of the device. This makes it easier and more convenient for users to read and navigate on your site.

And, there are stats to support why the experience of users is so important. According to Google's Think Insights on Mobile, when a user views your mobile website and is frustrated, or doesn't see the content that they are searching for immediately, there's a 61 percent chance they will head to another website. However, when a user has had a positive experience with your mobile website, that individual will be 67 percent more likely to buy a product or use a service. Further, 48 percent of users stated to Google that when a site doesn't function on their mobile device it makes them feel that the company does not care for their business or about their viewers.

Social media has gone mobile
I’m guessing that you're involved in some form or another with social media. But even if you're not, you still realize how important blogging and social media are in the 21st Century. And, social media has also now gone mobile, which you may have also noticed. How important is mobile for social media users? According to a study from ComScore, 55% of social media consumption happens on a mobile device.

When you have a single responsive site that will function on any device, it is much easier for your users to share, interact, and engage with the content of your site. For example, what if a user shares your mobile site URL over social media and one of her “friends” views the site on her desktop computer? The experience would be less than optimal if it wasn't intended for a mobile audience. This makes the user unhappy, and we all know an unhappy user will go elsewhere.

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