Consumer expectations are on the rise — and that includes what your members expect from you and your organization. Consider an outside-of-the-box live experience event for your association. People crave live experiences and human connection, and there are tons of different activities to choose from.
True there’s extra cost and effort involved with organizing a live experience activity, but it might be worth holding one occasionally. Doing so will certainly provide an opportunity for members to have fun, and deliver a memorable, team-bonding experience.
This franchise is becoming a fast favorite for get-togethers. Each Topgolf location offers fun and competitive golf games with climate-controlled playing “bays” similar to a bowling lane. Plus, there’s food and drink, TVs, and music to make it extra festive.
Escape Rooms are a sure way to get members engaged and working as a team. Typically, all participants are locked in a room and are given a set amount of time to find clues and solve puzzles to complete the challenge and “escape” the room.
Many corporate organizations take advantage of this type of activity since it’s a fun way to bond, problem solve together, and be successful together.
Google “escape room near me” for a list of Escape Rooms in your area.
3. Paint Nite
Here’s a fun twist on the usual social happy hour. With 2 hours of guided instruction, each person in your group creates a one-of-a-kind painting, while enjoying drinks and each other’s company. The bonus here is that each participant gets to keep their painting as memorabilia from their fun night.
This is only a small sample of what’s available. There are plenty of other live experience activities to choose from.
Start planning your live experience event today by getting your members input. In your post-event survey, include a drop-down, multiple-choice question that lists the events you’re considering. Ask members to rank them in order of preference. Include a multi-line text box too where members can enter their own suggestion for live experience events.
Not only will running a survey help gauge member interest, surveying shows members that you value their input and satisfaction with your organization.
Kim just left her club’s spring networking event. Instead of feeling excited and alive, she feels flat.
“What went wrong?,” she wonders. “The meeting room was cozy. The meeting itself well-organized. Food was great.”
Then it hits her. Her cousin Theresa’s wedding last summer! Kim had the same feeling then.
At the wedding reception, Kim was seated with Theresa’s cousins, Josh and Tim, and their wives, from the other side of the family. It was a l-o-o-n-n-n-g, excruciating hour of vapid small talk. Even the delicious meal couldn’t make up for the incredibly awkward, meaningless chatter. Kim still winces when she thinks back to the reception that happened 9 months ago.
“Yup, that’s it.” Kim realizes. That’s went wrong. All conversations at tonight’s event felt forced. The format a bit too formal, traditional. Kim spent 2 hours fighting through strained chit-chat, not making any real connections.
Sound familiar? As an event organizer, it’s important you take steps to make sure those in attendance are comfortable to mingle, comfortable to connect, and have fun doing so. The good thing is it doesn’t take too much effort to make a meaningful difference — and make the meeting memorable and effective.
Here are some simple ways to turn drab networking events into unforgettable fun.
A Twist on Ice Breakers
We’re all familiar with ice breakers — a way to get your attendees talking and learning about one another. I have yet, though, to meet a person that loves the traditional form of ice breakers. You know the one:You go around the room, introduce yourself, your role, and your goals. Why not revamp the old-school ice breaker to make it more fun, and less stressful?
Here are some ideas:
1. Badge Breakers
Before your networking meeting, pull your event registration data. Create sub-groups based on interests. Say you have a group of people that enjoy reading. Or a subset of attendees that enjoy rock climbing.
Color-code the badges with ribbons to denote which subgroup the attendees belong to. When attendees arrive, give them their badges. Once everyone is there and the meeting begins, explain the rules: pair up with like-colored badges and try to determine what you all have in common (besides being a part of your organization).
This activity gets your groups working together and discussing what they enjoy, rather than putting members through the obligatory, nerve-racking, and many times boring, usual ice breaker activity.
2. Scavenger Hunt
Not the kind you’re used to where you’re looking for objects or landmarks. This scavenger hunt involves the people in the meeting room.
Give your members a list of members’ names in a column along the left side of a sheet of paper and a column of interests that they need to match up on the right side of the paper. Example: Find the person that loves baseball. Find the person that loves hiking.
This exercise gets everyone in the room moving and talking to one another. The person that gets all the matches first wins a small prize. The prize for the others? They learn a little something about every member through a quick, fun, interactive exercise.
3. Whiteboard/Chalkboard Display
Have a white board or chalkboard in your meeting room? Use it! Get attendees to write down their name and a goal, or their name and their most favorite food, pastime activity, color, whatever. Members can gather around the display and talk about each other’s interests.
Don’t have a chalkboard or whiteboard? Bring an iPad or tablet and pass it around the room. Have people gather to review everyone’s answers. Your attendees are bound to connect on mutual interests and share stories with one another, which fosters communication and connection and can certainly facilitate member engagement and a sense of belonging.
1. When is your next networking event? A month from now? Next week? Even if you’re short on time, you can easily add one of the ice breaker twists to your agenda. Pick one and do it!
2. Include a question about your new activity in your post-event survey or ask the open-ended question what attendees liked best about your event. There’s a good chance they’ll remember your fun new twist on ice breakers.
Have your own fun twist on ice breakers? Share it below.
Kristen Campbell is the Brand Manager at 123Signup. She is responsible for developing, implementing, and managing all marketing initiatives and programs for 123Signup.
The response rate for web surveys is 8 to 12%. Why so low? One of the biggest reasons is poor design and execution.
So how do you increase participation?
Don’t ask questions you already know the answer to. For some reason, a lot of surveyors love to ask demographic questions that cover information they already have in their databases. This leads to unnecessarily long surveys, and respondents jumping ship before answering all the questions.Consider embedding a unique identifier on your survey link instead so that you can link up the data on you back end. That way you can focus on questions that are going to help you drive change in your organization.
Pre-notify your members. Get in touch with them in advance to tell them why you’re conducting the research, and how you’re going to use it – whether it’s part of a strategic planning exercise, or you’re trying to improve the value you give them. Tell them who it’s going to be coming from, when it will launch, and how long they will have to complete it.
Be honest about the survey length. Don’t say it’s going to be brief if it’s actually going to take 20-30 minutes to complete. Give them the ability to save and continue at a later date. It will help your participation rate in the long run.
Be disciplined about the number of surveys you send out. It’s too easy to send surveys out on a whim. Think about who you’re sending to, and set up a limit on how many surveys your members receive on an annual or quarterly basis. Make your surveys targeted. If you’re interested in surveying millennials, don’t send it to your older members. Being more diligent about your prep will reduce the chances of your members experiencing survey fatigue.
Post-event surveys are a must if you want to continue to grow attendance in future events. They can be simple and once you have a general template, you can adapt and reuse them to save time. Plus, if you’re using a good online event registration software, you probably have a built-in event survey feature that will enable you to quickly create and distribute it to participants.
The trick to getting good response rates is to keep your event survey short and accessible – and to make it obvious up front that participating will only take a few minutes.
If you want to collect more information than you can get from 10 questions or so, think about gathering feedback from attendees in chunks throughout the event, rather than through one long survey at the end. There are some natural times during your event when it makes sense to ask your participants what they think …
At the Time of Registration
Get some quick feedback at the time of registration just by adding a couple of questions at the end of your form, or including a link to a short survey in the registration confirmation that your participants receive. Include questions like:
Where did you hear about this event?
How have you found the online registration process?
Why are you attending the event? (Networking, learning, etc)
While Your Event Is Happening
Take advantage of technology, and use a real-time mobile polling app like Zwoor or QuickTap to collect feedback from your attendees throughout your event. Not only will it give you a true picture of what they’re thinking right then and there, but it will also keep them engaged and remind them that you value their opinion. Here are a few ideas of what to ask while your event is actually taking place…
After Each Workshop, Session, or Activity (for Conferences and Conventions)
How informative/valuable did you find the session overall?
How would you rate the presenter?
How would you rate the content?
Would you recommend the session to a friend or colleague?
On the Last Day of the Event
Was the duration of the event just right, too long, or too short?
Was the price of the event just right, expensive, or inexpensive?
How would you rate your overall experience?
What were your key takeaways from the event?
What suggestions do you have for improving future events?
If You Don’t Use Mobile Polling at Your Event
Be sure to put an event survey out as soon as you can after your event. By incorporating mini-surveys while the event is fresh in the minds of your participants, you’ll increase your response rate and get a more accurate picture of their opinions.
This week’s blog post on association marketing is re-posted with permission from Aaron D. Wolowiec, founder and president of Event Garde, a professional development consulting firm based in Grand Rapids, Mich. Website: www.eventgarde.com.
In a traditional call for presentations, a general invitation is released to an organization’s key constituents to submit topic ideas for a program. This call provides detailed instructions for submission of papers for assessment and selection by a review committee. Ultimately, constituent submissions are returned to the committee for review, scoring, and selection.
If no outline is available, the committee will consider current trends, future trends (five to 10 years or more into the future) and other hot topics likely keeping the industry up at night. Once content is reviewed, ranked and confirmed, the result is a makeshift content outline the committee can use to disseminate speaker asks.
Ultimately, staff inherent speakers from one of these two methods. Via the call for presentations approach, speakers self-represent their content expertise and speaking prowess and are selected accordingly. Via the content curation approach, speaker asks may be more deliberate (e.g., based on credentials or demonstrated know-how); however, they are limited by the committee’s network.
Regardless of the method used, there really is no guarantee speakers will be successful. Your candidate may be an experienced and skilled face-to-face presenter, a 30-year industry veteran and a world-renowned practitioner, but still may not be ready to present utilizing a digital platform.
Before selecting a speaker for your next digital presentation, consider that individual’s digital presentation experience. Additionally, request evaluation data. Where possible, it’s best if the speaker has previously presented (successfully) using the same digital platform you intend to use. Remember, not all digital platforms are created equal.
And regardless of experience, speakers should be open to furthering their presentation skills. Following are 11 challenges and possible solutions you may use when coaching speakers in delivering quality digital presentations. Of course, practice is still the best strategy for mentoring speakers who have no previous digital presentation experience.
Challenge: Attendees seem disconnected from the speaker/learning experience. Solution: Utilize a webcam to deliver the presentation; care should be taken to look directly into the camera throughout the program.
Challenge: With no facial expressions/body language to draw from, the speaker is uncertain attendees are “getting” the content. Solution: Consider pausing the presentation periodically to ask an assessment question via the digital platform’s poll function.
Challenge: When joining remotely, participants are constantly distracted by email and other visual cues. Solution: Set ground rules for participants early in the program and ask attendees to follow along in a pre-printed participant guide where they can complete assignments and take notes.
Challenge: Reflection activities cause a lot of dead space/air time during the program. Solution: Convert the reflection activity into a pre- or post-program assignment.
Challenge: Practice activities facilitated during face-to-face programs don’t seem to translate into a digital environment. Solution: Encourage multiple registrants from the same office or gather attendees at centralized locations to participate in the program together; arm them with a supplies list, directions and plenty of activity time.
Challenge: Four or more hours of content may be required to teach a particular skill. Solution: Segment and sequence content into smaller modules. No more than 60 minutes is suggested, though even shorter is preferred.
Challenge: Learners want to share their experiences, but this is difficult to facilitate when all of the lines are muted for optimal sound quality. Solution: Allow attendees to demonstrate their interest in speaking and then open up only their phone lines. Alternatively, gather attendee stories in advance of the program and have the moderator read them aloud.
Challenge: Participants are easily bored by digital presentations. Solution: Incorporate different instructional strategies into the program beyond lecture (e.g., video, poll, chat).
Challenge: The chat function is difficult to moderate so it often goes unused/is turned off. Solution: Participants crave interaction with their peers. They also learn a lot from these conversations. Utilize a separate chat moderator who can prompt discussion with attendees, respond to questions and pose trending questions to the speaker.
Challenge: The digital platform makes it difficult for the speaker to provide personalized attendee feedback. Solution: Allow participants the opportunity within 30 days to follow-up with the speaker directly (e.g., ask a question, gain clarification).
Challenge: It’s challenging to ensure retention and job transfer post-program. Solution: Encourage action planning to focus learner ideas and next steps; create a job aid to guide future performance; or schedule post-session touch points (e.g., 30, 60 and 90 days).
Assessing your organization’s strengths and weaknesses along with the barriers to achieving your goals is an essential – yet often overlooked – step on the path to growing your membership. Be warned: you won’t like everything you see. That’s a good thing because it will help you identify where you need to improve.
First, start off by asking yourself questions like:
What are the primary benefits of being a member of your organization?
What are the most-used programs?
What sets you apart from your competitors?
How are you perceived by your members and prospects?
What are the barriers to joining or renewing?
How long does it take you to respond to member phone calls and emails, to process requests, and to complete transactions?
What kinks in your day-to-day processes are holding you back from providing better services?
Resist the urge to jump to conclusions based on what you think you know about your association. Making assumptions can create disconnect between what you believe is valuable to members, and what actually is valuable.
Understanding how well your association is meeting the needs of its members and fulfilling its mission requires time, research, objectivity, and long-term commitment.
Assessing Your Organization: How to Perform a Thorough Evaluation of Your Business
1. Write out your mission statement.
This will remind you of your organization’s core purpose. Later, you will compare how your mission statement aligns with the benefits and programs you offer, and your members’ needs.
2. Make a list of all of your current services, programs, and benefits.
Rank the most valuable benefit as “#1” and continue from there. What is the unique selling point for each of them? What sets your organization apart from your competitors? Note the answers to these questions next to each benefit.
3. Audit your information management processes.
All the things that happen behind the scenes can have a huge impact on your customer service and overall performance.
For a week or two, every time you feel yourself getting frustrated by a time-consuming task or you’re having a hard time accessing needed information, write it down. Get all of your staff members to do the same. When you put all of the information together, you should be able to see some obvious aspects of your processes that need improvement. Issues with finding information about your members quickly, or needing to update the same information in several different places could mean you may need to improve your membership management process.
4. Crunch your numbers.
Good data should be the foundation of your decision-making process. If you have decent member management software, you should be able to get the information you need fairly quickly. If not, you may need to estimate for the time being.
5. Analyze your Membership Stats.
Compare your membership statistics from the past two years. You could go back even further if you have access to significant historical information. Looking at trends over time can be very useful. For starters, record the following data segmented by membership type:
Percentage change in membership
Percentage change in new member acquisition
Percentage change in membership renewal rate
Percentage change in event participation
Percentage change in program and benefits usage
Percentage of your revenue coming from membership
Percentage of revenue coming from other income streams
6. Research your competitors.
Go through this process as a prospective member would. Search online for other competing organizations as well as employers or companies that offer similar products or services for free or at a lower cost. Compare benefits individually and also consider how your packages stack up to your competitors.
TIP: Track and compare benefits and costs on a spreadsheet. Determine your 3 to 5 most valuable and unique products. If you discover that some of your products don’t seem as valuable as those offered by your competitors, make a note of how you can improve or enhance those products.
7. Define your business objectives.
Once you have a better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses and how you stack up to your competitors, you can define your goals and objectives. Are you looking to expand your market share? Expand into new markets? Increase your revenue? Increase participation and engagement?
Your objectives will ultimately guide the way you shape your membership structure, pricing, and marketing efforts. For this reason, carefully assessing your organization with your business objectives in mind is undoubtedly worth taking the time to do.
Before you begin to redesign your governance system, invest adequate time in analyzing your current system. After all, this is what Einstein would do!
Einstein has been quoted as having said “if I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes. In other words, he would spend significant time figuring out what the problem is.
If your current governance system isn’t performing up to par, it’s important to understand why not. Depending on what the “real” problems are, the solutions may lie in making actual structural changes (reformulating the committee structure or size of board, for example) or they may lie in changing the practices the board engages in (agenda design or meeting design, for example). Investing the time to adequately define and redefine the problem will:
Ensure that you are addressing the root (right) problems;
Generate information specific to the issue(s) at hand that will be useful in solving the problem(s) and developing a sound governance system; and,
Lead to group consensus on what the problem actually is, which is vital to the creation and execution of sound solutions.
Although a problem might be complex, the processes used to solve a problem are not complex. The first step is properly defining the problem and this begins with challenging assumptions and breaking the problem down to ensure you are focused on the root problem.
ROOT PROBLEM IDENTIFICATION
Determining the root cause(s) of an underperforming or ill performing governance system is one of the first steps in governance system redesign. Often what is first identified is a symptom of the problem, not the root cause. As such, it is important to challenge one’s assumptions and not get “locked” into the first “problem” that is identified.
When analyzing a governance system, two methodologies are useful: Ishikawa Diagram and Toyoda’s 5 Whys.
An Ishikawa Diagram takes a systems approach to problem identification. The diagram is used to identify all possible root cause categories, under which actual root causes are listed. This approach forces one to consider all of the different parts of the governance system as one analyzes the problem.
An Ishikawa Diagram looks like a fish skeleton, with the initial problem being the head and possible root cause categories represented by the rib bones, under which root causes are listed. The illustration below uses lack an underperforming board as the initial problem, and then identifies six possible root cause categories, which become the rib bones of the diagram. Actual potential root causes are then listed along each rib bone. A more comprehensive list of root categories for governance system analysis is provided further below.
Five Step Process
Insert the initial problem statement in the problem statement box.
Brainstorm possible root cause categories.
Brainstorm potential root causes in each category
Analyze the potential root causes to clarify / define the real problem(s).
Develop consensus around the root problem(s)
GOVERNANCE SYSTEM ROOT CAUSE CATEGORIES
As mentioned above, the Ishikawa process starts with brainstorming all of the potential root cause categories. These are comprised of all of the parts of the “system.” Following is a list of root cause categories for governance issues. All or some of these may apply to your organization. You can use this list as a starting place to identify additional root cause categories that are applicable in your situation as you build out your Ishikawa Diagram.
Board Meeting Design
Board Size / Structure
Board Leadership Development
Board CEO Relationship
Toyoda’s 5 Whys
Toyoda’s 5 Whys is a very simple method to identify root causes. It can be used alone or in conjunction with the fishbone technique illustrated above. When a problem arises, ask why and for each response to the question ask why again until the why question has been asked at least five times.
Applying the 5 whys methodology to our problem of having a board that is a non-strategic thinking entity, the questions might look like this:
Q: Why doesn’t the Board think Strategically?
A: Because the are always digging into short-term tactics
Q: Why are they always discussing short-term tactics?
A: Because these issues are perceived to be important by the Board
Q: Why are these issues important to the Board?
A: Because they believe it is the role and responsibility of the Board to discuss and act on these issues
Q: Why does the Board believe this is their role and responsibility?
A: Because they don’t know another way
Q: Why doesn’t the Board know another way?
A: Because we don’t have a governance / Board development program
Using this example, we see the real problem is not that the Board isn’t thinking strategically, it is that we don’t have a formalized training / development program for our Board members. Of course, each group (or reader) will answer these questions differently; the point is to engage in the process to dig deeper into the actual root problem.
WHY AN INVESTMENT IN PROBLEM IDENTIFICATION MATTERS
Spending time to make sure that you have defined the problem(s) correctly is imperative to governance system redesign. On a very basic level, it ensures that you are focusing on the right problem and creates a high level of probability that the right solution(s) will be developed. Further, working on the problem identification process with a Governance Task Force builds consensus around the actual (root) problem(s). Finally, engaging in robust problem identification reveals information and knowledge that will inform the development of solutions and governance redesign.
Of course, it is also critical that you and your board have a thorough understanding of what good governance looks like as well as the appropriate roles and responsibilities of a high performing board. Likewise, it is helpful to create a vision of what a high performing board would look like for your organization so you can redesign toward that vision.
About the Author
Robert Nelson, a Certified Association Executive (CAE), brings over a quarter-century of successful executive leadership experience, working with Boards and high-powered CEOs in a not-for-profit setting. He is the founder of Nelson Strategic Consulting and brings hands-on experience guiding and facilitating the design of strategy development processes and think tanks. His focus on organizational strategies and strategic solutions to complex organizational and global grand challenges for national as well as international organizations.
Contact Robert through his website, or learn more about Nelson Strategic Consulting at www.nscstrategies.com.
This week’s blog is re-posted with permission from Aaron D. Wolowiec, MSA, CAE, CMP, CTA. Aaron is the founder and president of Event Garde, a professional development consulting firm based in Grand Rapids, Mich. Website: www.eventgarde.com.
When’s the last time this happened to you? There’s a highly recommended, world-class speaker you’d like to feature at an upcoming program.
She’s perfect for your event in every way, except for the associated price tag. After much negotiation, you’re able to secure the “friends and family” discount; however, it’s still more than you’ve budgeted.
If your meeting comprises a qualified audience of planners or other decision-makers, you might consider an in-kind sponsorship with a local hotel or conference center. Following are 11 ideas for partnering with local venues:
Select three venues that might like to showcase their property and reach out to them directly with the understanding that this partnership will be secured on a first-come, first-served basis
Allow venue to give tours/sales kits following the program
Encourage two to three venue staff to participate in the program and to be available during registration, breaks and meal functions to engage with attendees
Recognize venue as the title sponsor in promotional materials (e.g., print, website, social media, magazine, email)
Give venue a couple of complimentary registrations to parcel out to potential clients; venue could make these VIP experiences with a complimentary overnight and breakfast before/after the program
Give venue the complete participant list before/after the program
Allow participants to register at a discounted rate if they complete a brief meetings portfolio survey that is then shared with the venue
Allow venue to set up a booth near registration
Allow venue a three-minute introduction, video or slideshow to kick-off the program
Encourage venue to host breakfast/lunch; during this time, a venue representative should be assigned to each round to meet and engage with participants
Ask venue what other deliverables they would like to receive [perhaps association-related products and services] and do your best to share whatever you can
What other ideas do you have for successful partnerships between venues and associations?
This week’s blog post on online community management is re-posted with permission from Aaron D. Wolowiec, founder and president of Event Garde, a professional development consulting firm based in Grand Rapids, Mich. Website: www.eventgarde.com.
Although still relatively new, online communities are quickly becoming popular platforms for engagement, discussion, and membership.
But there’s still some confusion about best practices and culture, according to a new report by The Community Roundtable and Higher Logic.
“In the current environment, it’s easy to question or second guess ourselves, but one thing I feel strongly about is this: A community approach can help navigate these issues in a way that brings along customers, prospects and employees,” said Rachel Happe, principal and co-founder, The Community Roundtable. “It is the best way, and maybe the only way, to keep our organizations in sync with themselves and with their markets.”
Happe said communities are the most effective way to deliver learning and change – much better than social media platforms, which are inundated with advertisements.
The Higher Logic report contains data from 339 community programs from a range of industries. The first takeaway: strategy. Strategy is based upon a shared understanding of value. In other words, communities must define value to their organization and to their community to foster engagement. In addition, the report found those who could measure that value to determine ROI performed best.
Next: operations. Giving members a voice is key to community success. Communities that provide a formal feedback system, multi-tiered advocacy program and member-led community programs far outperformed their peers.
And then, tactics: Most communities measure basic activity and membership, but going beyond that, including regularly tracking activity, behavior change and outcomes, reaps big rewards.
Some recommendations from Higher Logic:
Create strong, defined value statements for your organization and members, highlighting the shared value of the community. Tip: Boil it down: What’s the value that the organization and members get from being a part of the community – and where do those value statements intersect?
Engage and empower members, through feedback programs, member- and internal expert-led programs and by prioritizing getting organizational buy-in and understanding of community. Giving the community a say in its operation can help increase engagement and community contributions. Tip: Tap into the expertise in your membership – communities that include member-led programming demonstrate higher engagement and maturity than their peers.
Focus metrics and measurement on the behaviors you want to see, not just the ones you can easily measure. Everyone measures something, but the best-in-class communities are digging into the metrics that demonstrate the impact of the community. Tip: Use frameworks to better connect behavior changes to metrics so that you can more readily explain the value of the community to members and the organization.
“As community professionals, we need to keep our focus on the fundamentals and continue to reinforce value and success,” Happe said. “Don’t lose sight of the basics; continue the dialog with those that can benefit from your community, and develop an ROI model to define the specific business value that is generated from the community.”
This week’s blog is re-posted with permission from Aaron D. Wolowiec, MSA, CAE, CMP, CTA. Aaron is the founder and president of Event Garde, a professional development consulting firm based in Grand Rapids, Mich. Website: www.eventgarde.com
Has your association conducted a communication audit within the last three years? More specifically, are your meetings and publications teams working together to ensure your association’s events are effectively marketed?
If your events suffer from stagnant or declining attendance, sponsors or exhibitors – or if you have difficulty securing quality speakers – the answer lies not in a silo, but rather in your team. Following are 10 strategies your association can immediately implement to boost the reputation of its signature events and, in turn, its bottom line.
Branding – A uniform event name, acronym or hashtag from one year to the next is just the beginning. To ensure your members easily recognize an event at first glance, consider how colors, logos, fonts and overall design elements are used consistently across communication platforms.
Differentiation – Briefly scan the professional development landscape and you’ll find fierce competition all around you – colleges and universities, other associations and even your own members. Event messaging must clearly illustrate in both quantitative and qualitative terms how your event is different from the rest.
Value proposition – Every event comprises some combination of learning and networking. One way to elevate yours above the others is to demonstrate the value attendees can expect to gain in both the short-term (e.g., contacts, ideas, goals, objectives) and the long-term (e.g., strategy, tactics, products, services, profit).
Voice – If your event could talk, what would it sound like? An elderly grandparent? A progressive hipster? Ensure written collateral closely resembles the tone and sophistication of your audience. As appropriate, add in elements of levity, informality, slang and pop culture to also make them fun and interesting to read.
Brevity – Promotional pieces are not the place to be long-winded. Prospective attendees are inundated with messaging each and every day, so make it easy for them to cut through the noise and connect with your publications. Don’t be surprised if fewer words result in improved open and click-through rates, too.
Channels – Determine how your association communicates. And don’t just think in terms of print communications – include all digital and social media platforms, as well. Optimal event marketing is multimedia in nature and should include messaging in most – if not all – of these communication channels.
Testimonials – Never underestimate the power of an exceptional experience, particularly by Generation Yelp. Gather and share both written and video testimonials from attendees, sponsors, exhibitors and speakers. Ultimately, it means more coming from their peers than it does from you.
Images – We know a picture is worth a thousand words, so ditch the clipart and invest in a professional photographer to take pictures during your signature events. Use these photographs throughout your marketing materials to tell your event’s story: who attends, how they engage and what they learn.
Sample content – Sometimes prospective attendees and their supervisors are looking for added insurance your event will be worth their time and money. Sharing sample content in the form of slide decks, handouts, executive summaries and video clips may be just the ticket to secure their participation.
Volunteers – Identify your repeat attendees and arm them with the tools needed to promote your events. Consider guest blog posts, social media chats and featured magazine columns. Likewise, remove as many barriers as possible to encourage easy sharing of member-generated materials.
While you may not have the resources to employ each of these tactics between now and your next annual meeting, take some time this month to identify and address the low-hanging fruit. Then develop a long-term strategic plan for implementing the remaining marketing and communication ideas, remembering to include representation from both the meetings and publications teams.
At the end of the day, you simply can’t afford to ignore what your events are saying about you, your department and your organization.
Member engagement doesn’t happen randomly. Associations with increases in overall membership are “also more likely to have a strategic initiative in place for increasing engagement,” according to the 2015 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report from Marketing General.
Those that have been most successful – according to this study – cite participation in public social networking as the engagement strategy that has been most effective for driving engagement – more than young professionals programs, webinar attendance, and members-only website areas.
This makes sense. You can offer all the value-adding programs and services you want, but you won’t get very far unless you aggressively promote them, and social media has become a go-to tool for doing just that.
According to the study, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are the most-used platforms by hopeful associations looking to find new ways of connecting with members. Most of them have learned that the saying “if you build it they will come” doesn’t apply in the realm of social media. You have to actively build and nurture your social media page with timely, relevant content that’s helpful to your audience in order to increase exposure.
Association executives shared some of their best practices from their social media experience, including:
Ask volunteers to post on a regular basis to keep content fresh
Create Facebook groups based on interests or industry
Ask questions and actively stimulate discussion
Plan and post regular, original content – and make it relevant
Be more aggressive in encouraging members to participate on social media platforms by promoting more prominently on the website, in emails, and in monthly communications.
Follow and comment on influencers on Facebook
Instead of measuring “likes” or the number of people who join your community, look to increase how much interaction your posts are getting
Encourage members to post to Facebook and Twitter at events and conferences
Post Videos on YouTube as regularly as possible
Thank new and renewing members publicly on Facebook and Twitter – these posts are often liked and shared
Offer to help members at large conferences set up social media accounts
Showcase member-only content on public social networks to reinforce to non-members your value proposition
Vary your content – articles, videos, podcasts, quick quotes, and anything else you can think of that’s unique and original
One thing to add … don’t make your content all about you. People get tired of seeing promotional content constantly – and eventually, Facebook won’t even show your posts in your fans’ newsfeeds. Try to make the majority of your posts serve your members’ and prospective members’ interests – it’ll make them more likely to read the occasional post promoting your next event.
This week’s blog by Kristen Parker is re-posted with permission from Aaron D. Wolowiec, MSA, CAE, CMP, CTA. Aaron is the founder and president of Event Garde, a professional development consulting firm based in Grand Rapids, Mich. Website: www.eventgarde.com.
I’ve admitted it before and I’ll do it again: I’m a social media and technology addict. So when I’m choosing conferences to attend, I look for technology use. Is there a hashtag? Will speakers engage with participants in real time – or afterward – via social media? If something comes up, will the organizer provide content virtually? Also, is there an app that can help me plan where to eat, where to stay and sights to see?
In the first half of 2014, American Express Global Business and Travel surveyed 336 meeting planners and 161 meeting and event attendees to learn more about the evolving landscape of technology in meetings.
Overall, the survey found smartphones and wireless data/streaming video have had the most influence on the meetings industry. In fact, according to the study, 77 percent of smartphone holders use their phones “always” or “often” for business during a meeting or conference.
And almost all attendees have computers, which makes virtual attendance a breeze. While virtual meetings are becoming more popular, they’re still far less common than on-the-ground events, the study found.
Survey respondents ranked less time away from the office and a reduced need to travel as the top reasons for attending virtual or hybrid events. But interestingly, most event planners reported they don’t offer virtual options. Among the top reasons: distraction. They seem to be worried that a virtual environment offers too many temptations to pay full attention.
From the report: “There is strong agreement that in-person attendance still provides the best overall experience. Seventy-four percent of attendees and 85% of planners feel that: ‘In-person meetings are more valuable to me because they allow more social interaction.’”
So, American Express Meetings and Events recommends event planners survey target audiences to gauge interest and need for virtual events. Once it’s determined virtual events are necessary, planners need to provide tailored content, specific for the web.
Now. Let’s talk social media. Event organizers use Twitter and Facebook to spread the word about events and to track interest among users. But there seems to be a divide: The survey found social media is more important to planners than it is to attendees. (This surprised me!) Forty-three percent of planners said social media capabilities were important, while only 35 percent of attendees said the same. So it follows, then, that planners ranked hashtags as more important than attendees.
The report speculates that social media users are still a bit hesitant about posting things that aren’t relevant to their followers, i.e. a conference/event they aren’t attending. And, there’s still concern about privacy.
Like social media, meeting planners rank meeting apps as more useful than participants – 67 percent vs. 55 percent. Access to basic event information and scheduling features are important app features for both groups. (See page 13 of the report for a comprehensive chart of important features.)
Specifically, networking capabilities of an app are important to both groups, especially when it offers search functions so users can search by company. Meeting apps that provide the ability to schedule meetings with exhibitors and vendors are also valuable to both groups, according to the report.
Event planners also listed apps as the most effective measurement tools for success, followed by social media. That said, in-person monitoring and post-event surveys are still the most popular.
“Technology continues to change the landscape of meetings and events, presenting new opportunities to increase engagement, reach a broader audience and deliver value for attendees and meeting owners alike,” the report said. “Meeting planners and meeting owners bear the burden of incorporating these technologies into meetings and events in a way that drives value for meeting attendees. Understanding the expectations of your meeting attendees as it relates to technology is an important step in the meeting planning process.”
You have the date set, your event organizing a committee on board, and your online registration site all set up. You’ve got an amazing event planned, so why aren’t people registering?
It might be that you need to give your marketing strategy a little more thought. Here are our top five reasons why you may not be filling your seats.
#1: They Don’t Know About It.
It’s too obvious, right? But when you are eyeball-deep in event logistics, it’s easy for marketing to become an afterthought. In reality, marketing should be the FIRST thing you think about when planning your event.
Start by putting together a simple event marketing strategy. Who are you trying to attract? What do they care about? How will you make the content of the event relevant and exciting to them? What are they willing to pay? What industry websites and publications do they read for their information? How and when will you communicate with them? Once you have the answers to these questions, you’ll better understand how to bring value to your audience through your content and speakers.
#2: They Can’t Relate.
Prospective attendees should immediately connect with the event, and be compelled to learn more. They need to know exactly how they’ll benefit right off the bat. Fancy slogans can sometimes miss the mark. So when you’re putting together your marketing materials, always include a simple and brief description that includes who should attend, and specifically how they will benefit. This simple step can make a big difference.
#3: Your Topics and Speakers Are Old News.
People attend conferences and seminars to get new ideas. You need to give them valuable content, or they’ll move on to the next event. Find fresh ideas for topics and speakers by looking at industry websites and publications and making a list of topical themes in the most recent blog posts and articles. Check the Facebook pages of leading industry organizations to see which posts have generated the most activity.
It is good practice to pull out surveys from previous events to remind yourself of what went over well, and what didn’t. Looking back at reports from previous years will also give you an idea of which sessions were most attended, and who attended them. Even better, ask past attendees about which subjects most interest them.
If you’re struggling to generate the reports you need to make decisions, you may want to consider looking at event registration software that gives you in-depth event reports and built-in survey functionality. It’s worth the investment if it can help you make better decisions in the future.
You might say, “I already know my members – I am constantly talking to them and getting their feedback.” That’s a great start, and will definitely help you make an overall assessment of your members’ needs. However, there’s a danger in assuming that the select group of people you are talking to all share the same common attitudes and opinions.
You’ll need to draw on more quantitative, objective information for your analysis. The insights that come out of your analysis should form the basis of the decisions you make from then on.
So how do you get to know your members? There are a lot of different research methods you can use. A combination of formal membership surveys and informal interviews is ideal. It’s best to start with broader surveys. Once you’ve analyzed the results, you can ask a handful of members to schedule informal interviews so that you can get a better understanding of why the survey participants responded the way they did.
An effective membership survey collects all of the information you need while being as short as possible. Respondents should be able to finish it in 10 minutes or less. Anything longer can cause them to drop off before completion.
It’s a good idea to have the survey available online and as a hard copy to increase response rates. Most membership management software has built-in survey tools, which allow you to connect your members’ responses to their demographic information. This is really useful when analyzing the information.
Getting the Right Information
If you’re looking at your members only in terms of their titles, industries, or membership levels, you are likely missing vital information that will help you create more value for your target members and prospects.
The truly valuable insights are reached when you evaluate your members and prospects based on their behaviors, needs, values, interests, motivations, and attitudes. Everything you do – from building membership packages to creating marketing messages – should be based on these key elements.
Demographic & Personal Information
In order to get your members and prospects to take positive actions, you must address their personal needs. Access to demographic and personal information can help you connect your members’ actions – attending events, purchasing subscriptions, or discontinuing memberships – to the motivations and attitudes that triggered the actions. Demographic information also assists you in identifying the characteristics your key members and prospects have in common.
Every association is different, so the types of information you choose to collect will vary according to your objectives. Some examples of demographic or personal information include:
Demographics (age, gender, income, geography, education level, size of employer or practice)
Experience level (early-career, mid-career, or late-career)
Personality traits (outgoing or reserved, introverted or extroverted, planned or spontaneous, leader or follower)
Access to and familiarity with technology
Size of their organization
Other industry organizations they belong to
Other hobbies and interests.
To understand how this information is useful in practice, consider the example of two engineers belonging to an industry association. One of them is new to the field, and the other has 35 years of experience.
The young engineer joined so he could access educational resources and advance his career. The more experienced electrician has already done all the learning he is interested in doing. To him, the value of being a member is having his interests represented through the organization’s advocacy work.
Promoting the value of advocacy to the young engineer would be totally ineffective because it doesn’t really matter to him. To attract and keep members, you need to find ways to express what matters to them. Demographic and personal data help you do that.
Be sure to check back next week, when we’ll cover what kinds of questions to ask your members to get an insight into how they perceive your organization, what kind of value they get from their membership, and the needs you should be meeting.
You put your blood, sweat, and tears into your events. So when things don’t go to plan, it can be hard to swallow. You might be tempted to put it behind you and never look back – but that’s the worst thing you can do.
Even if you think you already know what worked and what didn’t, holding a post-event debrief meeting to review the event while it’s fresh in your mind is absolutely essential. Be systematic about it, and take notes on what you want to repeat at your next event, and what you would change.
Making Your Post-Event Debrief Session Effective
Schedule a post-event debrief with your key stakeholders and event committee members within a few days of the event. It can be helpful to set a date in everyone’s calendar before the event even happens. Debriefs aren’t just about pointing out the mistakes that were made, but celebrating successes.
We’ve all been to those debrief meetings that seem directionless. To avoid inefficient use of everyone’s time, assign a facilitator to ensure it’s well-structured. With your facilitator, prepare some discussion questions in advance to promote open sharing of insights and opinions.
Here are a couple of questions you may want to think about:
What went well? What didn’t? Why?
What aspects of the event didn’t go according to plan? How will you prevent this next time?
How well did your committee work together leading up to the event?
Were there any parts of the planning process that could have been more efficient? How could you improve efficiency?
Did everyone have enough time to complete their tasks well and reach their individual and group goals?
Were instructions and expectations always clear?
You’ll want to assign someone to capture the key discussion points and distribute the notes to the whole group for review afterward. Once everyone has had an opportunity to give feedback and make suggestions to the document, re-distribute the final document and save it to refer to when you start the planning for your next event.
In last week’s post, we looked at why membership surveys are important, and the basic demographic and personal information you need to understand who your members are. The key to retaining your members – and attracting new ones – is knowing what they need and value, how you can fill those needs, and what they think of your organization.
Once you have some data to paint a good picture, you can begin adapting your strategies so that you’re relevant and providing better value. That’s ultimately the deciding factor in whether your members stay or go.
Here we look at the kinds of questions you’ll need to ask to collect this vital data …
Annual Membership Investment – and RETURN VALUE on Investment
Knowing how much revenue you are generating through each member can help you prioritize where to devote your efforts. Some experts are now suggesting that perceived value on investment is an even stronger motivator than actual return on investment for members to join and renew. Perceived value is what people are willing to spend on a particular product or service.
Comparing what members are spending with their perceived value of the benefits can help you identify potential barriers to retention. It can also give you clues as to how your benefits could be packaged differently to provide your members with more value for money.
When you analyze perceived value in conjunction with your members’ challenges, you’ll be able to determine how well you’re delivering your value promise.
Questions to ask in your membership survey:
Which programs and benefits have you used during the year, and how often?
For each benefit you’ve used, what dollar value would you assign to it?
How much did you invest in our association during the year, including dues + add-ons?
Do you believe your membership investment last year was fair, less than fair, or more than fair for the value you received?
Challenges and Needs
Your association exists to meet your members’ needs. Staying ahead of the curve and leading the charge on new information and industry trends is an important feature of many associations. For this reason, it is crucial not to become one of those associations that offer the same exact services year after year.
Could it be possible that your services are designed to meet challenges that are no longer relevant or not as valued? Your survey can help you find out.
Questions to ask in your membership survey:
What are the top three challenges you are facing right now?
Rank our services based on what you feel is most important. (List all services)
Is there anything you would like to see added or enhanced about our service offerings?
What other member-based industry organizations do you belong to?
Perception of Your Organization
Perceived value is the fundamental driver of membership, and different members value different things. If you consider your organization to be a leader in your industry, you should find out whether your members agree.
Questions to ask in your membership survey:
What do you believe is the primary function of our association?
Compared to other organizations in the industry, what are the advantages of belonging to our organization?
How did you first hear about us?
Do you intend to renew your membership?
If not, what could we offer you that would make you renew?
What do you like the most about being a member of our organization?
What would you improve about or add to your membership experience?
Why did you initially join the organization?
How long have you been a member?
How often do you read our newsletter, visit our website, etc?
Rate each of our benefits/programs on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being most valuable and 1 being least valuable.
What types of information and resources do you seek to stay on top of industry trends?
How likely are you to refer a friend to join?
Which of these words do you associate with our organization? (list several words, ie. Advocate, knowledge leader, innovator)
How satisfied are you with our level of service?
What is your preferred source for industry information? (magazines, websites, etc)
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