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We’re excited about what we do
and have passion for our profession

But wait, there's more: The meeting is over, but the work isn't (video)

We’re celebrating a job very well done. Several members of the AMPED team just returned from a hugely successful, first-ever stand-alone meeting for our client partner, ACTRIMS (Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis). To illustrate just how successful this three-day scientific event was, the original attendance forecast was 435. You can imagine the challenges and excitement that ensued when the numbers peaked at 629!

Yes, there was much applause and commendation when the meeting closed. But AMPED’s job isn’t done when the registrants go home. There are boxes to unpack, evaluations to review, sponsors to follow up with, and sites to visit for future meetings.

Watch what's next for the ACTRIMS meetings and support team:

  meeting video image"Our work here is done." NOT!

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Buyers beware, seller’s market is here to stay…

hotel room door

Is your association seeing the impacts of the seller’s market when it comes to finding a hotel partner to host your next event? Don’t expect this trend to fade in 2016. Hotel demand in many destinations around North America has surpassed supply. Although the 2016 Global Travel Price Outlook indicates that hotel construction is booming in the United States with nearly 100,000 new rooms added in 2015, the report also suggests that hotel demand continues to grow at up to quadruple the rate of supply.

If supply and demand concerns aren’t enough to get you fired up, how about this? According to the 2016 Meetings and Events Forecast from Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) Meetings & Events, room rates will grow by 4.3%.

How can you tackle the issues of supply and demand plus increasing nightly room rates head on? Plan ahead. Contract lead time continues to shrink and often hotels in high-demand markets will no longer hold space when responding to RFPs. Increased lead time can increase you negotiating power.

Channel your inner Francis Bacon who once said knowledge is power. Be fluent in the value your meeting brings to the venue and be prepared to readily talk stats such as pick-up history, food and beverage spend, required square footage of meeting space and so on.

Keep your eye on the numbers. Food and beverage costs will continue to be a significant driver of per-attendee costs. The 2016 Global Travel Price Outlook also predicts a 4.5% increase per attendee, per day! The pressures of keeping up with the latest trends and rising ingredient prices are major contributing factors. In fact, the National Restaurant Association says that wholesale food prices have surged nearly 25% during the past five years!

All of this said, the most important piece of advice is to negotiate with care, as attrition and cancellation clauses are becoming more and more strict. Good luck!

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A guide to facilitating an "Unconference"

fishbowl conference

Unconferences have become a popular way to encourage engagement and learning at conferences, seminars, and workshops. In fact, entire meetings have adopted the unconference structure. "Un" refers to the opposite of the typical nature of a meeting, where an expert speaker addresses a number of attendees. The main premise of an un-conference, un-session or un-meeting is flipped. In other words, the education, topic, engagement and overall experience are the responsibility of the participants. The assumption is the most knowledgeable person at a meeting might not be the one at the podium; rather he/she might be in the audience.

I have participated in and moderated in a few of these. There is no one way to perform an unconference session. The purpose of is to foster ideas, conversation and most importantly engagement between attendees.

With help from fellow AMPED staff members Brittany Olson and Jeanne Rosen, I wrote an Unconference Facilitators’ Guide. This guide offers best practices and a loose structure, not rigorous rules. Facilitators should have latitude to conduct their session to their style. The point is peer-to-peer conversation.

Here are a few helpful hints:
• Typically each unconference session has a facilitator or moderator.
• An unconference is a participant-driven meeting where the agenda is created on the spot by attendees at the beginning of the meeting to allow for flexibility of topics and discussion-based sessions.
• Unconferences are intended to be highly collaborative and offer a vibrant atmosphere where questions are welcomed and sharing is encouraged.
• Meaningful and useful interaction between attendees is the sole purpose of an unconference.
• The culture is designed to be encouraging, participatory, and not passive.
• Teaching and learning aren’t fixed roles; a teacher at one moment may be a learner the next.
• The experience and expertise of the participants is harnessed, rather than relying on the contributions of a few outside experts.
• Participants have more input into and control over their learning and takeaways from an unconference session.

Four easy rules for unconference sessions
• Rule one: Whoever shows up are the right people.
• Rule two: Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.
• Rule three: Whenever it starts is the right time.
• The fourth and final rule is: It’s over when it’s over.

Getting started
At the beginning of the unconference session, do a crowd sourcing of topics. Typically several colors of Post-its and sharpies are made available.

Each participant writes as many notes as they want and sticks them on the wall. Alternatively the facilitator can write these on a flip chart, but this is a bit of a bottleneck to creativity. After 5-10 minutes the facilitator brings the group together and asks for assistance in categorizing these sub-topics. Be creative and free-flowing here. Anybody can move/assign/offer input as to where they go. Use the wall of Post-its or a flipchart on an easel to help categorize them.

Discussion formats
There are many formats of unconference style sessions. To keep things simple, I’ll focus on two Rotating Tables or Fishbowl. The facilitator has the option to choose either style or modify it to his/her preference.

FISHBOWL
Several chairs (4-7, can vary) are placed in a circle. This is the fishbowl. Other chairs are placed in concentric circles around the fishbowl. This is the audience. Selected participants or volunteers fill all but one chair in an open fishbowl, and all chairs in a closed fishbowl.

The facilitator begins by introducing the first subtopic or category and the participants start discussing. The outer circles (audience) listen and remain quiet. The facilitator can also interject a new topic when one has run its course. Topics can be ones that were crowd sourced at the beginning of the unconference session.

In the open fishbowl format, any member of the audience at any time, can get up and sit in the empty chair, joining the discussion. One of the existing participants of the fishbowl leaves the fishbowl and frees up a chair. The conversation continues with participants entering and leaving the fishbowl. Depending on how large the audience is, many audience members spend some time in the fishbowl and take part in the discussion. When time runs out, the fishbowl is closed and the facilitator summarizes the discussion. Other observers could also interject their takeaways.

In the closed fishbowl format, the first participants speak for a predetermined time. At a specified time, they leave the fishbowl and a new group from the outer circle sits at the fishbowl chairs. The discussion continues. When the time is up, the facilitator closes the fishbowl and summarizes the discussion, inviting others to make any closing remarks and observations.

Watch this video on how a fishbowl discussion works.

Guidelines:

  • One chair should always remain empty (open fishbowl)
  • When in the inner circle
    - Actively listen and participate
    - No monopolizing conversation
  • Always be respectful
  • Support your opinion or argument with an example or data
  • Outer circle should remain quiet and listen
    - Enter inner circle when ready to contribute
  • Say something that moves the conversation along.
    - Reference what others say and use their names
    - “I agree with you, ____, and here’s why; I also think that…”
    - “I heard what you said___, but I disagree…”
  • The facilitator should keep the conversation on-topic
  • Redirect and bring focus to the topic

_________________________________________________________________________________

ROTATING TABLES
In this format, several small round tables that seat three to six people are placed in a room large enough so that the tables are not too close to one another.

Each table has a subtopic/category assigned to it. A stack of Post-its is laid at each table.

At predetermined times, the Facilitator announces that it is time to stand up and move to another table. It’s preferred that the tables seat a different group at each interval. In other words, the members of one table should not uniformly rotate to the same tables.

In another version, one volunteer remains at the table as a moderator and introduces the topic to start the conversation. He/she could also interject thoughts from the previous group to get things started.

Guidelines:

  • When participating at a table:
    - Actively listen and participate
    - No monopolizing conversation
  • Always be respectful
  • Support your opinion or argument with an example or data
  • There typically isn’t an audience as it would be difficult to follow the conversations.
  • Say something that moves the conversation along.
    - Reference what others say and use their names
    - “I agree with you, ____, and here’s why; I also think that…”
    - “I heard what you said___, but I disagree…”
  • The facilitator should keep the conversation on-topic. He/she should float from table to table and listen in briefly.
  • Redirect and bring focus to the topic if necessary


_________________________________________________________________________________

Conclusion
The important rule to realize is there are no rules, as you may have discerned from the “Four Easy Rules…” section above. Have fun with this and make your approach to your unconference session your own. The goal is to foster understanding between two attendees and the so called audience. These people may not have spoken or shared ideas otherwise.

 This article would not have been written without these valuable sources:

Four Unconference Rules : Diane GageLofgren, Public Relations Society of America

Fishbowl Description : Google Apps for Education Certified Trainer Summit

Helpful Hints: Brittany Marsala Olson, Control Systems Integrators Association, CSIA 2016 Executive Conference Program

How to run a great fishbowl discussion : Rachel Marrion

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Partner up! 5 tips for selecting third-party vendors for your next meeting

partner up

Nearly every event requires a partnership with a third party vendor: registration system, tradeshow management, show decorator – you name it! Finding a vendor that jives well with your team and views your success as their success is vital. They truly are an extension of your team. Here are a few tips to guide the selection process.

1. Ask local experts or colleagues within your own professional network for recommendations. For example, if you plan to partner with a destination management company (DMC) to coordinate local tours or offsite activities during your event, ask your convention services manager (CSM) at your contracted hotel for their preferred DMC partners. Convention and visitors bureaus are also a fantastic resource.

2. Develop a comprehensive RFP to share with multiple potential vendors. Include historical meeting information and clearly define your expectations for the upcoming event. A detailed RFP will translate to a thorough proposal response, saving you time and energy in the long run by eliminating the leg work of going back to ask for clarification or collect more information.

3. Ask for references and specifically request contacts that had needs similar to yours. We have found email to be the most efficient method for reference checks, although a phone conversation would work just as well. Develop a handful of standard questions to ask each reference. Asking the same questions to each reference will make it easy to compare apples to apples. Consider questions like: Were you satisfied overall? Did you experience any challenges? What would you have changed, if anything? Was the vendor’s staff friendly and professional? Would you work with the vendor again?

4. Interview the top candidates via conference call, Skype, GoToMeeting, etc. Take the time to get to know the people you could be working closely with. It’s important to understand their approach and communication style.

5. Consider the long term possibilities when making your selection. Is there potential for this partnership to continue year after year? Perhaps this is an opportunity to “test the waters” and, if all goes as planned, you may feel comfortable skipping the RFP process the next time around and going directly to the selected vendor – possibly even arranging a multi-year agreement. We are great advocates of developing strong professional relationships and have worked with the same vendors in multiple instances including abstract management providers, mobile app suppliers and AV contractors. As the saying goes, if ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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Client/vendor relationship excels with face-to-face meetings

Viles with Conference ExchangeGreetings from 38,000 feet! I am currently traveling home from Providence, Rhode Island where I attended a day-long educational conference hosted by Conference Exchange, the vendor some of our clients use for abstract, registration and speaker management. Annually, Conference Exchange holds a user’s group meeting with educational sessions on how to use the product, previews of features that are new or in development and scheduled one-on-one time with support staff.

As a new user of their product, I still have quite a bit to learn about its capabilities. Knowing more about what the product can and cannot do will help me better understand how to develop our client’s systems to suit their needs. In addition, learning more about what is coming down the pipeline was both exciting for what it holds for our clients and reassuring that the Conference exchange team is growing and expanding to meet the needs of their clients.

While the educational portion of the meeting was helpful, the most beneficial part was meeting with the support staff who work hard on our systems. When I arrived in Providence, the Conference Exchange team hosted attendees at a local restaurant and I was seated alongside my corresponding support staff. We talked a little about our projects and the company, and a lot about each other. This opening “getting-to-know you” event was great for both new and seasoned “users,” and gave me the opportunity to develop a rapport with my support staff that I believe will make my communication with them in the future more effective and meaningful.

Regardless of the vendors you choose for your clients or yourself, if you have an opportunity to meet your contacts in person, I highly recommend it.

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5 quick tips for healthy travel – recipe included!

peanut-butter-balls

Many of us have packing for business travel down to a science. We know how long it will take to organize our luggage with all of our essentials and never forget our must-have gadgets like phone chargers and the like. What about enhancing your packing strategy to include items that will keep you feeling in tip top shape while on the go?

I recently wrapped up an eleven day trip with two back-to-back client events on opposite coasts and, while both meetings were successful, I came home feeling a bit sluggish after eating out for every meal. Here are a few tricks that I will definitely be more conscientious of when preparing for my next trip!

Snack smart
Skip the muffin or donut at the airport bakery and pack snacks for your flights and layovers. Bring protein and nutrient-packed dry food that won't easily leak or get smooshed in your bag. Veggies, granola bars, trail mix, or my latest obsession – healthy peanut butter balls – packed in a small durable tupperware, of course, so as not to get smashed!

BYOB: bring your own bottle
Water bottle that is! Whether you pack a reusable water bottle or grab a water bottle during your travels, staying hydrated is key to looking and feeling healthy. Craving bubbles? Drink sparkling water during meetings instead of soda to save calories.

Order small plates
Avoid the temptation to overindulge and select simple appetizers and entrees that offer lean protein and fresh ingredients. Split larger portioned entrees with a colleague or request a half order.

See the sights while staying active
Often, we meeting planners are so focused on the coordination of the event that we don’t get to see the local sights for ourselves. Grab a co-worker and go for a morning walk before the festivities begin. Just be sure to pack your tennis shoes!

Celebrate in moderation
A toast is absolutely in order for a job well done. Watch out for alcoholic beverages with extra sugar such as margaritas and other fruity cocktails. Go for drinks with club soda or on the rocks, or opt for a glass of wine. Cheers!

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By example: A leadership philosophy

Marechiel quote

I was asked recently what my leadership philosophy was and how I exemplify these qualities in my work and community. I reflected on the various jobs I had the great privilege to work on and I summed it up in four basic beliefs.

I believe in leadership by example. When your staff see you converse with your members and lead in an engaging manner and when you keep your staff accountable by measuring progress against a goal – you set the bar.

In 2010, I was hired to be the executive director for a small town business association that had been wrecked by unprofessionalism and factionalism reaching even to the board of directors. To mitigate the issue and allow for the organization to move forward, I scheduled face-to-face meetings with each member and leader in an effort to get to know them, their business, their frustrations, their hopes for the association and services they needed. I took the time to listen and understand each perspective. I found out that most everyone had two things in common: love for their community and a desire to help each other. After two months of these visits, I reported to the board what I had learned, and how we might want to make changes to the programs we were offering.

Hearing about the common goals everyone shared, the board came to appreciate the value of reaching out to perceived critics. Soon, board meetings transformed from sessions of member complaints to issue-driven collaboration, then member meetings transformed into interactive and positive places to be. We designed programs that met the needs of the broad membership, including a business expo which allowed all local business owners of the town to promote themselves. It became a win-win-win situation.

I believe in leadership by positive reinforcement. Every successful parent knows how to get children to repeat good behavior: Praise! I believe we never out-grow the desire to feel recognized and valued. Do you see your staff producing an extremely well-written communication piece? Write a quick note to tell him or her what you thought was done well. Praise where everyone else can hear, and pretty soon everyone else will be encouraged to do better as well. In this digital age, the hand-written note is a dying art form. I have a stack of “Kudos” cards in my drawer ready to be shared every time a team member does something effective or exceptional. It never fails to motivate my staff and vendors to do more for and with me.

I believe that success is in the details of communicating vision. The secret to insanely awesome Apple products is in working-out all the details so that the product confronting the consumer provides a complete vision. If Apple glossed details, it could not convince us that a product we never even considered before is the one thing we need.

A few years ago, I volunteered to lead an event marking the culmination of a 50-year effort to restore Lake Belle View. Long-time residents and municipal leaders had great interest in recognizing those involved and announcing that it was safe to begin enjoying the lake once more. The organizing committee initially planned an afternoon of speeches. I had never organized a community event like that before, but was sure a program of mere speeches would not translate into community engagement and excitement. I researched lake events, and found several around the country — one 30 miles from our town. I personally visited the organizer, interviewed her, and requested a copy of the poster they distributed. It listed activities like canoe rides, water education talks, and a sunset activity. Showing these possibilities to the town’s leaders opened their eyes. Then I presented a list of similar activities paralleling the items in the Lake Belle View mission statement. Belleville Lakefest was born!

We held a photography contest, brought in naturalists to explain the ecosystem, worked with DNR folks to showcase local fishes and birds, held a pre-K lake-themed story time organized by the public library, and brought in a fitness instructor to teach Tai-Chi by the lake. There were canoe rides hosted by the Boys Scouts and a mini-triathlon. Add live musicians, local businesses showcasing themselves in 10 x 10 pop-up tents, and we had a community success! I planned the grand opening in minute detail, and the people in attendance witnessed a vision of how a lake can bring a diverse community together. What was supposed to be a one-time event has been repeated annually for the last three years by other organizers.

I believe in leadership by action. Analysis of data helps provide clarity for one’s decisions. Thoughtful pre-work, including research and due diligence, clears the path toward a desired end result. Discussion among stakeholders elicits support and endorsement, giving the go signal to pursue bold decisions. Only action is real. Only action can improve performance. Only action allows one to achieve. I believe that an effective leader is a leader who goes to work with a sense of urgency. With clear purpose in mind and a deep intention in the heart—a leader works the hardest and gives the most. She leads by example – through action.

I have been fortunate to serve various companies and organization in various capacities, roles, and cultures; I left each better than I found it. From my starting job in cable television, where the channel I created became the most watched channel, to spearheading a marketing department for a shopping center, where I was the youngest department manager ever promoted, to the USAID-funded program in the Philippines (even to this day, the credit co-ops band themselves based on the work we did), to the business association whose culture changed to professionalism, to a fundraising organization, where the previously untapped leadership giving donor segment I organized is now leading the charge, to a dozen international meetings I organized, each of which achieved new heights in attendance or attendee satisfaction ratings – I am a turn-around artist. If I am to be honest about my secret to blooming wherever I am planted, I must admit it is less in a leadership philosophy than in my drive to make things happen.

 

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All work, no play? No way!

CSIA staff group 2015

If you haven’t noticed, most of our AMPED blogs are posted in the form of some sort of “How To” or “Helpful Tips” guide. Can you blame us? While we may not be experts on every single topic, many of us do have a lot of experience and we want to share our knowledge with you! I have my own long list of helpful tips and lessons-learned that I’d like to share, but those lists can wait for now. I’d like to share a different aspect of our work with our clients.

It’s been two weeks since we wrapped up the CSIA Executive Conference in Washington, D.C., an annual event held each year at the end of April. It was a long week filled with early mornings and late nights, leaving us staff members in a bit of a blur. But now that things have settled down, I am able to look back and truly appreciate just how rewarding (and fun!) these events can be. So, instead of sharing thoughts on how to improve your mobile app, complete follow-up efficiently, etc., I’d like to share my favorite things about being onsite instead.

First, I love the face-to-face contact. It’s so fun to see old friends while also getting the chance to meet new people. We spend the majority of our time communicating with members via email or phone so it’s extra special to see them in-person. I’ve found that the members really enjoy this aspect of the meeting as well. We get a lot of “Oh! You’re the one I’ve been emailing all week – nice to meet you!”

Second, I find it exciting to learn more about the various topics that are of interest to our members. As staff, we aren’t necessarily experts on the industry side of things for our clients and so we appreciate the opportunity to be able to learn more through the educational programming. Sure, we are busy running the logistics of the meeting, but every once in a while we get the chance to pop into a session or two. When we have this opportunity, I think we’re able to better understand and appreciate the challenges our members are facing.

Lastly, it’s so fun to see all of our hard work come together. We spend almost a year preparing for these annual meetings and to be honest, it can get exhausting. The hard work really becomes worth it when we get to see it all come together and, more importantly, when we get to see the attendees enjoy the meeting.

We spend a lot of time figuring out how to improve ourselves and our meetings – what can we say, we’re perfectionists! But sometimes it’s important to just enjoy and reflect on all of the good things. Plus, we have to enjoy the results of our work while we can since there is only a small window to do so. It’s only a few days after the meeting before we’re on to planning the next!

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Want to attract Millennials to your events? Here’s what you need to know.

millennials

Google “Millennials” and you’ll find more than 11,000,000 results. A lot of them will claim to tell you what this group of young people is interested in, what motivates them and their attitude toward everything under the sun. Why should we care? Well, they’re the largest generation in the U.S., the first one to have had access to the Internet during their formative years, and their impact on the economy continues to grow. All of those things will also impact our associations and how we attract and engage them.

I’m definitely not a Millennial (I won’t reveal my generation here), but I work with them, live with one, and, in the role I play with our clients, I need to know what attracts them to associations and events. I want to hear directly from them and I had the opportunity to do just that when I attended a recent panel discussion.

The entire panel consisted of Millennials and they shared it all: how to get them to join an association, what they need from you in order to get engaged, how their career and workplace should make them feel and what motivates them to attend an event. I’ll focus on meeting attendance here because that’s where I found the most food-for-thought when planning for the future.

When it comes to meeting attendance, all panelists agreed that it wasn’t the price, location or keynote presenter that drew them. Here’s what does:

  • A majority of the education at an event should be relevant to their current position. Although they are willing to spend time on something out of the scope of their responsibilities, if it’s new to them – perhaps something they can see themselves doing in the future.
  • Networking with colleagues using the same tools, sporting the same titles and dealing with similar issues is important to them. And, if you also provide access to senior executives, they’ll be there.
  • Marketing collateral should be exciting and contain “like faces.” They want to know that they’ll identify with other attendees and have fun.
  • If they can get the information online or from another association, you’d better try harder with your overall program. They want a unique experience.
  • If your event ends with a final “thank you” from the moderator, then try adding opportunities to keep the discussion going after the program closes. They know they can easily stay connected and keep the learning going.
  • Considering a presenter that gives a three-hour presentation? Think again. These professionals grew up with the Internet. They like to learn in short snippets with pictures and 140 characters or less.
  • Once you get them there, you’ll need to make an effort to make them feel connected and valued. Do this and they’ll be back. Skip it and don’t count on a return appearance.

Millenials – is what I’ve shared true of you? Other generations – chime in and let me know what you’ve found when trying to engage them.

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7 questions to ask when selecting a meeting venue

Hotel sign

I just came back from Tampa and New Orleans where I did site inspections for our association’s inaugural 2016 annual meeting.

I saw two very different properties in Tampa: one was a magnificent 300-acre resort hotel away from the city; the other was five-minutes from the airport and sitting on 35+ acres overlooking the Old Tampa Bay. In New Orleans, I visited three properties: a historic hotel located right in the French Quarter; a 2,000+ guestroom hotel with views of the riverfront, connected to a convention center and an outlet mall and across from a casino; and a new 1,600-guestroom property located in the Central Business District. As expected, the properties who hosted me had sales team members who were generous, welcoming and enthusiastic.

Just like many of the site inspections I have done in the past, the visit was quick and a whirlwind. You have three-to-four hours to spend in a property, perhaps two-to-three hours more if you’re sharing a meal with their sales managers. If you’re lucky to stay overnight in the hotel you’re considering, you have overnight through the morning-after to get an actual feel for service, the check-in/check-out experience and the state of the upkeep of the hotel and its amenities.

Successful site inspections start with a thoughtful pre-work. In our case, we had our executive committee share with staff their desired cities to host the meeting. The committee first identified over a dozen possibilities. To narrow down the list, I went back to the committee to provide general city information such as a sampling of flight arrival times from major nearby airports (access), weather probabilities on the chosen month (comfort), and the number of association meetings held in the city (experience and attractiveness). From there, the list was narrowed down to eight. Then, I sent out an RFP to all the cities’ convention and visitors bureaus and a few of our chain hotels’ national sales office contacts asking them to forward the RFP to properties they thought had the capability to host a meeting of our size and budget.

The RFP was written with background information of the association, the goals of the meeting, the expected number of attendees, the projected F&B expenses, the detailed program, sleeping room requirements, square footage of and when each meeting room was needed, the concessions requested and the decision factors. I also added custom questions that determine ancillary costs of AV, Wi-Fi and transportation, including questions asking for marketing and sponsorship sales ideas should their hotel be chosen.

I received over 80 responses. Two thirds were declines. To me, this was a good sign. It meant the RFP was thorough enough to weed out properties that didn’t meet the criteria and our budget. In the end, 11 hotels from five cities submitted a bid. After a comparative analysis of the hotels that proposed in each city, I recommended three cities for consideration to the committee. Two of the three bubbled up as choice cities. This led me to pursue hotels in Tampa and New Orleans, the top two cities voted on by the committee.

After four days traversing two major cities, walking through five properties with a combined meeting space of over 600,000 sq. ft., I returned to the home office in Madison with an informed recommendation. The recommendation will be presented during our upcoming program committee and executive committee calls in a couple of weeks.

How did I arrive at my conclusion? What are the factors that a planner might want to consider to suggest a future meeting venue for an association meeting?

Does the venue meet the program goal and match the attendee type?
Yes, the chef’s food sampling could be the tastiest, the property is magnificent and a meeting planner might have been given the chance to sleep in one the hotel’s grandest suites. But does the hotel offer an atmosphere that meets the program goal of the meeting? In our case, the goal was to provide networking, mentorship and collaboration to young, up and coming specialists and researchers. It’s an inaugural meeting for attendees who have a formal work nature. Is the venue conducive to continuing education or would it be distracting? The choice of venue dictates the tone of the future meetings. There are two sayings: Do it right the first time. And, first impressions last. I believe these two apply.

Does the property offer a meeting space that is fluid?
On paper, a property might say they have all 30,000 sq. feet of space you need. But onsite, you discover the meeting rooms suggested require close to 400 steps to navigate between them. If you only have a 20-minute coffee break, the time spent going from and to distant rooms is a time-waster and the opportunity to network is lost.

Is the property accessible?
Access here includes having a good number of fly-in options from various airports, the affordability of the flights and the amount of time it takes to get from the airport to the conference hotel. If the flights your attendees will likely take don’t arrive in the city until noon and your conference opening session is at 1 p.m., going to a property that is 30 miles away and needs to beat noon-hour traffic might not be a good meeting venue choice.

Are the costs within the budget and what’s the value for the money?
Unlike incentive travel or private corporations, an associations’ budget is not unlimited. The hotel must be able to offer costs that meet the budget. A planner should consider not only the big bucket costs, like sleeping rooms, meeting room hire and F&B, but also ancillary costs, like transportation, Wi-Fi and room amenities. It’s possible that a hotel might quote a slightly higher sleeping room rate. But if the hotel offers an all-inclusive rate that covers the guests’ Wi-Fi, access to the fitness center and airport shuttle services, or gives you a complimentary room of 1 to 40 instead of 1 to 50, the extra $10-$15 might be better for the over-all bottom line.

Are there other meetings taking place while your meeting is ongoing?
While it is not reasonable to expect yours would be the only group at a large-sized property, it’s good to know how busy the hotel is going to be while you are holding your meeting. Onsite, you can casually probe hotel staffing levels and preparedness. Their answer will give you a glimpse of their capabilities to handle multiple meetings with the level of service you hope to receive.

Are there renovation plans on the dates you plan to hold the meeting?
While renovation plans aim to please hotel guests in the end, holding a meeting in a property while it is undergoing renovation is not ideal. Find out the gravity of the renovation and how it might affect the meeting and sleeping rooms. As a general rule, I don’t recommend choosing a hotel that has planned renovations, regardless of their extent.

What is the state of the upkeep and maintenance?
The website pictures are breathtaking. The descriptions are superbly written. But is the actual state of the infrastructure and maintenance up to par? Nothing replaces a personal site visit to see and imagine for yourself. In one to two years, will this hotel stay the way you’ve seen it, be better or worse?

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Top 4 reasons to attend your professional association’s annual meeting

PCMA

Are you debating whether or not to attend your professional association’s upcoming meeting? Perhaps a long to-do list at the office or a tight budget is making you question your participation? Don’t make excuses. Go. You won’t regret it.

I recently joined the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) and attended their Convening Leaders meeting in Chicago earlier this month. I found this to be an incredible experience on so many levels and here’s why.

Education
It was top notch. In fact, there were so many great sessions to choose from that it was hard to pick! The opportunity to learn from my peers was priceless. I walked away with countless key takeaways and simply felt inspired overall. What a great feeling!

Networking
There was a perfect mix of both educational and networking opportunities. Becoming aware of the importance of building a professional network of fellow meeting industry gurus was quite possibly my most valuable takeaway. The educational sessions themselves are crucial, but developing relationships to eventually have a “go to” group of peers to bounce ideas off of and learn from on a day-to-day basis is just as vital as attending the educational sessions.

Professional Development
It was very interesting to experience an event from the attendee perspective rather the planner side. For example, seeing how other groups utilize the latest technology or manage the overall logistics increased my motivation to positively impact attendees in the meetings I organize. Obtaining CEUs that will count toward my aspirations of earning the CMP designation was an extra bonus, too!

Personal Growth
It goes without saying that attending a 4,000+ person meeting can be intimidating, but as you can see it was a very worthwhile “push” out of my comfort zone.

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The end is the beginning: Next steps when a meeting is over

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You thought you were finished, but the work has just begun . . . for the next one.

The quintessential mark of professional meeting planning is the ability to facilitate continuous improvement. If you don’t think of the next one NOW, it will be too late. The longer you wait to start planning the next event or conference, the less opportunity you have to improve it.

We just concluded organizing the largest MS meeting in the world. Close to 9,000 MS specialists, researchers, clinicians, advocates and allied health professionals from 92 countries convened in Boston in mid-September.

The wrap up involves not only making sure we pay all the bills and collect all outstanding receivables, but also making time to reflect on and document the success and lessons learned from the meeting to position the organization for greater success in its future meetings.

Here are five things to keep in mind as you conclude your meeting.

Hold a debrief. Find out how each member of your core team felt about what just transpired. Review stats of demographics and responses in attendee surveys. Meet with your vendors and reflect on each aspect of the meeting planning. Share the results with the leadership. Ask your committee members what they say were valuable lessons learned and what were worth repeating. Between the various stakeholders’ comments, you’ll see a pattern of laudable aspects and not-so-ideal scenarios that may have taken place on the show floor. Plan to repeat aspects of the meeting planning that worked, re-strategize and re-think clunky processes or services.

Document. Once you know what’s replicable and what needs to be changed, write a memo outlining the recommended changes. Keep photos of the rooms to help you remember set-ups. Record data of usage of services (Wi-Fi, web clicks, access views) and specs of technical requirements. Consider writing three report levels: one for sharing to anyone who asks; one for the board of directors with outlined suggestions; and another for the staff with the nitty gritty details to help in future planning, vendor hire, contracting and negotiations.

Celebrate. Have you written personal thank you notes to key team members and vendors? Leave voice mails of thanks for that special touch. Throw a get-together with staff and vendors, if they’re local, to tell them how much they were appreciated. Share photos of the events among staff to reminisce the outstanding work that everyone just did. Write letters of recommendation to vendors’ staff who did an outstanding job.

Purge. Go through your network and paper files and remove doubles of draft copies. Save the final version of any print material. Delete unnecessary emails. Sort emails and save only problem-solving or communication threads where decisions were made. Label the inboxes and file away.

Rest. When everything is finished, take time off to recharge. Shut down your phone and don’t check emails. When you come back to the office — your energies will be renewed. You will feel more confident. When you have everything recorded, you won’t need to remember how you want to execute the meeting next time because you’ve already thought about it. You will have more excitement for the next one and the cycle of excellence continues.

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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!

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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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What’s in your closet? How to launch a successful online clothing store for your next event

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I recently cleaned out my closet and finally rid myself of all the branded shirts I had stashed away from conferences past. I was saving them, I guess, for an inevitable painting party or garden overhaul. I didn't plan to wear them again in public.

I’m sure I’m not the only one with mixed feelings on the subject. Receiving one of these goodies at conference registration is a nice gesture, but one I could just as well do without.

Some associations have a tradition of handing out shirts to all their conference attendees as a benefit of registration. Some love it; they collect them even! Others couldn’t care less.

From the view of the planner, a clothing give-away is a great way to grow excitement and brand the event beyond the conference. But, it’s a logistical challenge to select styles, collect sizes, and take a wild guess at quantities when placing the final order several weeks before registration closes.

Send your registrants on a shopping spree
For a recent global conference, here’s how AMPED found a way to make both registrants and our planners happy AND save our association partner loads of money in the process.

AMPED partnered with Lands’ End, a national clothing retailer to build an online store specifically for its association partner, the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). In reality, it was the full Lands’ End catalog with a home page and URL branded for CSIA. Both the association and conference logos were preloaded on the site and ready for personalization.

Conference registrants were emailed individual Lands’ End voucher numbers several weeks before the conference and directed to the site. Here they could apply their voucher toward the “official” pre-selected conference shirt (the value of the voucher covered this and shipping) or toward hundreds of other items, paying the difference above the value of the voucher. Registrants could purchase any item they liked as long as it was branded with the association or conference logo. Their purchases were processed by Lands’ End and delivered directly to them before the conference.

Response to this new offering was overwhelmingly positive. Registrants enjoyed the option to personally select a shirt style (no more debates over long-sleeve, short-sleeve, golf, button-down, etc.), and planners could breathe easy knowing that everyone was happy with their styles and sizes.

Unexpectedly, the majority of vouchers were never cashed in. Only 40% of the registrants purchased clothing from the site, saving CSIA thousands of dollars that would have otherwise been spent on unwanted give-a-ways.

AMPED and the CSIA Board considered the initiative a huge success and look forward to doing it again in 2015.

Crowd fund your event attire
Maybe you’re a smaller nonprofit organization that wants to offer shirts for an upcoming event, but at no cost or risk to you. Enter the world of crowd funding. Sites such as teespring.com help you leverage crowd funding and social media to sell your uniquely designed tees. Just design your shirt, name your price, and set a quantity goal and timeline. Then broadcast it via social media. If enough orders come in to reach your goal within the timeframe specified, the shirts get printed and shipped to the buyers. If not, all payments are canceled.

There’s a fund raising opportunity here, too. Price the shirts so that you make a profit above and beyond the base cost. The more you sell, the more you rake in – a great tool for churches and school groups.

 

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The importance of understanding client needs and planning ahead

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It was another record-setting year for the Control System Integrators Association's 2014 Executive Conference,
in terms of attendance, sponsorship dollars and registrant satisfaction.


Summer at AMPED is an important time for building a strong foundation for our clients’ upcoming spring annual meetings. Although venue contracts are typically signed several years in advance, the meeting framework including detailed logistics and content is often identified a year before the event kicks off. While the big picture work of successfully planning a meeting is similar from client to client (preparing budgets, identifying speakers, securing AV, etc.), it is key to understand that each client is different and therefore every meeting is unique. Some groups are more adventurous and desire designated times for field trips and workshops. Others are family-oriented events, at which entertainment for spouses and guests must be arranged.

No matter the client's needs, AMPED has proven success in raising the bar in regard to increased registration numbers, sponsorship growth and positive attendee feedback, year after year. This starts with preparing the venue RFP and negotiating the contract and continues all the way through the execution of the live event.

Taking the time to get to know each client and understanding their current and future needs immensely improves the quality of the program. Spring of 2015 may seem like a long ways off, but any meeting expert knows is it right around the corner. Let the planning begin!

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Putting on a show: Pet peeves and expectations

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For every one of our client meetings, staff pre-plan, re-plan, adjust, pack, ship and prepare for the unexpected —and the expected.

In preparing for the “big show,” however large or small, I reiterate to both our client and property staff the important aspects of the meeting, my expectations — and some of my pet peeves.

  • Remember why we’re here. It is a privilege to be working with our members. Treat them like royalty.
  • Best foot forward. For sure!
  • First impressions count. Hotel, meeting space room sets should be in tip-top shape. The meeting room is the living room for your attendees. Are you proud to have them over?
  • No garbage. No boxes, scraps of paper, used coffee cups or plates anywhere that attendees can see them.
  • No eating at registration. It’s important for staff to keep up their energy in order to be on the top of their game, but eating should be done in the staff office or with attendees. One of my pet peeves when attending meetings as a registrant is “interrupting” staff from their breakfasts at the registration counter. Drinks are OK.
  • Communication is essential. I schedule daily, or twice daily debriefs with client and venue staff. It’s just a few minutes to plan for the day’s events, make adjustments, set expectations, etc.

Case in point

We just finished another record-breaker, world-class event for AMPED client, www.controlsys.org. Upon arrival at the CSIA conference and following the pre-con, my meeting planner and I were not pleased with the physical condition of the property and expected the hotel to be more proactive with us in communicating some deficiencies we discovered on our own. This is where communication comes in. We swiftly requested a meeting with the general manager and heads of key departments to express our concerns and expectations. I was extremely impressed with their ability to respond, make changes and quickly adjust – a true sign of professionalism and value.

The real-time, back-stage adjustments that take place at an annual meeting are a very tangible example of those that association managers make each day as we respond to members’ needs, requests from leaders and new opportunities – all while focusing on the proactive work of retaining members, growing the associations, advancing the strategic plan and improving governance. It is a pleasure to have industry partners who share the same values and can turn things around quickly!

Communication is typically the key. And starts at the top!

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Tips and tricks for attending your first conference

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When I was brought onto the AMPED team in January, one of the first things we did was book my flight for the annual conference of one of our clients. It was several months away, and I didn’t think much of it, as I was trying to learn and retain everything about my new position as quickly as possible. It really wasn’t until the week before that it occurred to me that I had never been to a conference of any kind, and I had no idea what to anticipate. So if you plan on attending a conference for the first time, here are some tips on how to prepare, what to pack, and what to expect.

How to prepare:
Determine what you hope to accomplish there. Making a small itinerary or schedule gives you an idea of just how much time you have available. Plan to meet with colleagues whom you’ve only ever talked with over the phone, as it will put a face to the voice and help you connect better. Put aside time for programs and presentations that you would not normally have access to outside of a conference venue. And if you are giving a presentation yourself, have duplicates of your visuals handy, whether it be on a thumb drive or in the cloud.

What to pack:
It’s hard to anticipate everything you will need once you’re there. Pack your essentials, of course. Plus, I suggest packing an extra day’s worth of clothing. It’s always good to remember that with your clients, it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed, so having several nicer outfits is important. Also make sure that you have everything that you will need to accomplish your goals at the conference: business cards, notepads, phone charger, etc. And comfortable shoes. I don’t think I can stress that enough.

What to expect:
There will be a copious number of people to meet and names to remember. Business cards will help, but following up with connections afterwards, and sometimes writing notes on the card itself will help you remember who they were. The days will be early and long, but fun and informative. Make sure you meet new people, as everyone will be a part of the conference and will have several things in common with you right off the bat. Who knows – the person you sit next to at lunch could be a potential business partner down the road.

The most important thing to remember is to enjoy yourself. Though it’s a whirlwind of activity, the days are long and the work is hard, remember to step back and appreciate the experience. People are there to enjoy themselves and to connect, so you should do the same. I thoroughly enjoyed my first conference and look forward to more down the road!

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When it comes to awards, it’s always Green Acres

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Hardly a week goes by, it seems, without an awards show. The Oscars, Emmys, Screen Actors Guild, All Star, Top 10, Hall of Fame, Best of Everything, People’s Choice, Reader’s Choice, Taster’s Choice. Come to think of it, when isn’t it awards season?

I love to celebrate success, but even I am growing weary of what seems to be an increasing number of invented awards. By that I mean awards programs conceived by enterprise to recognize deserving people, products and ideas, but also to create “news” that fills magazine editorial pages, sells advertising space, and fills seats at conferences and dinner tables. Look past the acrylic and veneer, and you will see that not only are awards good publicity for the recipients, they are good for the businesses that sponsor them.

Not all awards are invented. However, if the entry fees are steep, if the “judges” stand to benefit financially from your participation, or if there is an evident quid pro quo, e.g., your mailing list so they can invite 200 of your closest colleagues to celebrate with you, then you might want to take a moment to ask yourself if your prize is someone else’s profit center.

Associations also bestow awards. The difference is that these awards traditionally are a means for members to recognize and celebrate their peers. The awards serve as a reminder of why the association exists, to recognize service and dedication to the organization, or to raise the bar for professional achievement. In short, these awards are earned.

Association awards rarely make the covers of glossy magazines and often get lost in the competition for eyeballs that all organizations now find themselves in. The never-ending awards season diminishes the value of all awards, both invented and earned.

Wondering why Green Acres was capitalized in the title of this blog? I will own up that, in 1980, I received a National Arbor Day Foundation Award on behalf of the University of Wisconsin. To this day, I don’t know who nominated the campaign I helped create or why I was chosen to represent the UW. I can say I was hugely honored and literally shaking in my high heels when I accepted the award. Regrettably, the foundation’s spokesperson, Green Acres star Eddie Albert, was detained in Hollywood. I have photos.

But, that’ll cost you.

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Six tips for stretching your F&B dollar

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Looking for ways to stretch your meeting food and beverage budget while exceeding your attendee expectations? Give these ideas a try!

The simpler, the better.
Often, hotel and convention center break packages are very “heavy,” not to mention pricey. Consider lighter options from the a la carte menu. For example, we’ve had great success with offering a variety of protein bars and fresh fruit for morning breaks. Simple, yet filling, and it won’t put your attendees to sleep!

Less is more.
If fancy break packages are your thing, consider guaranteeing less than your actual headcount. Often, extravagant breaks have a variety of options with large servings and attendees rarely sample everything. Don’t waste the food or your money.

Hold the dessert.
For smaller gatherings, request the dessert included in your lunch menu be brought out during your traditional afternoon break time.

All-day packages equal big savings.
A number of venues offer half or all day break packages, meaning one flat fee per person for all meal and break function(s). Meeting planners know how quickly the cost of bottled soda or water adds up, so if the package includes beverages for your program you’ll really save the green!

Schedule extended lunch hours.
This allows time for attendees to explore the host city and try the native cuisine while buying their own meal at a local restaurant. Or work with your destination’s CVB to arrange meal vouchers at area eateries. Say your budget allows you to spend $10 per person. You’d be hard pressed to find a venue that can accommodate such a budget, especially after taxes and service charges. However, a $10 coupon for guests to use at the restaurant of their choice means you stay within your budget your guests save money.

Drink responsibly.
Offering a cash bar rather than hosted bar is an easy way to save your dollars. If that doesn’t work for your event or client, consider drink tickets. Give each attendee a limited number of drink tickets and switch to a cash bar once the tickets are gone. Of course, give your VIPs a few extra tickets!

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