To Increase Attendance, Start with the Basics

Images Attendance is falling, board members are screaming, word on the street is that the annual conference has had it, you are in a panic, the executive director wants a head on a pike and you can hear her footsteps in the hall and your body trembles like Los Angeles during the big one.

Everyone wants changes and they want it now because the show used to be the best and it used to be packed and it used to be this and it used to be that and now it is nothing more than a giant suckhole taking up space in a major exhibit hall with no attendees.

You, in your desperation, head to the web to find what is new and what is hot, maybe you are reading it here or maybe over at Conferences that Work or Midcourse Corrections or Sound n’ Sight or McCurrys Corner or here or there or everywhere. You are looking at new ways to deliver content, some gimmick that will put butts in the seats.

What are you going to do? Pecha Kucha? A Green Meeting? Maybe you will turn the whole thing into a giant TEDFest and spend thousands of dollars on live webcasting the event??? Maybe we change the venue or the city or the…………

Slow down Sparky, maybe you should calm down and go have a beer and think about a few things first before you overreact and drive a stake through the heart of the event by spending your last few resources on shit you don’t need. .. Maybe, the problem is in the message, not the program.

The problem may simply be that no one is listening any more because the message is falling on deaf ears or worse, is not being heard at all.

If your association, organization or conference committee is like hundreds of others around the globe that is still relying on your 10 year old email database and a printed, mailed out newsletter or brochure to project your message, you have probably lost about 75-80% of your audience and that could be one of the major factors in the 50% decline in attendance.

Communication has changed and the ol email crapfest and the printed brochure is no longer a staple, they are no longer the basics and in fact, you can probably stop printing the brochure and put that money to use somewhere else, nobody wants it anymore.

Let’s take a breath and have a look at the basics and these are the new basics now, this is not some newfangled thingy that people are experimenting with, this is the minimum that you need to be doing or you might as well hang up your spurs because this horse has left the barn and is galloping across the field… just because you are unwilling to saddle up does not mean the horse is going to wait for you.

Confusedtwitter At a minimum you need to be speaking to your attendees and potential attendees on these platforms:

  • Twitter
  • FaceBook
  • LinkedIn
  • Email

Think about this wonderboy, the numbers are actually greater, but if 14% of your audience is using twitter, you are missing 14% of your audience if you do not speak to them on this platform.

If 25% of your audience are active on FaceBook (and that number is REALLY low) and you still think FaceBook is a passing fad, you should probably pack up your desk because someone else should be sitting there.

Social Media and the event planner are now merged, you can no longer escape it, you can no longer hide in a corner and hope that it goes away. I am sorry if you “don’t get” FaceBook or that you think “Twitter is stupid”, that is not your attendees problem and you had better learn to like it or at least learn to fake it. You fake being nice to your jerk neighbor every year at the block party, you can fake liking twitter too.

Engaging, learning and being successful at Social Media is not hard, especially when you have an audience that WANTS to engage with you. You are not some hot new pair of jeans that needs to work and scrape to get their Social Media campaign off the ground because Levis is beating the crap out them every day. You have a built in audience that is ready to rock, they are just waiting for you to pick up the guitar.

Because you have a built in audience that wants to engage, you have it easy. You can, and probably should, start today. Go down to Barnes and Nobel and get a copy of Facebook for Dummies and Twitter for Dummies. This should be more than enough to get started and get the technical stuff out of the way, the message part is up to you.

There are no tricks to social media, there is no “get rich” quick scheme. You must learn these platforms and engage with your audience in an honest and open way, I would even go so far as to tell you to throw the sales and marketing handbook out the window and stop putting window dressing on your declining attendance numbers. This was actually the topic of conversation a few days ago with a large group I was speaking too. One of our industry events is candy coating their attendance figures and telling their audience how freaking rosy everything is and how wonderful they are. We get it, we know the truth and we are talking… it is making them a joke and it is hurting them even more. They are dying on the battlefield because they keep telling the medic they are fine.

Talk to your audience and let them know you know and that you still have the passion and the spark. Ask them for their thoughts, appoint an attendee committee that will help you uncover why attendance is dropping — Make this committee a virtual group through FaceBook perhaps.. see, it can be easy if you don’t panic.

Most importantly, although you can talk about attendance issues, DO NOT DWELL on attendance issues. Continue to be the expert in your field. 89.9% of your message should still back up the fact that you are the bomb when it comes to your industry. You should be informed, you should have the knowledge and you should have the authority to speak with authority.

Oh and by the way, when I say talk about the attendance issue, it does not have to be all doom and gloom. You can, and should talk about the positives. If your industries largest company just signed on again as a major sponsor, tell the world… if the coolest kids on the block are still coming over to your house to play ball, it is still game on, you are simply playing 3 on 3 rather than 9 on 9.

Some people may take issue with the fact that I say that you can “fake” it and to that I say “hooey”, grow up, this is the real world… You can fake it at first, there is nothing wrong with that. Familiarity and understanding will make you like it or at least get good enough to tolerate it. You don’t like it now because you don’t understand it. When I first joined and became a member of the Twitterverse I was much like you, over time however it has become an indespensible part of my life. I will cry if it ever goes away (not really, but I would be bummed).

A word of caution, if your event, conference or association is new to the Social Media game, go slow and start with the basics, do not run out and start a YouTube Channel, a Vimeo account, jump on FourSquare and have 800 icons on your homepage. You will end up failing if you do this and these may not even be what you need. Start with the basics, learn and understand them and then you can make choices that will benefit you in the long run because this is a marathon, not a sprint. Social Media is here to stay so you might as well start to act like it.

Go out there and talk to your people, ask them what they want, ask them why they come, ask them why they don’t, ask them what they need…. yes, what they need.

If you stop the panic, sit down, think and start to engage, you can right the ship, you can stop the purge and create an event that everyone wants to attend. The choice is up to you, either you do it or someone else will.

How Hotel Marketers Ruin Meeting Planner Love

HateEmail Hotel marketers, for all of their saavy can sometimes be clueless morons that can screw up a wet dream.

I am not sure what motivates them to ruin a perfectly good relationship, it could be the bosses demanding numbers, sheer hope or simply being stupid.

How do they do this you ask? The answer is simple, they treat me like a dumping ground.

Here is the scenario.. I attend a tradeshow or industry event and then, rather than sending me targeted information and marketing emails about their property that I can use for my clients and their meetings, they start dumping every email campaign they have on me in hopes that something will stick.

They treat my inbox like their own personal marketing dump with their endless supply of vacation, wedding and get-away for the weekend emails for which I have absolutely 100% no need for.

I am in the meeting and event planning business, I plan meetings and events and when I am not doing that, I speak or write about things that effect the meetings and events industry…. Guess what, I am now writing about something that effects the meetings and events industry and it is you dip wad.

I do not care if you are having a "Mom's Day Special" or a "Bring the Kids to Sheboygan Weekend". I really don't.

This is 2010, there are tools out there to segment your audience. Put me in the Corporate Business or Meetings business folder and keep me there. I don't want anything else, I did not ask for anything else. 

This tirade is not unmotivated. Today, the line was crossed by a property. I attended an industry event last week and even before my car hood cooled off  I had gotten the "thanks for attending email" from the sales person I met. So far, so good.The next day, the sales person sent me the specs that I had asked for, again, we were on the right track, we were cooking with gas.

The next day, I forwarded the specs to my client and said "have a look" this property might fit.

Then, the train hit a rock, it started to sway and we started to derail. That was about 4 days later, I am guessing that is about the time it took for my email to go from the CRM software to the marketing department and then be acted upon by someone adding me to their list(s). The emails started telling me about all of their specials, all of their offers to have a vacation, have a weekend. They were not stopping.. everyday, without fail, adding to my email inbox nightmare.

All marketers want you to take action from their messages and I took action! Yes Mr Marketer, I took action! I unsubscribed.

I have taken myself off of your list forever and you cannot have me back. You wrecked the relationship and really, I am better for ditching you….

The sad part of the story is the poor sales person, they did their part by the book and I liked her, she was pretty good at what she did but she lost any potential business because everytime I think of their property, I am going to think about all of the stupid marketing that they did.

What is even worse, the next time someone says "What do you think about that hotel", I am not going to talk about the awesome benefits of having a meeting at the property, I am going to go straight into my email story……

That is the vision you have left me with….

Meeting Tech – The Little App that Keeps a Computer Awake

  Mouse

Most seasoned event pros know to set computers to not fall asleep, lock or hibernate during a presentation… this would seem self evident. The last thing that you want is for a speaker to be yammering on and all of a suddent the screen goes from his spiffy PowerPoint Slide to your screen saver which is a picture of a little kitten or even worse, those floating bubbles that bounce around the screen and make me freaking crazy.

Having your laptop go to sleep can be an unnerving experience.

Sometimes it is not possible to prevent, there is no way to change the settings, case in point is a program we just produced for an association. To save costs, a number of municipalities donated the use of their laptops to the program and the one thing that was not possible was changing the settings for sleep or power, it was part of their security protocols and they get audited so they said no way, no can do, the speakers are just going to have to hit the mouse every once in awhile.

Now, for most speakers, this is not an issue, they change slides frequently and are always hitting the clicker to go forward or back, but many either prattled on for 20 minutes or had extensive question and answer segments where the screen sat idle for long periods of time……..BAM, the computers would lock up and it was required that someone enter a password to wake them back up. Not good for the attendee experience….

There are also those times when the screen is idle on purpose. Mornings for example… you have that nifty conference logo on the screen for long periods of time while people are sipping their coffees or noshing on a bagel…………..BAM, there goes the screen…

There is a nifty little app that can fix this, called, appropriately, Mouse Jiggler.. this little app simulates a mouse jiggle every so often so that the computer does not pull its narcoleptic fit.

Zenjiggle Now, we all know that having the mouse move can be annoying. For example, if you are on a plane or at the hotel watching a movie and jiggle the mouse, the movie controls pop up…. Ugg, but this little app has something called ZenJiggle which tricks the computer into thinking the mouse has moved without actually moving it. Pretty clever if you ask me…

Here is the link to go get it.

Why I Follow @michaelmccurry and @joaneisenstodt

Folllow
Continuing down the path of people that I follow leads me to a couple of industry experts. These are people that know their stuff and are not afraid to tell you about it, this could also be called the passion edition because both of these people have plenty of it….more than others.

@michaelmccurry

Michael is first on the block today and although there are a few reasons I follow him, the main reason is passion, a passion for our industry, associations and his clients that is rarely seen nowadays. I defy you to find anyone who loves our industry as much as Michael, the chances are, you probably cannot find them.

I spent an hour on the phone with him a few months back, just shooting the shit and it is amazing how much this man loves what he does, loves the associations he belongs too and loves hearing why you love it (he does not just talk, he listens which is an art that is on its last legs). Just talking to him got my blood all fired up to go out and make a difference in what I do.

Michael is one of those people that is contageous and when he does a virtual sneeze, his enthusiasm for the industry spreads and makes you remember why you got here in the first place. People like this are good to have around, they make us reconnect with our own love of the industry and why I follow him.

It is amazing how much you can see in a few virtual sneezes:

4 ways to move ppl from attention to engagement by @OliviaMitchell helpful article #eventprofs #pcma #mpi http://bit.ly/awBdWj

#eventprofs Which serves #education better .. Lectures or Interactive learning formats? Read here http://bit.ly/dhxSj1 #pcma #mpi

Lecture-Based VS. Interactive Learning: Which is Future of Education? http://bit.ly/dhxSj1 #eventprofs #education #pcma #sobcon

@trainingoasis @michellebruno @EventsJoe thanks all for the RT's of my Education article! http://bit.ly/dhxSj1

Moving On…..

@joaneisenstodt

The reason I follow Joan is two-fold. One, she is one of the most respected and knowledgable people in the industry hands down, period, amen. For years she was the moderator of the MiForum (mimlist) and I believe that she took the time to moderate because she knows that bringing people together online makes us all a little better informed and moves us forward as an industry and as a people.

She encourages us to be an active participant in our own lives as meeting and event professionals and to look deeper at what we do and see it in a larger context. She knows that meeting and event people are more than just planners, we are the people that make it possible for others to sit in a room together and in doing so, make that unsung difference.

Joan took a sip of the meetings and events industry kool-aid and it was good so she went back and got a full glass and is now walking around with a ladle encouraging others to just "try it"… again, just like Michael, this is passion.

The second reason that I follow Joan is that she she has taken a stand for all things that are right and good and does not waiver from that conviction. She calls it as she sees it and lets the world know when a politician, political party or anyone for that matter does something that is unfair, unjust and uncool; That is what I love about her. She may have fear but she certainly does not show it.

Although we converse quite frequently online, we have only met once or twice offline, even so, just knowing her in this limited context, she is one of the few people that could call me (or send me a DM) at 2 o'clock in the morning and I would bail her out of jail….I do not say that lightly, I have close friends that would go to voicemail at 2 am….

Here is a look at what she tweets -

Alaska Senate cand Miller thinks one chooses to be #LGBT & the state helps you choose. What??? #p2 #Maddow

New #hotel – staffed by students – is first of its kind in the UK. http://bit.ly/aKW9Et #hospitality #hotels

Finally! #DC #Convention Center hotel to finally to break ground. http://bit.ly/d8Fnwp #eventprofs #hotels #meetings

@NinaKtweets Yes re @jcufaude and value – NOW how do we get orgs., incl. industry assns., to have NO MORE PANELS? #eventprofs

There you have it, a couple of more people that I follow and why!

 

Belly Up to the Bar to Increase Social Media Interaction

Belly Up To The Bar The Bar is good for a lot of things, we go there to meet our friends, have a beer and relax but did you know that the bar can also help increase the social media interaction between your website or blog and your target audience…….Really, the bar…

But, I didn't mean the bar like the one on the corner, I am talking about the Wibiya internet toolbar.

Wibiya has created this nifty little action bar that you can run on your website that allows visitors to interact with your website and content in multiple ways via social media and it automates processes that some are still doing manually like adding "like this" button and "share this" code. (Screen shot at bottom of post shows all of their applications).

Here is a snip from their site that gives a good description:

Wibiya provides a web toolbar that enables blogs and websites to integrate the most exciting services and web applications into their blog or website.

Our platform is a one-stop shop for fully customizable, easily manageable third party web applications that can also be tracked for statistics.

Adding the Wibiya web toolbar will allow you to choose from a great variety of tools and features including facebook and twitter integration web applications, Google Buzz, Smart Share, Real Time Notifications and Statistics, 3D picture galleries, 3D YouTube video galleries and much, much more.

The folks at Wibiya have created something special and unique that you can (seriously) add to your website, blog or event registration pages in less than 10 minutes with no technical skills required.

All you need to be able to do is click  and follow instructions and then copy and paste some HTML code into your site. Most people should be able to accomplish this, if not then it should take your web designer no more than a couple of minutes to do (for which they will charge you the full hour of course).

Even if you have to pay your web designer an hour's worth of time, the benefit far outweighs the cost considering the basic functionality of the tool bar is free……..really, it is free.

Here is the tool bar pictured as integrated into the PlannerWire site, you will notice that it fits neatly at the bottom of the page and is actually a compliment to the site rather than some nasty add on. I am totally pleased to say that people are using it, we can track the usage statistics and I have to tell you, this is a simple solution that people seem to understand, use and like.

If you want to check it out in action, zip over to PlannerWire and try it out (heck, you can like the PlannerWire facebook page right from the bar, that would totally make me happy and it will be a real world test!).

PlannerWire - News Information and Community - Home_1288027992635

Here is also a screen shot from the Wibiya site that shows the full range of tool bar add ons:

Web Application Bank - Wibiya_1288027924234

OK, Here is full disclosure – This Author of this here blog ain't got nothin to do with Wibiya except for using their tool bar!

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