Archive - October 2010

1
To Increase Attendance, Start with the Basics
2
How Hotel Marketers Ruin Conference Planner Love
3
Conference Tech – The Little App that Keeps a Computer Awake
4
Why I Follow @michaelmccurry and @joaneisenstodt
5
Let the Colorado River be your Social Media Guide

To Increase Attendance, Start with the Basics

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 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 anymore 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 basis 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.

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 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 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 attendee’s 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 indispensable 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 Conference Planner Love

Hotel marketers, for all of their savvy, 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 personal marketing dump with their endless supply of vacation, wedding and get-away for the weekend emails for which I have 100% no need.

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 affects 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 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 begin to derail. That was about four 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.. every day, 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 every time 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 remarkable 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….

Conference Tech – The Little App that Keeps a Computer Awake

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 sudden 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.

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

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!

 

Let the Colorado River be your Social Media Guide

One of the most frustrating things that I see from both event producers and associations is a lack of planning and follow through when it comes to social media. They expect it to be a panacea that will open the flood gates to new members and attendees and when it does not happen in a week they give up and let their accounts go stagnant or they spend their social media capital telling me where they went last night or about the latest episode of Desperate Housewives. This leads to a great deal of frustration from the very people that they are trying to reach and can cause the whole thing to fall apart.

I cannot tell you how many times I have witnessed this train wreck, it happens daily and what a loss for everyone involved. Social Media has created an enviroment where a conference can now be a year round affair and where associations are no longer limited to their once a month email newsletter. Both now have a pipeline directly to my desktop and so many times, they fail to take advantage of this direct link to my brain and my heart.

The worst thing about not taking advantage of the opening your audience gives you is that the void is going to be filled by someone and that someone could be an entity that is looking to destroy you by making me a part of their tribe, their group and stealing my affections and my loyalty. This is happening right now with one of our Industry Events which will remain nameless, but if you poke around you can figure it out.

How can organizations combat this? How can they win the war for hearts and minds and create a bond so strong that it cannot be broken? The answer is remarkably simple, act like the Colorado River.

WHAT? Act like a river and you will win the battle for social media supremacy in your space? How is that possible, how can that be, how can something that sounds so stupid and so moronic actually help you get ahead? Well, let me tell you about the Colorado River first and then you can tell me if I am crazy because a river has a story to tell and this one is never ending.

The Colorado River has its headwaters in the Rocky Mountain National Forest, this is where it all begins. From this starting point, the mighty Colorado cuts its way across the Western United States and has done so for thousands of years. In doing so, the river has changed the landscape, allowed civilization to thrive and has become a fixture and an icon, all through the River’s methodical wish to always move forward as water will do. The river does not sleep, it does not stop and it is always, always moving toward the horizon.

Over the millennia, the Colorado has formed canyons, fed tributaries, become home to thousands of species and grown stronger by relying on other rivers, streams, and creeks that feed into it. Always a desire to continue, always a desire to share some of itself to feed others and always a desire to grow.

Every so often, the rains come to the Southwest and flood the region with raging downpours causing the mighty Colorado to swell to the point of overflowing its banks and washing away the past year’s silt and debris that has clogged it up. These annual events bring renewed life to the river and actually allow the animals and plants that rely on her the opportunity to thrive and grow stronger. The river is not unto itself, it affects all that come in contact with it whether plant ,animal or mineral, all have come to need the river to survive and the river, in turn, relies on them to thrive.

This is where the Colorado can teach you how to win at Social Media, how to survive and last and make all that come in contact with you stronger, healthier and wiser. Let’s have a look.

Social Media, like the great Colorado, should be a constant flow. Information should always be moving to and fro on a consistent basis and should never stop. Perhaps you tweet, update your facebook page or interact with a LinkedIn group once an hour, once a day or once a week, the trick is to be consistent and always moving forward, never stop. Yes, droughts will come but if you have built a strong foundation, no one will notice a day without an update.

Don’t rely on yourself and only yourself. The Colorado grows because of all of the other rivers and streams that flow into it and your Social Media should do the same. Use others to fuel your growth. Visit the pages of people that follow you and follow their followers, visit their blogs and make comments, re-tweet information that you find useful and post links to their pages on facebook or LinkedIn. Just like the Colorado, you can become a force of nature by combining and sharing the assets of others.

Your social media should also be affected by the yearly monsoon season. As you approach your annual conference, event or membership drive, you can occasionally flood the canyon, increase the interaction, have more calls to action and a greater flow of information. Careful, though, just like the river, too much of a flood can be a bad thing and end up destroying what you have worked so hard to build.

Carve your canyon and stay the course. The Colorado has a path to follow and that is what it does, yes it may sometimes stray from the path, but it always returns to the same course and you should do the same. If your event is about semiconductors you should talk about the semiconductor industry, if your association is geared for the owners of German Shepards, you should talk about German Shepards. Yes, you might occasionally talk about a Bulldog, Lab or Boxer but you should always return to your path.

Feed and support those that rely on you. Just like the river, many people will come to rely on you, don’t let them down and show support for what they are doing, they, in turn will do the same for you and that is how acting like the great Colorado River can help you succeed at Social Media.

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