Association Congress

Monday, 22 August 2011

My 5 Point Plan on how to manage your Congress Committee

Not for the first time I’ve been inspired by Jeff How Hurt’s latest blog, which basically suggests that committee’s add as much value as a chocolate covering on a bank note. So I’ve come up with my 5 point plan when you have a committee / volunteer panel involved in planning you event:
1.       We will use our Committee to identify possible topic areas for us to cover for our members
2.       We will use our Committee as a sounding board for the provisional content and delivery. The Committees should not expect to decide how best this content should be delivered, for example at a seminar, or a conference or a lunch. That is the role of the event organiser
3.       The volunteers will be the first point of call if content is needed, for example a speaking slot at a conference. But we will proceed with care as we realise you are very busy people. If we require you to give a significant amount of time to the project we will ask for a firm commitment from you. 
4.       The Committee will be used to check content and will be kept up to date on the events’ progress. You will not be involved in any of the finances or financial decisions.  
5.       The volunteers will play a vital role as a marketing tool for that product, as recommendations and referrals by the you will have a lot of merit among members

And here’s another one for free: make sure your event is the last item on the agenda. The less time they spend on it the better for you.
If your events team is having trouble with Committees see if you can get those Committees to sign up to the outline above, it might be easier than you think. Sometimes, the organisation and even the events team, assume that the Committees want control, and in return the Committee assume that they are expected to have control. In both circumstances you may find that both the Committee and the organisation are happy with the role as outlined above. Maybe they are operating this way simply because it’s always been done this way. But can we look at processes differently and say: “Well what if we did it this way?”

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The problems with voting pads and the solutions

I recently attended a conference which used some rather wizzy touch screen technology. Every delegate had a tablet. There was a “Technical Manager” roaming around, like a life guard ready to give the IT version of the kiss of life. Delegates sat pressing and resizing their screens and dutiful followed the instructor’s directions. Our session Facilitator was primed, and another “Technical Content Manager” sat ready to help delegates manage the process. A simply lowly Technician was also on hand…….just in case. Delegates only outnumbered staff at 10:1.
In the corner of the hall sat the guts of the operation. Stacks of bright lights flashed away, like someone had placed several Christmas trees on top of one other, and we all sat waiting to be blinded by this fantastic technology. I sat unmoved.
Skeptic I may be, but technophobe I am not. However at all of the learning events I’ve managed I’ve never bought into the idea that voting pads, or similar style devices, would actually add anything to my event.  Many people have tried selling the idea to me of course but I think I’ve seen past the flashing lights and newness of it all: I’ve seen the Emperor, and he’s naked!  
I am talking about the onsite handheld delegate voting pads here. What the bowfins’ have given us in the Social Media space, the online booking and payment area and the post delegate engagement through online feedback etc is marvelous. All of these really seem to save time, cost and effort. But most of the examples of technology I’ve seen used on the day, well, that tends to be a different story.  
But of course, if everyone thought like me, penny pinching and sat in Camp Skeptic, there wouldn’t be thousands of events using this technology every week.
I therefore have to ask when and why are event organisers using these? What benefits do they add?
And in return here’s my top ten: “when not to use on site delegate handheld technology”:
1.       When you can gain the answers simply by using one of the two things stuck at the end of your arms. Remember those things? You used to write with them
2.       As a mask for other things that are probably wrong with your conference, hoping that people are blinded by the magic
3.       Because one or two delegates put in their feedback questionnaire that they would like to use them
4.       When they cost a lot (and that is of course relative) but they tend to cost a lot!
5.       When they are separate pieces of kit: everyone has a smart phone these days so don’t add to the technical arsenal at a delegates disposal
6.       When you’ve seen them used at a competitor event and you simply want to ‘keep up with the competition’
7.       When you can’t, for some reason, use much more engaging ways, like Body Voting or Physical Spectrums, to ascertain peoples’ views
8.       When the facilitator or speakers haven’t been properly briefed or given time to properly build the option of using them into their presentation
9.       When the key objective is getting delegates to ‘peer share’ or network and
10.   If you want a much easier stress free life as the organiser
In my view this technology dramatically alters the relationships that are most important at learning events; the delegate and speaker relationship and the peer review relationship between attendees. People find it too easy to retreat behind barriers and these handheld devices are perfect for that. We have to encourage delegates to engage with one another, not with more machines. I am sure they have their place, but they must be used when they are the only solution to a problem, not used simply as gimmicks.   
At the event I attended they added no value at all. Following one session I asked several delegates what they had got out of the session. “Not much to be honest , I found the whole thing rather pointless” was one truthful response. I kind of wished I would have asked if the facilitator would have minded if I do a straw poll. I would have asked if delegates thought the tablets were useful or not. I think that would have made my point in more ways than this article has.  

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

It's simple to run great events

It's simple for event organisers to run great events every time if our organisations, stakeholders and clients:

  • Trust us and allow us to make decisions;
  • Set meaningful and measurable objectives that allow events to demonstrate how useful events can be for our organisations, stakeholders and clients and
  • Understand that we know how best to run our events and that we have a process that you must fit into to ensure you have a great event 
Simple. Just three things. That's all.

I will be discussing these three simple things and how to ensure they happen at two events in September.

Event Organisers Summit, London

CIBTM, Beijing

Friday, 5 August 2011

What is the point of Awards Dinners?

Rather bizarrely I attended my first ever awards dinner last month. I wasn’t nominated, and if you read this article, you will see why I am unlikely to ever emulate that feat. I was there as a guest first and organiser second. To be honest I can rarely separate the two and this does tend to lead to two rather annoying things happening. Firstly I can’t just sit still, experience the event and enjoy myself: I have to analyse the whole bloody thing. And secondly, after a few beers, my words with the organiser are rarely ever choice ones.
The first thing to note is that the organiser ran the event superbly. There were seamless transitions from one part of the night to the next; food and wine worked well together; unnecessary chat from the compare was at a minimum and they had chosen a very good host. The venue was good, the post award entertainment (always a tricky one to call) was OK and everyone seemed happy with the evening. The winners were visibly delighted with their win and the losers openly devastated at their ‘loss’. I say loss, but as the 6 foot 8 former Rugby player compare pointed out: “everyone who’s nominated is a winner”, and here! here! to that my jolly old chap. Now these are the truthful choice words I should have used when chatting to the harried event organiser. Not the moaning nit picking I wrongly decided was far more appropriate.
I wonder though - and all I was drunkenly trying to say was - can we as an industry, not YOU specifically, poor knackered event organiser, raise the bar at these events? Is this tired and tested format the best we can do? With this format are the guests, the nominees and the sponsors actually all losers?
What is in it for everyone anyway?
Let’s get this clear. If there wasn’t a chunk of money to be made by the hosting organisations these events wouldn’t run. But it’s hardly the only type of event that can say that, but what about the people involved:
-          If you are a random guest, listening to a list of obscure organisations trying to win an award like ‘Best Erection’ ( or something that seems, to the untrained eye, totally worthless, are you having a good time?
-          If you are a sponsor, are you wondering how you measure the value of your sponsorship (logos on screens are not enough these days) or exactly what you are paying for?
-          If you are one of the nominees who doesn’t ‘win’, have you spent a lot of time on your pitch and was it worth it?  
-          If you a company who places business because the winner has this award, do you realise, that more than likely they just nominated themselves, and may have only been up against one or two other companies?
-          If you won, you paid for the table right? Can’t you see you are being scammed?
-          If you organised it, could you have run another event that added more value to stakeholders?
-          If you were on the panel, could you have spent your time better doing something else?
Questions, just questions.
If we want to deliver more value and add some innovation perhaps we can look at the list of innovations from my last Blog innovation for award dinners and see if there are ways in which we can improve these events for all the people involved.
If you do anything differently or if you add innovation please let me know. Because after reading this, it’s unlikely you will be inviting me along to your dinner. I might be nominated for ‘Event Agitator of the Year’ though. If I did, I think I’d take a table.    

Monday, 1 August 2011

Event Innovation Examples from Association Congress, London, July 2011

At the Association Congress in London in July we had a session looking at innovation. We discussed what innovation in the world of events actually was. In order to discuss and look at examples we split innovation into ten sections:

  1. Running different types of events: moving away from the standard conference / exhibition
  2. Involving your sponsors and or exhibitors differently than in the past
  3. Raising the income (and the level of income) from various sources
  4. Engaging suppliers as much as possible, perhaps to share some risk and some reward?
  5. Engaging people more directly with your event  
  6. Making it truly memorable
  7. Using social media or new technology
  8. Extending the useful ‘shelf life’ of your event
  9. Changing the format of the event including making it longer and shorter
  10. Having objectives that stretch the event and impact the organisation or the sector
The delegates discussed examples and then helped me come up with this little post conference report. I hope you find it useful.