Association Congress

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Is this week the future of conferences?

Every week I look out for news of conferences through Twitter, emails and by attending the odd event. And from each medium this week came some worrying news about the current trend in conferences. The news made me wonder if we seeing our future in the here and now? In a previous blog I was thankful that we still have the opportunity to shape our future but this week has me asking: is it already too late to save conferences?
So what’s the news?
The first in the three pronged attack came through Twitter, and is maybe something that many of you have already picked up on through MPI in the US.  The story revolves around a $16 muffin. It should be a trivial story but it has the MPI in the States very worried. The organisation in question (The US Department of Justice) wasn’t really questioning the $16 spent on a muffin, but rather, what exactly was likely to come out of a meeting that was of value anyway? Oh, interesting thought.
Strike two came from some research (which I think I am officially leaking!) from Eric Rymer at The Right Solution who said that average attendance at UK Association events was down approx 10% from last year. Ouch. That’s got to hurt some bottom lines. (I will add the link once the research is out I promise).
And lastly was the news that the 2011 National Dental Nursing Conference has been cancelled by the British Association of Dental Nurses. The article went on to blame the economic climate and the lack of support from practitioners. The article also highlights some of the problems many associations have with their internal workings but I digress. An event this size, cancelled with approx six weeks to go? Who wins from that?
Unfortunately I wasn’t surprised to see any of these stories, and I am sure the hundreds like them that I’ve missed: we’ve been taking the fact that people just turn up to our conferences for granted for too long and we’ve lost sight of the value of a meeting. Over the last score of more years it was accepted that you could just pay a few hundred pounds to attend a conference, hear something of interest and meet an old buddy. It was “good just to get out of the office” and talk about things in a different environment. And this was accepted by speakers, delegates and shamefully by conference organisers too. I am afraid what we have reaped is now being sown, and it’s famine time people.
The ground can be cultivated
I hate sounding like the Grim Reaper but there are a few people who’ve been mentioning this for a while. Jeff Hurt, Adrian Segar, Greg Ruby, Keith Johnston to name a famous few. And I have too. Maybe more weeks like this and people will remove their head from the sand, take off their blindfold and open their eyes to the potential damage to our industry if we keep bowling along with sub standard conferences. And this is a direct call for our representative bodies to do something about it. If you don’t Event Camps will continue to crop up and my very own Event-Fest (you can leave your note in interest in that here) will lead and leave you in our wake. None of us want that. Especially conference delegates.  

Monday, 19 September 2011

10 things to ensure you are running or attending the right conference

You need to be brave to change and even braver to lead change
There are a lot of cutting edge events for Event Organisers happening in the calendar over the next 12 months and I urge conference organisers to seek out the ones that do things differently. You will see the conferences that discuss new formats and new delivery: they will look different, fresh and innovative.
There will also be a lot of Events for Event Organisers that aren’t doing anything different. So please do yourself and your industry a favour and avoid them. In order to help you here are ten things to look out for if you are attending any ‘industry events’ in the next 12 months:
1.       The integration of Hybrid formats
2.       If they haven’t used a traditional websites for the conference
3.       Not using traditional advertising for the conference
4.       The Conference openly saying they are paying speakers
5.       Conferences where they offer free training for speakers
6.       Organisations properly briefing their speakers and ensuring they meet them before you see them speak!
7.       Conferences with a variety of formats on the day
8.       Conferences with more involvement from the delegates before, during and after the event
9.       Social Media playing a much more active role in the event
10.   Conferences thinking about and structuring your learning before, during and after
If you aren’t seeing more than half a dozen of this list don’t attend the event. Because in a couple of years time that will be the reaction of your own delegates. And as an organiser, if you want to decide your own fate you have to be in control of it.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Ensuring exhibitors see the value in social media - a practical guide

I had a very interesting meeting with a group of exhibitors last week trying to persuade them to use Social Media to promote their involvement at the exhibition they are attending. 

The thrust of my presentation was that we can add significant value to their attendance if they engage in Social Media.

They asked me to draw up a 'how to' for them and I decided to share it. I hope this is of interest / use to anyone starting to handhold their exhibitors down the road of using Social Media.

How to make the most of your engagement with our audience

We have a long established reputation for designing conferences that offer delegates the opportunity to; hear from key industry players; share knowledge and best practice with industry professionals; network with key industry suppliers and make useful business contacts.

As an exhibitor YOU ARE CENTRAL to our success. As a way of thanks for the support you give us, we want to offer as much opportunity as possible to showcase your involvement and support not only on the day, but in the months and weeks leading up to, and after, the event.

The benefits of using social media

We believe that Social Media offers us an excellent way of highlighting to the industry your involvement in a leading event in our sector.

An active and engaged role in Social Media allows you to open up a direct channel to our attendees: no more relying on us to contact those attending on your behalf. You are now able to contact them directly. It is a wonderful way for you to engage with the audience which we have brought to you.

Why not use our conference theme to create your own Social Media engagement?

By having such a strong theme we have created a vehicle for you to use in your social media engagement before and on the day. How can you use the theme to support your messages and make the event memorable?


If you or your organisation hasn’t already joined Twitter we recommend that you do. It’s a great way of letting your contacts know what you are up to, as well as tailoring your news / information feed. If you are already on Twitter then you will of course know all the benefits.

As an exhibitor we would like you to:

-          Follow us @ and we will follow you. You can hear the latest events news, including new speakers and topics
-          Use the #tag for this event in all your tweets
-          Retweet any news from us relating to the event  
-          Reply to our tweets and let us know your view etc “looking forward to exhibiting” and we will retweet
-          Mention the event. e.g.“Just running around to find literature stands for our stand #” and we will retweet
-          Tweet that you are exhibiting and we will retweet
-          Tweet your views on the day and let people know how you feel the show went for you
-          Communicate directly to the audience on the day using the #tag
-          Tweet after the event to let your followers know what happened for you post event, e.g. “Just signed up a major new contract following the event”.


-          Join the event on LinkedIn to let all your connections you are exhibiting at the event
-          See who else is attending and contact them before and after the event
-          Drive the debate by starting discussions and leaving comments for delegates and other industry professionals interested in the content on the LinkedIn event page
-          Hear specialist news and updates from outside sources: blogs, articles and other events you may be interested in


Our events look fantastic. So we now have a YouTube channel to promote the visual aspects at our events.

As an exhibitor why not:

-          Record a short introduction to your product or service, send the link to us and we will upload on to the channel
-          Record and upload an interview with a delegate on the day or your demonstration
-          Ask delegates to comment on your recordings
-          Ask delegates what they want to see on your stand? Answer some questions or to help add some flesh to your stand presentation
-          Comment on anything that we upload to the channel
-          Mention your content in other social media, like a tweet or comment on Linkedin

And that's it!

Developing your strategy

This may not be the right strategy for you, or the list of channels you decide to use, but I hope it gives you a feel for the type of information that exhibitors will find useful.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

My very personal experience of Event Camp Europe

“What would you do in a crisis?” was the question posed by Ruud. Well, I followed the advice of the virtual Pod from Croydon in England: if there is a crisis always have alcohol as a backup. I had a crisis in confidence in Hybrid events, so Event Camp Europe is still going on but I am at the bar.
Firstly I have to make this very clear, I am exceptionally impressed by the vision of the four main individuals involved in organising Event Camp Europe. Just trying this and somehow pulling it all together is an exceptional achievement. I doubt much money (if any) will have been earned and this was all singularly done to help push the boundaries of our industry.
Bravery should always be commended but it is OK to question it too.
And because of this I am sure that the organisers will take this blog in the spirit is was meant, especially as I think they have replicated many of the issues that organisers are likely to have with Hybrid events. And in allowing me to point that out from their event they have already succeeded in highlighting those issues!
We need to know ‘why’ before we do the ‘how’
So here’s my feedback. I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t feel included; I didn’t really learn anything; I didn’t get to talk to delegates about their experience or reasons for looking into Hybrid events; none of the presentations were from curious organisers like me, with my issues and my concerns. I felt I was being preached to: Hybrid events, my child, will solve all your issues, they are the savior. Praise them.
To sum up the event based on my and other attendees views, which I am sure they will share, this event was a “how to run Hybrid event” and the delegates wanted a day on “why to run Hybrid events”. Just because we were attending didn’t mean we had totally bought in to the idea.
Jack of all events and master of none?
A disengagement from the audience through the subjects chosen is never a desirable situation for a conference, but what is worse is a conference lacking the basic hygiene factors that are the basis of good physical events. And in this the event was lacking. And it’s my first main general concern with this type of Hybrid event. Events are hard to organise: are we adding unnecessarily to the difficulty with a hybrid element, and shifting our focus from the basics? After this experiment I would certainly say it is a risk. The event was in danger of falling between two stools: neither a great live physical experience or a great on-line experience?
Green presenters struggled to engage with the virtual audience; delegates struck various posses as they tried to slide under the range of the camera; delay moving a mic around for the virtual feed impacted the flow of the event.
With so much going on it’s easy for the eye to lose focus
During the event we were constantly told that this day was all about ‘learning’ and ‘making mistakes’ but no one told me that before I booked and paid my money: I wanted to learn and network. I thought that an event run by four industry professionals would be run much better.
If I managed the event organiser at this event they would be in my office on Monday and would be given a conferencing 101 session. And here’s what it would cover:
-          If you rely on one particular thing at a venue make sure, make 100% sure it works. If we had turned up for a golf day and the course was only half open I would be very annoyed. If it was a team building kayaking event and the river had run dry I would have been miffed. So is it acceptable that this wifi based event was at a venue that didn’t have a decent wifi connection?
-          Should the organisers know the basics, like the location of the toilets? I’d say yes.
-          Is signage now a thing of the past?
-          Should we just expect people to know where to go when other things are taking place (no one was escorted to the pods for example) don’t we escort people nowadays?
-          Should we try a wifi game 4 hours into a programme when we know that we do not have wifi? 
-          There was very little balance in the programme content: there is always a pro and a con, and we should hear and discuss both sides of it
-          In a decent sized room with this set up, is one microphone for 50 delegates enough? There was actually two, but it took a delegate to point out the problem for them to locate it and use it
-          Without any real structured discussion time in the programme we were unable to be involved with the other delegates: I don’t want to ask the speaker a question, I’ve just heard from him: I want to speak with the other delegates! Especially those in the other Pods!
Were the objectives achieved?
Objectives are really important and I wonder what the objectives of the organisers were for this event, and if they matched mine? Maybe they were even contradictory?
I think I’ve noted my objectives in the content above but I will make them clear:
1.       To find out why I should consider running a hybrid event. What exactly it is, who’s doing it? What revenue it has generated, lost etc. the difficulties?
2.       To meet with organisers, both pro and undecided and discuss the issues with them
3.       To have a real take home, maybe ‘a when to and when not to’ understanding or maybe even a document
4.       To see a virtual event and experience it live
We had one very good presentation from Barcamp (which I missed a chunk of because no one told me that I was actually missing anything by the time I arrived) and I took a couple of good tips from but apart from that I didn’t learn anything. Well apart from the thing that I doubt I was supposed to: Hybrid conferences like this are more trouble and create more problems than they are likely to be worth.
Lastly, I have to say, and make this very clear, that I am exceptionally impressed by the vision of the four main individuals involved in Event Camp Europe. Just trying this and somehow pulling it all together is an exceptional achievement. Bravery should always be commended but it is OK to question it too. It was so important a point you might have noticed I started the blog with it.
Never organise an event for event organisers
We are a difficult bunch to please that’s for sure. And with our years of experience we are likely to spot every single thing that could have been done better at an event. I think that having an event like this for event organisers, and accepting and encouraging some root and branch analysis is the only way we can ensure that we can expand the formats we offer to our clients. So running an event for the industry is brave, but I hope that others will be brave too and add their views and opinions to this experiment. 

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Why a conference is a service and not a product

Conferences need to change. You’ll hear people saying that content has to be devised and even delivered by attendees, with a little bit of help from the organiser. And here! here! I say.
Conferences have to be innovative in terms of content, style and format. They have to deliver learning over a longer period than just the days they physically take place. They have to be more enjoyable and they have to deliver real value and Return on Investment. Delegates, speakers and the chairman have to be more engaged. And I echo all those sentiments.
We are fortunate that as an industry we still have time to decide our fate and we must decide what that fate is; before others choose it for us.
I have no doubt that our future is a bleak one if we stick to the same old formats that have served us badly for decades; if we continue to churn out conferences that are almost impossible to measure the success of: well apart from the financial reward to the organiser. We don't have a future if we continue to organise conferences that are just good enough to stop delegates complaining.   
“We have to think of a conference as a service, rather than a product” - me
When I speak to other organisers in the UK I hear anecdotal stories of conference attendance tailing off. Tales of large organisations refusing to sanction travelling for specific weeks of the month, or days of the week and the impact that is having on bookings that, in the past were guaranteed. I hear the pain of the price of attendance fees dropping at the same time as venue charges rise. And I know now is the time for our industry to act.
If you agree, can I suggest you join my little but growing group on Linkedin we plan to do something about it!