Association Congress

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Why meeting design should harness the power of storytelling

Let me tell you a story. Well, actually, why don’t you tell your audience a story?
Stories have been used to pass down meaning and messages for thousands of years; and for one main reason: the messages contained in them stick in people’s head. People (and remember, delegates are people too) identify with them and they remember them. As conference architects and meeting designers, what more do we really want the content in your programme to do than be remembered?
So here’s a few suggestions to help your delegates remember the key messages from you day:
1.       Tell a story and ask the delegates to come up with the ending
Do you remember those fantasy books where you decided what happened next? Can you visualize the hours spent trying to thread this story together? I bet those memories and those stories stuck. How about getting your speakers to outline the situation they inherited, the problems they faced and rather than telling the end of the story, asking the delegates to discuss among themselves and come up with what they think happened next. Before the speaker reveals all on the last page!
2.       Use a character and take them through a process
An exceptionally powerful way to use the power of storytelling is to take your audience, through your programme, from behind the eyes of one character. Imagine a Criminal Justice conference looking at every aspect of the criminal system, through the eyes of one person charged with a crime? Imagine hearing about the crime in the first session with a statement being taken or read out on stage and then hearing a contradictory witness statement? Then following this person as they are navigated through various parts of the system, with each area telling the story of how they would deal with this ‘criminal’. Just think of the power of this story for your audience, or perhaps you can call them the jury?
3.       At the end of your conference don’t ask for feedback: ask for a story
Before delegates leave, how about asking them to write a story, perhaps a few weeks in the future, where they have used the knowledge in your programme, and the advice from the contacts they have met. How will their working day have changed? What will they be doing that was different following the day or two that you have had with them?
Stories are powerful. The past has taught us that, well, the past, and stories.   

Monday, 17 October 2011

How to turn your website visitor to an event booker

It’s time for the industry to fight back. If we are seeing a 10%+ drop off in conference attendance and a similar in trade show visits in the UK in the last twelve months, we have to do something about it. We can’t sit back and blame the economic climate. Of course that’s a concern, but not all industries do badly in a downturn; some even do better. So lets’ not just assume that the events world has to one of the sinkers and not the swimmers.
So feeling refreshed with this thought in mind I did a quick call round of some of my past clients and a few others in the industry. I wanted to see what hit rates on their websites had been recently. I asked them one specific question: “Have you seen a 10%+ drop off in page views over the last 12 months?” The answer was a refreshing and dare I say uplifting “No”. They are all still seeing similar hits on their sites. But some, not all, (they of course include a few ex clients who of course have seen their attendance increase!) had seen a lack of people being turned from visitors to bookers.
Content, price, location, perceived value, timing, and the score or more things that help people make up their mind to attend your event will still be a factor in their attending, but could something much more basic be a reason? Could it be that visitors couldn’t actually find the information on the events they were actually after? Or even, they couldn’t actually find the events at all?
If you are seeing a drop off in attendance and you use your website as a way to generate and / or process bookings, I’ve come up with a few things you should check out and consider changing right now! Let’s start the fight back: it starts at home (well as the first point says) or at least the Home Page.  
1.       Your main event page/s have a clear link from your home page                
2.       You segment your events to help people find the type of events they are after (for example conferences / dinners / training)                           
3.       Your event lists are truly searchable (i.e. you don’t need to know the name or the date to find it)                            
4.       You can search your events by price and location                             
5.       You separate your events from other events which you may list on your website                             
6.       You separate events which are run by smaller parts of the organisation e.g. ‘regional’ from your big national events                                
7.       You have microsites (or all the functionality you need on your own website) for your large events                           
8.       Delegates are able to book online                           
9.       Delegates are able to pay online                              
10.   You offer a telephone line for bookings or a number if bookers experience difficulties                  
11.   You update your event pages 3 – 5 (at a minimum) times with new information over the course of an event                      
12.   Your web pages have more detail than your marketing emails                   
13.   You have a ‘tweet this’ and or ‘like this facebook’ links from all your event pages                             
14.   You have a link to your organisation’s Twitter account / facebook page                 
15.   You set up your web pages early and allow bookings as soon as you have some information available, i.e. price, general content and general location, you don’t wait for all the details                  
16.   You ‘cross sell’ your events from pages with relevant articles / sections on your website
17.   Use contextual marketing for your events on your website. See below!
I hope this helps. And if you want more practical tips like this then consider my events marketing training.

Monday, 10 October 2011

You scratch my back and I’ll turn mine

A couple of things have happened to me recently after I’ve spoken for free, and at very short notice at two events, one for Forum Events and one for the ICCA and it made me wonder; do all event organisers take speakers for granted? It kind of felt like it at both events. Being an organiser myself, and guilty of as many crimes against speakers as those two offending organisations, it was clear to me that I had taken speakers for granted in the past. But I don’t think I do now; I try to add value for them at my events. And trying I think is at least a start.
Shouldn’t everyone receive the value from conferences?
I am sure you agree that our meetings have to offer as much value as possible to those who attend, exhibit and sponsor, but shouldn’t it also add value to our speakers too? Aren’t they possibly the most important part? Shouldn’t we be going out of our way to add value to them? What would happen if everyone just stopped speaking at conferences? Oh, the carnage!
Ten things you probably should ask your speakers
1.       What would you like us to do so support your session / how can we ensure you get the most out of speaking for us?
2.       Can we pay you? – As an organiser you pay for food don’t you and the venue, should you expect people to speak for free?
3.       Can we use social media to continue your discussion with delegates after the event?
4.       Can we use social media to start your conversation with delegates before the event? Perhaps through Twitter or a Blog?
5.       Can we send information on your behalf which you think will be of interest to delegates pre / post event?
6.       Can we provide you with some truly useful feedback on your session that helps you improve as a speaker?
7.       Can we offer you a free training course for you to hone your skills?
8.       What’s your address, we’d like to send you a gift to say thanks?
9.       Have we made it clear what are the objectives of the session we would like you to address?
10.   Do you know as much about our audience as you would like?
It makes sense to close the loop. And also, you pay for what you get
I find it bizarre that a speaker would receive glowing feedback, and the organisation wouldn’t even consider paying for the speaker to speak again. I also find it weird that loads of organisations are happy for a speaker to fill a slot for them, stand in front of their audience and give them the floor, but they wouldn’t forward on some information about the topic they covered. Is this really the symbiotic relationship organisers should have with their speakers? If it is, fellow organiser, you might just find the good speakers body swerve your event and speak at the ones who ask at least some of the questions above.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Selling speaking slots should no longer be taboo

I remember a quizzical look from one client when I suggested they offer slots on their programmes to companies that would pay for them. “Never”, they said. Well, I never take “never” as an answer. Later that year we ran two events completely funded by sponsored session. 200 of their members had a great programme driven event that they attended for free. “Never”, actually wasn’t that long.

It is understandable that this is resistance to the idea of selling the family silver to companies ; and we should be slightly skeptical because we’ve all sat through one of those sessions, the one that starts “OK, I’ve just like to tell you about us………”and then 15mins later they move onto some content.

But I would like to encourage conference programmers / producers to consider this as a very viable option for your programme. And you’ll probably be surprised (I have to be honest, I was) to see that I’ve easily come up with 15 good reasons to consider it:

1.       Sometimes the highest rated session can be from a session paid for by a sponsor (I’ve got scores of examples)
2.       If this is what your sponsor wants as part of the package you have to consider it
3.       Ensuring a mix of income is the foundation of a successful events business; never say never
4.       You can exercise more control over this session than other sessions and this allows you to ensure the content is perfect
5.       You  tend to get a very senior / good presenter
6.       Most savvy organisations have realized that the worst way to sell is to stand up and ‘sell’ their wears; they now tend to - or certainly they can be encouraged to - demonstrate their knowledge
7.       It is easier to deal with a proactive speaker than to search for less willing participants
8.       Speaking on the programme allows your sponsor a focus for their conversations between themselves and your delegates; a conversation you should be encouraging
9.       Offering a slot is an excellent ‘up-sale’ on sponsorship packages
10.   You can run entire events funded by sponsored speaking slots and delegates can attend for free
11.   Allowing a sponsor to demonstrate their support to the industry and to inform on the programme offers real value to your sponsor (does placing a logo everywhere really offer the same?)
12.   If they have paid for a slot they are more likely to have spent time putting it together
13.   Their sessions have a clear objective, and as an expert (conference producer / architect) they will be much more willing to listen to your advice
14.   Sometimes people are quite happy to be ‘sold’ too; it’s true. What is a product demonstration if it’s not part of the sales process? You might have much less resistance than you think
15.   Suggest to the sponsor that they conduct some research before the event and then deliver that on the programme, use this opportunity to create something unique for your event and add more value for your sponsor and great content in the programme

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.