Biggest Mistake Associations Will Make in 2013: Postponing Mobile Strategy Development

The adoption rate of smartphones and tablets is not slowing down. In fact, nearly half of American adults own a smartphone, and the number of tablet owners has doubled since summer of 2011, to 18% of American adults
(Pew Research).

Yet, even with the overwhelming evidence that smartphones and tablets are not going away, many associations are still hesitant to implement mobile event apps.

.Why Associations are Putting Off their Mobile Strategies

Some of the greatest challenges we hear associations facing, and why they are hesitant to move forward with mobile event apps for their annual meetings and conferences are as follows:

  • The introduction of wide-ranging technologies. It seems like there is a new technology developing every day, expanding the number of ways you can reach your members at your annual meetings. But how do you determine the best way to reach your unique membership base? Is it through social media websites like LinkedIn and Twitter? Should you develop a mobile event app? Or, maybe you should create an online content library for your members and attendees, which you can also use to attract new members? Moreover, which technology will still be relevant tomorrow?
  • Your membership base is as diverse as it has ever been before (and so is the generational gap). Generations X and Y are tech-savvy, have a short attention span and not only want, but expect information and content when they want it and how they want it. At your annual meeting, they want to be able to access all of your conference content via their smartphones and tablets. And since, undoubtedly, the Internet connectivity is going to be limited at your conference venue, offline access via a mobile app better be available. BUT, if you get rid of your printed conference proceedings and session handouts, you better believe you’re going to receive phone calls from your Baby Boomer members about how they don’t want to download your mobile app to get the annual meeting proceedings; they’d very much prefer them in print. (If only your association budget was endless, right?)

These challenges have left many association professionals at a standstill, sticking to the technologies they know and are comfortable with and ignoring the fact that advancing technologies like mobile are not going away.

Jump Start Your Association’s Mobile Strategy

It is time to stop postponing the inevitable, and start implementing your association’s mobile strategy. Start small by testing out a mobile app for your annual conference. If your members adapt well, you can consider a mobile app for your association later.

Need Help Getting Started?

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Implementing a Mobile Event App: 7 Steps to Choosing the Right Mobile App For Your Conference
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Help Your Conference Speakers Give a Killer Presentation

As someone who coordinates annual meetings or midyear conferences for your association, you understand that the value of your conference lies in your educational content. Attendees love conference learning journals, final programs, session handouts and, of course, speaker presentations.

But what happens when your keynote speaker plasters their entire presentation word-for-word on their poorly assembled PowerPoint and stands in one spot (heaven forbid, behind a podium) using their best Ben Stein voice? Most speakers are the elite professionals in their field, but let’s face it, they may not be the most engaging or the smoothest of talkers.

Donna Kastner, Director of Education & Engagement at Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, recently wrote a refreshing article: “5 Presentation Sins Committed by Conference Speakers.” She outlines some of the biggest mistakes speakers make at conferences and events–mistakes that can send attendees running for the door (or into a deep sleep).

What can you do to ensure presenters keep attendees engaged?

Presentation Tips for Your Conference Speakers

So, your call for abstracts has closed, you’ve reviewed the submissions in your online collection system and chosen the speakers for your annual conference. How about sending presenters some public speaking tips?

Times have changed, and public speaking is no longer a one-way objective lecture taking place behind a podium. Speaking at your association’s annual meeting is about two-way communication, engaging attendees with social gaming and fun presentation styles like PechaKucha. That is how attendees learn, retain and implement the content at your conference.

What are you doing to ensure your speakers aren’t committing Donna Kastner’s 5 deadly speaking sins?

The Evolution of Conference Materials

Stop printing conference materials…no, wait. Maybe put them online and just offer stapled handouts. Here’s an idea: Record every breakout session and sell them to members after the meeting – Too risky!

Video didn’t kill radio. It complemented it. The web (and social web) haven’t killed print, but the format in which you provide attendees their educational materials (technical papers, abstracts, session handouts, etc.) has become more complex than ever. Go too far in one direction and you risk irritating older members and weakening your on-site education. Don’t evolve your association to the web and you look like a dinosaur.

Here’s how we’ve seen the educational materials (or learning tools) evolve since the 80s.

Are you keeping up with the Association-Jones’?

1980s | Print, Print, Print!

Conference materials were primarily in the form of a bound printed book or binder. Sometimes these were multi-volume technical papers or just long abstracts. The content was rich, but proceedings materials were bulky and inconsistently formatted.

1990s | Introducing Floppy Disks and CD-ROMs

Much like the 1980s, printed conference materials were still in heavy production with the growing popularity of three-ring conference binders. Except now, technology kicked in with 3.5 inch floppy disks and PDF files. Yes, even the digital versions were clunky, but they were still “digital.” They offered search capabilities across content, cost savings (especially for high page count, high quantity materials) and less bulk for attendees.

Scanning and OCRing technical papers were the primary ways to turn paper into digital. Using high-speed scanners and conversion software, search-ability was 95%. As we approached 2000, MS Office documents were becoming a major means of supplying content, and converting from Word to PDF was very common.

In the mid-1990s, conference CD-ROMs were introduced. Amen! With both print and digital delivery solutions, conference organizers were unsure of which to provide attendees, so for many years, attendees frequently received both. These digital offerings had a simple menu and a few options to navigate to technical papers. In addition, the powerful Adobe search provided users a fast way to find content.

2000s | Growing Online Popularity

In the late 1990s into 2005, conference CDs were the hot commodity. Some groups started putting all their technical papers and speaker presentations on CD-ROM, and only printed a program book for conferences. Some associations took to the CD for creating multi-year archives of conference materials dating back 5 to even 20 years.

Putting conference handouts online was a passion for meeting industry professionals, but the reality was resistant attendees and a lack of bandwidth and Wi-Fi connectivity at events.

In 2003, PowerPoint presentations began to erode the integrity of the written paper. Regarding educational meeting content, bullets and slides versus written-out paragraphs weakened the integrity of the conference giveaway. A slideshow without the talk wasn’t as valuable. The good news was authors were supplying digital files, and content had more color, depth and smaller file sizes, (sometimes) making it good for the faster web.

By 2006, large bound content was printed far less, and customized seminar and course content continued to be printed.

Around 2007, flash drives entered the market, competing against CD-ROMs. Even though they were more expensive, flash drives were “new and cool” and reusable to attendees, which added value and increased sponsorship opportunities. Regardless, everyone wanted to “go green,” and attendees began to see paperless conference themes with recycled paper and conference content on CD-ROMs and flash drives, with only a printed program or conference learning journal for note-taking.

2010-Present | Conference Handouts in Print, Digital and Online

Today, we’re still seeing a mix of content delivery, from print to digital to online. Associations have more of a grasp on a content strategy. The buzz of a green paperless meeting is turning into offering what makes the right sense at the right cost. Often, attendees will be offered content delivery choices upon registration. Some associations are leveraging social media websites like Twitter and LinkedIn or Online Event Communities for attendees to engage with each other and associations’ educational content.

More associations are now looking at different delivery methods in order to give conference attendees and members access to educational content anywhere, anytime and anyhow.

Online Conference Libraries, aka online archives of conference handouts and proceedings, are on the rise. Associations are quickly figuring out that putting their content in these centralized hubs allows their association to be discovered by search engines like Google in the abyss of the world wide web. The sites’ easy search tools allow users to find the exact conference materials they’re looking for, whether the annual conference was five years ago or two days ago. What’s more is associations can often charge for access to content or limit access to conference attendees or members.

But conference attendees don’t just want online access to conference handouts and proceedings. They want access on their iPads, Kindles and smartphones, as well. Trying to read PDF files is great on a desktop computer, but it doesn’t work so well on smaller reading devices like your iPhone. As a result, conference materials are starting to be produced in mobile-friendly eBook format. Converting conference content into ePub or Mobi doesn’t just make it easier for attendees to read your conference program—it allows them to change the font size, highlight and personalize it for their own unique reading experience.

Life just isn’t so simple anymore when the number of content delivery alternatives continues to increase.

This may not be your exact timeline, but it’s an aggregate. Where does your organization fit in? What’s going to be next?

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