The Key to Association Growth is…Educational Content

 

Membership growth, program growth, and increasing member engagement are three goals that are commonly shared among associations of all sizes and types. As legacy members age out of the workforce, the membership pipeline needs to be filled with new, prospective members, including young professionals.

While it’s important to offer the programming and benefits that these new members value so they’ll join (and stay), that’s only half the equation.

The Importance of Building Awareness 

Before a new member can even consider joining your organization they first need to: 1. Know you exist; and 2. Understand the value you provide.

In marketing circles, this is known as increasing awareness—something that is generally the responsibility of the marketing team. In reality, everyone in the association—from the conference team to the training and education group—can help build awareness of the organization and start engaging prospective members by leveraging your existing educational content.

Increasing the Reach of Your Association’s Educational Content

Associations have no shortage of valuable content, which is delivered at conferences, in online and in-person training courses, and through member publications.

But, as our two 2019 industry reports highlight, this educational content is being significantly under-utilized. It exists in a closed-loop environment, meaning it only reaches the people who are already attending your events or participating in your programs.

Google is More Important To Association Growth Than You Might Think

Meanwhile, prospective members—in particular, young professionals—are turning to Google to search for ideas, resources, and answers to solve challenges, create opportunities, and connect with peers on both a personal and professional level.

What are they finding? That there are plenty of resources to tap into. Are they finding your association’s content as well? Unfortunately, not as often as they should (or could).

It would appear that associations are being out-resourced and out-marketed by the for-profit organizations in their industries. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. None of these organizations has the volume of quality content that associations do.

But unlike these marketing-driven companies, associations often miss taking just a few simple, but important steps to ensure their content is equally visible across the world wide web.

Learn How to Use Your Content to Grow Your Programs

Omnipress has published a 20-minute on-demand webinar to help association professionals understand why it’s so important that associations take the time to re-package and re-purpose their educational content while providing some extremely practical ideas for how to do this with minimal time and resources, including:

  • How to optimize speaker and course materials for search engines
  • How to re-package existing content into new resources
  • How to promote this content without adding more to your plate

Download and watch the webinar.

Associations are sitting on a goldmine that contains everything you need to engage young professionals and grow your organization. Now, you just use it to your advantage!

Meeting Planners: Weigh in on the Future of Conference Content

Our annual State of the Conference Industry Survey is now open, and we need your input!

2020 will mark the sixth year that we will be publishing our State of the Conference Industry Report, based on data we collect from association conference and meeting professionals like yourself.

Our goal with this report is to provide peer-to-peer benchmarking, identify trends and generate ideas you can use in your planning sessions around the educational content provided at the annual conference, including:

  • The role content plays before, during, and after the conference
  • The importance of this educational content to an association’s strategic goals
  • How changes in attendee and member demographics are affecting the delivery and use of this content
  • The current and potential impact on associations

The survey takes just 5-10 minutes to complete. All responses remain confidential. As a thank you for your time, you can choose to be entered into a drawing to receive a $100 Visa Gift Card.  The drawing will take place in December after the survey closes.

We look forward to your feedback this October and November. The survey deadline is November 30, 2019.

Please take a moment to complete the survey and pass it along to your colleagues. We will share the results with you in early 2020 in our annual State of the Conference Industry Report.

If you haven’t yet seen it already, please download the 2019 Report.

To Overcome “The Forgetting Curve,” Re-Use Educational Content

 

For those of you who recently held a conference or training course, your members are about to forget everything you just taught them (if they haven’t already). It stings just a bit to hear that, doesn’t it? But unfortunately, science tells us it’s true. The good news, though, is that associations can (and should) combat The Forgetting Curve phenomenon, at least to some extent, simply by re-packaging and re-purposing this educational content. A little cross-departmental collaboration goes a long way, too.

The Forgetting Curve: Effects of time on learning retention

Educational content is by far the top value your organization provides to your members. But its value is only realized when it can actually be applied in real-life situations. Unfortunately, from the moment a course or conference ends, we find ourselves battling The Forgetting Curve—a term coined by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus to describe the effects of time on learning retention.

Within the first few days after a conference or training course, the forgetting curve is very steep. What Ebbinghaus found through his research is that providing “spaced repetition” of learning material can soften this curve, helping us to retain more information for a longer period of time.

In other words, your educational content needs to have a life after the course or conference.

In both of our annual reports—the 2019 State of the Conference Industry Report and the 2019 Training Trends Report—we asked respondents whether they re-use their educational content from the conference or training course for any purpose, and if so, how. The infographic below illustrates their responses.

forgetting curve association training pros meeting planners reuse educational content infographicMeeting Planners:

• 55% re-use conference content
• 26% use it to reinforce learning after the conference

Training Professionals:

• 77% re-use training materials
• 55% use them to reinforce key learning concepts after the course

While a majority of those surveyed are repurposing their educational content, fewer are using it to help promote learning retention—particularly in the case of conferences. This is not only a disservice to your participants, but it also diminishes the value of your program.

How can associations better leverage their educational content to help make learning stick?

1. Refresher courses and mini-events

Look at your most popular conference sessions and create short “refresher courses” on these topics. Add them to your training course roster or deliver them as a series of smaller, regional conferences. Not only does this increase your portfolio of programming as a member benefit, it can also create additional revenue opportunities for your organization.

2. Peer-to-peer learning sessions

ASAE recently published this article on the importance of peer-to-peer learning opportunities at conferences, recognizing the amount of collective expertise attendees bring to the table. What if you could take this one step further, and provide those peer-to-peer learning sessions after the conference or training course? Participants can have the opportunity to share their experiences and learnings as they apply the knowledge learned in the class or conference. Again, these could be developed as a series of smaller, regional in-person meetings, or as virtual events. Today, there are certainly plenty of tools and technology that can be used to foster face-to-face discussions such as WhatsApp, Facetime, Skype, Google Hangouts, and Houseparty.

3. Develop post-event homework assignments

Looking to help learners apply knowledge in a practical way while also adding to your member resource library? We grew up doing homework in school for this very purpose, so why not add it as a component to your course or conference! Create a series of homework assignments for learners to complete at specific time-based intervals. If there’s an opportunity to have these count for additional CE credits, even better.

4. Create a post-event communications plan

Short, focused and frequent reminders of key points from an educational session or class is one extremely easy way to keep the material top-of-mind. Take a specific topic, session or chapter and break it up into a series of emails, each focusing on a single point or takeaway. This is not only a simple yet effective way to reinforce learning, it helps to keep your organization top-of-mind, which helps to boost retention, too.

Most of us recognize that learning is not a one-time event. It’s an ongoing process. But many organizations still deliver educational content as a one-time event—whether at a conference or in a course. Creating opportunities to provide this same content several times throughout the year will certainly increase the retention and application of the material. But there’s an additional benefit for the organization as well. By increasing your touchpoints with members, you can also increase member engagement and the value of your programs. It may require a little extra work, but it’s definitely a win-win.

Pre-Conference Reading List: Articles to Prep for ASAE Annual

 

For most people, summer means warm days, sunshine, beach time, fireflies and lemonade. For us, it means it’s time to get ready for our favorite event of the year—the ASAE Annual Meeting!

We’ve already started browsing through the conference schedule to plan which sessions we’re going to attend. There are a few that caught our attention because they’re covering topics that we’ve had our eye on this year as well, including:

  • A Method to the Madness: How to Strategically Use and Reuse Your Content
  • The Annual Conference as a Year Long Engagement Tool
  • Don’t Just Learn It, Do It! Developing Microlessons for Practice & Application
  • Reimagining an Innovative and Collaborative Conference
  • Four Steps for Growing, Engaging and Retaining Your Membership

In fact, we’ve written blog articles that address some of these same themes.  So, we went back and re-visited these articles to get the “thinking gears” moving in preparation for the conference. And then it occurred to us—maybe others will find these articles helpful as well.

We’ve prepared a list of suggested reading to kick-start your thought process and help prepare you for an engaging discussion at ASAE Annual.

Six Articles That Will Help Get You Ready for ASAE Annual

 

Are You Wasting Your Most Valuable Resource?

Associations are sitting on a goldmine. Unlike most for-profit organizations, associations are in the business of content. You source it for your conferences. You develop it for your educational programs. And you produce it for your publications. You have no shortage of knowledge and ideas to share. But what many don’t have is a well-defined sharing program, both internally and externally, which prevents associations from using that content to its full potential. Here are some ideas on how to overcome internal obstacles and develop a sustainable content marketing process. READ MORE

Association Growth: Conference and Membership Teams Must Collaborate Better

The 2019 State of the Conference Industry Report results demonstrate that conference attendance trends and membership growth trends are closely linked, making it essential that conference and membership teams work together to leverage this relationship, providing increased member benefit and attracting new audiences. Here are four ideas to achieve association growth. READ MORE

The Future of Continuing Education Can be Found in K-12 Classrooms

The way in which we need to deliver education is fundamentally changing because our understanding of how people learn best is changing. The origins of this shift can be traced all the way back to the K-12 classroom.  The school-aged learners of today will soon be the adult learners of tomorrow, and their current classroom experiences are going to affect professional development programs in the future. This article explores five fundamental shifts in classroom learning and the potential impact on continuing education professionals. READ MORE

Five Ways to Continue the Learning After Your Conference

The learning we experience at conferences does not have to end when the conference does. And that wonderful content that you spent months collecting and vetting doesn’t have to fade into oblivion. You can use it to keep the ideas flowing, keep your attendees energized and, better yet, increase the ROI of your conference for months, if not years, after the fact. Here are five ideas to leverage content after an event. READ MORE

Apply Micro-Learning Concepts to Your Printed Course Materials

The discussion of mico-learning is typically centered around online and mobile-based training programs. Recently, however, some organizations have started looking at ways to redesign existing print content to implement and test micro-learning without the need for additional resources. Here are some ideas to consider for your micro-learning programs. READ MORE

Get Your Training Courses Ready for Generation Z

Today, many associations are thinking about how to remain relevant at a time when access to free knowledge is just a click away. But there’s good news: Gen Z will find tremendous value in the opportunities that associations provide…if you can adapt to their needs and meet them on their terms. Here are some things to consider in your next conference strategy session. READ MORE

We’re very interested to gain additional industry perspectives and learn more about where these themes are headed in the coming year.  And, we look forward to joining our association friends and industry partners for several days of great insights and even better conversations.

Be sure to stop by and visit us at Booth #1423. See you soon!

Big Ideas for Training, Continuing Education Pros from ATD Conference

 

“Every human is looking for the exact same thing—to live out the truest expression of themselves as a human being.” – Oprah Winfrey, ATD 2019, Keynote Address

In her opening keynote speech at the Association for Talent Development’s annual conference and expo, ATD 2019, in Washington D.C., Oprah Winfrey spoke to a packed house of training and continuing education professionals about the idea of living out the truest expression of ourselves, applying it to the crowd of thousands of training and development professionals seated before her. She explained that by applying our talents toward the greater good, a paradigm switch from the conventional business mindset, we can achieve even more benefits from our own talents—an idea that resonated with the education professionals in the audience.

As training professionals and association leaders, you are responsible for fostering the advancement of your industry through education. In essence, you are helping others develop and apply their talents toward the greater good.

As organizations that set the standards for an industry, associations are also catalysts of change. It’s your role to both lead change based on new industry developments and respond to it, as societal norms and expectations change.  Seth Godin, best-selling author, entrepreneur, teacher and ATD 2019 keynote speaker put it eloquently (and bluntly) when he stated at the top of his address, “The essence of your work is that you make change happen – or why bother.”

Adapting Technology for Educational Programming in a Changing World

We know what we do and why, but how do we stay at the top of our game and keep up with the ever-changing needs of learners who are now accustomed to remote work settings, the gig economy, and of course, technological advances in their field? Walking the floors of ATD it was apparent how fast-changing and competitive the education technology landscape really is. So, all we need is new learning technology and all our nuanced challenges as trainers and educators will get better, right? “Crapola!” pronounced an energetic Elliott Masie, education technology expert credited with coining the term “e-learning” and ATD 2019 speaker.

In his speech, Masie focused on first discovering how learners are changing and then deciding how and what technology to apply in order to make their experiences better.

So, how are learners changing? Thanks to the advent of the internet and mobile technology, learners can now search for answers by themselves, without a formal manual or instructor. They are engaging in self-directed, curiosity-based knowledge consumption. And what they find must be highly relevant, bite-sized content for microlearning—education industry jargon Masie sardonically called “learning words”. He suggests that we not pigeonhole ourselves into industry terminology, but rather focus on providing value to learners and their changing needs with the technology we choose to implement or create.

Other adult learners may want to gain the knowledge they need on the job, at the exact time they need it—just-in-time learning. In other words, people don’t want to memorize information and wait a long time before they can actually use it. Masie suggests there is “too much training at the wrong time.” And he’s not just talking about this in reference to millennials, which is often the microcosm for discussion among training pros on such topics.

“I’m not a fan of the millennial conversation. I don’t believe millennials are different. Anyone living in 2019 is different.”

Education professionals have historically relied on developing learning programs and strategies based on demographics. But this isn’t a relevant way to think about education anymore. We have all become equally reliant upon technology and tend to use it fairly similarly. Instead, think about how to use technology more thoughtfully to support the learner experience at any age.

Do Better, Not More

As training professionals walking the floors at an international conference and expo like ATD, it’s easy to not only be inspired by the advances in education tech, but it’s also quite easy to be intimidated—especially for association leaders who many times feel they are already behind the ball of their corporate counterparts. Stay calm, it’s ok to feel overwhelmed or to feel that you or your organization could be doing better when it comes to implementing technology into your programming. Instead, focus on doing better at meeting the needs of your learners with thoughtful curriculum. Start incorporating technology by breaking up and reorganizing your existing training content into bite-sized chunks that your learners can access easily on their mobile phones. Test and experiment with content delivery methods for effectiveness first before jumping into a costly overhaul of your education technology.

After speaking with attendees at ATD, we know that technology updates are top of mind. And according to our annual training trends report, they have been for quite some time.  Across industries, whether association or corporate, be assured that not everyone is there yet. Not everyone needs to be there yet. Be thoughtful in your approach to how you implement technology and your courses and your learners will be better off for it.

Association Growth: Conference and Membership Teams Must Collaborate Better

 

Earlier this year, we published our annual State of the Conference Industry Report which tracks the evolution of conference content and the role it plays at an annual conference.  While there are several key takeaways and opportunities highlighted in the report, there is one that association leaders should take particular note of: to achieve association growth goals, conference and membership teams need to collaborate more.

The link between conference attendance and association membership

Since the report was first published in 2015, meeting planners have consistently indicated that their top goal for the annual conference is to increase attendance. However, the data also demonstrates that conference attendance trends and membership growth trends are closely linked.

For the meeting planner, an increase in association membership provides a larger pool of prospective conference attendees. Conversely, for the membership team, the annual conference provides a unique opportunity to demonstrate the association’s value to a prospective member before they make an annual commitment to the organization. The conference is often the primary way a member stays connected to and engaged with the organization, which helps to promote member retention.

As you’re getting ready for your next conference, consider ways to more tightly connect the value of the conference with the value of membership to increase conference attendance, grow membership and create more engaged members.

Here are a few ideas to help get you started:

  1. Experiment with creative pricing strategies

One local chapter of the American Marketing Association (AMA) generated a significant spike in new memberships when their annual conference registration opened. The reason? They created a conference pricing structure that made it more lucrative to attend as a member, plus bundled the pricing with a limited-time discount on membership fees. Because the chapter has a strong member retention rate, the initial discounts created a long-term return on investment.

  1. Create unique member benefits through post-conference programming

The meeting planner looks for ways to extend the conference experience long after the closing keynote session. The membership team looks for ways to increase the value of membership. By providing exclusive access to post-conference programming, associations can achieve both.  One idea: host small, post-show virtual discussion groups for attendees to share ideas, apply learning on the job and connect with peers. Social platforms such as House Party, FaceTime, Workplace by Facebook and Google Hangouts are low-to-no cost tools that can help facilitate this.

  1. Use the conference as a forum to connect with members

Unless your association has local chapters or sections, you probably don’t get much face time with your members. And these individuals who are already inundated with email, direct mail and other marketing messages could be missing key information about your organization. The annual conference is the perfect opportunity to connect with members and remind them of the benefits of their membership. Find ways to include member touchpoints as part of the conference agenda and use them as an opportunity to educate (or, re-educate) on member benefits.

  1. New members: welcome them early and often

Many organizations provide special programming for new members or first-time attendees at the conference, such as a welcome reception. But walking into this reception can be a bit overwhelming and intimidating for a newbie. What if you could put them at ease and make them feel like an important member of the organization before the conference starts?  Consider hosting a pre-show virtual meet-and-greet with fellow peers. Introduce them to some of the conference speakers and key staff. Create conference liaisons to help break the ice and facilitate introductions while at the conference. This small extra step will go a long way toward creating a positive on-site experience.

There is a strong connection between a successful conference and association membership growth. The notoriety of your conference is what helps to attract new members, and it’s how existing members engage with your organization. Conference and membership teams need to work together to leverage this relationship to provide increase member benefit and attract new audiences.

The Google Effect on Your Training Program Courses

Once upon a time, associations were the singular source of industry information and knowledge. Today, associations find they are up against an extremely intelligent and almost omnipresent competitor: Google. The behemoth search engine’s complex algorithm delivers answers to questions almost instantaneously and, often, for free. These search results are getting smarter, too—more predictive and conversational, with the focus shifting from targeting keywords to answering questions. What’s more, is that younger learners have been conditioned from a very early age to rely on Google as a primary source of information.  In order to remain relevant and drive program growth, associations need to think about how to make their protected content accessible to search engines without decreasing its inherent value to members.

Young Professionals are the Key to Training Program Growth

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Millennials in the U.S. has eclipsed Baby Boomers. Meanwhile, Bloomberg estimates that Generation Z will surpass Millennials in size. This means the pipeline for prospective learners is substantial, if organizations can connect with them and deliver the value they’re looking for.

Unfortunately, according to our 2019 Training Trends Report, associations are not yet seeing a corresponding rise in the number of Millennial and Generation Z members or learners. According to the report, Baby Boomers, on average, make up about 50-70% of training course attendees.  On the flipside of the equation, Millennials only make up about 20-30% of learners, and Generation Z is about 10% or less. The reason? A significant percentage (49%) of organizations have not yet developed a strategy to address the needs and preferences of younger professionals.

The good news is that early observations note that Generation Z is a more pragmatic generation who are actively seeking out professional development opportunities. This, coupled with their size, make them a prime target for training programs…if these young learners are aware of them, that is.

The Case for Making Training Program Content Searchable Via Google

As organizations think about how to develop educational programs that are relevant to younger learners, the emphasis is often placed on content accessibility and delivery. Much of the discussion in today’s professional development circles centers around themes such as micro-learning, mobile learning, and gamification, for instance. There is significantly less discussion around the discoverability of this content—what questions are young professionals asking, and where and how are they finding the answers?

In 2012, Pew surveyed middle and high school teachers to understand how their students conduct research for a class assignment. Ninety-four percent of participants said their students were very likely to use Google as one of their primary tools, far outweighing any other information source, including Wikipedia, social media, peers or even textbooks. Today, these students from the 2012 survey are Generation Z young professionals. They are conditioned to look to Google for the very information and knowledge that most associations provide.

Many associations “lock down” educational content to protect both the value of that content and the integrity of their training programs on behalf of the industries they serve, and understandably so. Content exclusivity is what drives member value. The negative consequence of this, however, is that it is often done in a way that prevents search engines like Google from crawling that content as well, making it more difficult to attract new learners.  In order to grow training program attendance, associations will need to strike a balance between making educational content searchable by search engines, without giving it entirely away for free.

Use Content Marketing to Strike the Right Balance Between Value and Accessibility

As our 2019 Training Trends Report illustrates, 77% of respondents do re-use the content from their training programs. However, it’s primarily being used to reinforce key learning concepts to those that attended the course. Only 33% of respondents indicated they are using content to market and promote training courses. To get your programs in front of more prospective learners, it’s important to think about how to re-package and re-purpose smaller snippets of your course content as part of a larger content marketing strategy. This will not only help you get in front of search engines, but it will also give prospective members a useful sample of the types of questions your organization can answer and the development opportunities you provide before you convince them to register for a course.

Here is just one example of how to do this.

Finding Relevant Topics

Start by evaluating your most popular training courses and the specific topics covered. Use Google’s “Searches Related to” tool found at the bottom of search results pages to see what types of topics and questions users are searching for that may be related to your educational content. There are also several free and paid tools on the market that find the most popular questions asked across the web on specific topics, like SEMrush and BuzzSumo.

Publishing Content

Turn snippets of your most popular course material or relevant Google search queries into blog articles published on your website. Better yet, ask your instructors or subject matter experts to contribute, if possible.

Promoting Content

Promote your blog article via email, through social media channels like Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and through any industry partners.

Associations don’t need to open their training material to non-members if it doesn’t align with their organizational strategy. But there are ways that organizations can, and should, openly publish samples of their educational subject matter for prospective members to discover.  Like it or not, Google is key to organizational growth.

Mobile Training Programs: Optimizing Educational Content for Mobile Learning

Is your association considering—or currently offering—mobile training programs? Follow these simple steps to optimize your existing educational content for mobile learning.

Why Consider Mobile Training and Learning Programs?

One of the top trends in training and education is the development of mobile training and learning programs to make learning more accessible. Mobile content is not only convenient for the learner, but it can also increase retention and productivity by delivering critical knowledge at the exact moment it’s needed. Also known as “just-in-time training,” organizations are recognizing the benefits of pairing in-depth learning with opportunities for real-time reinforcement and practical application. For this to truly be effective, however, content needs to be optimized so that it can be searched and delivered quickly on a mobile device. The practical applications for just-in-time learning are considerable. For example, think of the technician who is on-site to install or repair a specialized piece of new equipment. Although they were formally trained on the process months ago, the ability to access reinforcement material will help increase accuracy and productivity.  Simply by scanning a QR code on the equipment, or clicking a link to a searchable resource library, that technician can pull up the exact documentation they need to complete the task quickly and accurately.  Within the office environment, just-in-time training resources empower employees to make decisions and handle difficult situations with greater confidence. In a perfect world, this just-in-time content would be developed specifically for mobile training. Short instructional videos or easy-to-follow visual documents tend to be the most user-friendly in these situations. But developing all new content may not be practical for many organizations due to limited financial and personnel resources.  However, it is possible to use the content you already have for a mobile learning program if you take a few simple steps to ensure it can be delivered to the user quickly.

  1. Provide a centralized “home” for your mobile content

Members and employees need to be able to find relevant content easily. Provide cloud-based access to a centralized library where this content is stored, whether that’s within an existing LMS or an online resource library.  Whatever tool or system you choose, make sure the search functionality is powerful and dynamic enough to provide robust search results for the user.

  1. Modify document layout, if possible

While it may not be possible to completely re-create shorter, more visual content, look for opportunities to modify the layout of existing, multi-column documents to a single-column format where possible to reduce or eliminate the need for left-to-right scrolling. While vertical scrolling is common on mobile devices, horizontal scrolling is extremely disruptive to the user, increasing the time it takes to read a document while reducing overall comprehension.

  1. Minimize the file size

Mobile devices, although convenient, are limited when it comes to processing power. The last thing a user needs in a time-critical situation is to attempt to access a PDF file that takes minutes to open or download. If you are developing new content for mobile training and learning, create it with the intention to minimize file size. Limit the number of fonts and use lower resolution photos and graphics. If you are working with an existing document, there are several file optimization tools available in Adobe Acrobat®. The exact steps will depend upon which version of Acrobat you’re running, but some general guidelines include:

  • Use the Reduce File Size command or PDF Optimizer
  • Enable Fast Web View in the File > Preferences dialog box
  • Unembed unnecessary fonts
  • Downsample or compress images
  1. In longer documents, create bookmarks or hyperlinked table of contents

If your educational content takes the form of a longer textbook or training manual, it may be impractical to break it up into separate, shorter documents. But it is possible to make these documents easier to navigate by creating bookmarks in your PDF to create jump destinations that link to other documents or web pages.  If you are housing your educational content in an online resource library, each publication can be broken out into easy-to-navigate, hyperlinked sections and backed with contextual search capabilities so users don’t have to scroll through hundreds of pages to find the answers they need.

Mobile Training Can be Worth the Time it Takes to Optimize Educational Content for Your Learners

Providing quick, easy, and just-in-time access to learning and training materials is going to continue to be a key component of mobile training programs moving forward.  It not only increases retention and success for the learner, it also increases program value by providing practical application of education concepts when they are needed most. Eventually, educational content will need to be designed with this in mind. But if you don’t have the resources nor bandwidth to tackle this today, don’t let that stop you from testing some small pilot programs. It is possible to re-use existing content by taking a few, simple steps to optimize documents for mobile delivery.

Event Technology Software Integration: Is It Really Needed?

 

Over the past several years we have seen a significant increase in the number of customers that ask us about integrating CATALYST® Abstract Management System by Omnipress with their Association Management System (AMS). This probably comes as no surprise, as event technology integration is a hot topic in the meetings industry right now. Meeting planners are looking for ways to simplify processes for both attendees and staff while gathering smarter insights about their event. At Omnipress, we’ve developed CATALYST to integrate with many third-party technologies, including your AMS, and are continually working to increase our software integration footprint. We want to be sure that integration is an option for our customers when necessary. But integration–not just with an abstract management system, but with nearly any type of cross-platform connection–often requires more time and resources than meeting planners are prepared for. Before embarking down the integration path, it’s extremely important to have a clear understanding of your objectives and desired outcomes, to evaluate whether or not integration is truly necessary.

Integrating Your Event Technology Planning Tools

The event technology landscape is overwhelmingly diverse. Corbin Ball, a noted event technology expert, states that he currently tracks, “nearly 1,500 event tech products in 60 categories” on his website, ranging from comprehensive all-in-one platforms to smaller, more specialized tools. The benefit of an all-in-one platform is that, in theory, all products within the platform seamlessly integrate with each other. But many organizations find that not all tech products available within a single platform meet their specialized needs uniformly. As a result, they opt to build a “tech stack” of separate, best-in-breed products that can (hopefully) connect data from one system to the other seamlessly.  Recognizing this need, more and more technology providers are building cooperative relationships to ensure their products “play well” together.

The case for integration makes perfect sense. As a meeting planner, why wouldn’t you want to have the option to choose tools that work best for your specific organizational needs, and the convenience of a streamlined way to capture, track and manage data between them?

CATALYST® Abstract Management Software AMS Integration Instances

Below are the most common AMS integration use cases we see customers taking advantage of with CATALYST:

Single sign-on

If a member already has login credentials to access their account details or resources based on their member profile and status, those same credentials can be used to log in to CATALYST. This makes the process of submitting abstracts more convenient and simpler for users.

Access and content control

With AMS integration, organizations can use data such as member level, member status or payment transactions to control access to online educational materials. Additionally, meeting planners and program managers can control whether a member has permission to submit an abstract, or even which questions they see on the submission form.

Data consistency

Pull member data from your AMS into CATALYST and simplify the submission process for an author, preventing them from having to re-type data that already exists in the system. With AMS integration there’s also less room for human data entry error, increasing data cleanliness and accuracy.

Co-author data entry

Many abstracts or papers are submitted by one author, on behalf of a team of co-authors who are also members of the organization. Data integration can allow that author to easily look up co-author information from the AMS and have it auto-populate into the abstract submission form, increasing convenience and data integrity.

While it’s clear to see the inherent benefits of integration, many associations don’t always realize is the ongoing investment of time, budget and resources that will be required for optimal integration—particularly if your requirements are fairly complex and custom. Sean Lawler, Product Development Manager at Omnipress, points out, “If we have already integrated with a particular AMS or other database provider before, it does simplify the process, as we are already familiar with their back-end environment.” But, he cautions, “The real wild card is that almost every client has their AMS configured differently, so every integration is somewhat unique and adjustments have to be made.”

Organizations also need to think beyond just the initial build. “It’s not a ‘one-and-done’ situation,” says Lawler. “The integration often needs to be maintained as you make changes to your database.”

Is Event Technology Software Integration Important to Your Organization? 

Unfortunately, there is no “simple button” to push to make integration happen, no matter how technologically advanced the product is, nor how experienced the provider. Given the resources required, the real question for meeting planners is whether the ROI truly makes sense.  To help in your evaluation, here are just a sampling of the questions Sean and his team explore with customers before settling on integration options.

1. What current challenges or pain points are you trying to solve, and why?

In some cases, we’ve found that data integration was not the core of the issue. Instead, we worked with customers to address and improve aspects of their submission and review process, which helped to reduce and streamline the work involved.

2. By solving these challenges, what is the estimated net gain to your organization—time, labor, financial, etc.?

It’s important to understand the true impact of integration to help calculate the short and long-term ROI for the organization.

3. How often, or how real-time do you need to access the data?

If there truly is a need to see data on an ongoing basis or in real-time, then integration probably is your best option. Sometimes, customers indicate they only need data at the very end of the project. In these cases, we can often provide the data they need, at no additional cost to them.

4. Where are you in the current lifecycle of your AMS? Are you planning on making a switch in the next 1-2 years or making a major change or upgrade within your existing system?

If you foresee any major changes on the horizon, then we recommend delaying the integration conversation until that time if possible, because the work that is done the first time will likely have to be done all over again once the changes are implemented.

There’s no doubt that increased visibility, streamlined processes and consistent data provide significant benefits to meeting planners. Integration of your organization’s event technology is one way to achieve this. But depending upon your true needs and goals, it may be possible to implement more practical processes that achieve the same results, without the necessary timeline and investment of integration. It’s important to ensure all stakeholders are aligned on objectives and outcomes and come to the table with an open mind. There is no doubt that integration will continue to play a large role in the future of event technology, including CATALYST Abstract Management System, but it may or may not be the best option for your organization today.

Association Profile: How AOTA is Building Strong Relationships with Young Professionals

Education is, by far, one of the most important benefits associations offer to members. How this education is delivered, however, continues to evolve as member demographics change. Are associations prepared to meet the needs of young professionals? According to our recently released 2019 State of the Conference Industry Report, the answer is no, not really.

Associations Struggle to Increase Membership of Young Professionals

Generation Z, the newest generation to enter the workplace, is reported to be the largest generation—larger than Baby Boomers or Millennials. And all indications are that this is a generation who is actively seeking out professional development opportunities and personal connections, making them a prime target for associations. Yet, a mere 7% of associations profiled in the 2019 Report have developed a strategy to address the needs of these current and prospective members. Meanwhile, 50% of respondents have not started the process of developing programs for their youngest members.

Creating programs and content tailored to young professionals can be a daunting proposition, particularly for association professionals who are already balancing several different roles and responsibilities. It often helps to see what other organizations are doing, using these ideas to start building and testing small, pilot programs.  One such association that has, and continues to develop, strategies to engage younger members is the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). We spoke with Frank Gainer, Director of Conferences, and Melissa Stutzbach, Program Manager of Education and Young Professional Development, who shared their current strategies, and the insights they’ve gained along the way.

AOTA’s Successful Strategy for Engaging Young Professionals in Association Programs

AOTA’s mission is to represent the interests and concerns of occupational therapy practitioners and students and to improve the quality of occupational therapy services through a wide range of programs and activities delivered to their 60,000 members. Given that nearly half of these members are students, the staff of AOTA wants to ensure they demonstrate the value of membership by helping them transition into a meaningful practice, providing specialized resources and facilitating connections with established professionals and peers.

As Gainer describes it, “Our focus on students and new practitioners has been a progressive journey that dates back to at least 2007.” It was at this time that AOTA introduced their National Student Conclave, a two-day event designed to help students successfully transition into a practice. “Our Conclave programs focus on practical skills and topics that are needed for new practitioners to be successful on the job that aren’t necessarily covered as part of a typical college curriculum.” These programs include panel discussions with fellow students who are further along in their clinical training and resume evaluation sessions.

The results were extremely positive. Gainer notes, “We were afraid that Conclave would deter students from attending the annual conference, but it hasn’t. In fact, they are actually more engaged at the annual event.”

The success of this event led AOTA to recognize the need for a dedicated resource to focus on student and new professional development. In 2013, Stutzbach was hired to identify and implement programs designed to increase the success and engagement of young professionals.

AOTA’s Two-Part Approach to Engaging Mid-Level Professionals

This is all great, however, young professionals are not just students. Stutzbach also sought to address recent grads-to-mid-level professionals. “When I came on board, we recognized that our engaged members consisted primarily of our students and our more seasoned practitioners. Where we were lacking was with our newer-to-mid-level practitioners. You could clearly see the drop-off in engagement levels when our student members graduated.”

Since 2013, AOTA has developed two overarching goals that must be achieved in order to increase newer-to-mid-level professionals:

1. Continue to strengthen the connection students have to the organization to increase post-graduation retention

2. Create programs that increase membership value for new graduates

In order to accomplish these goals, AOTA has introduced the following tactics:

Overhauling the existing student leadership group

In an effort to start somewhere manageable, AOTA first addressed existing initiatives, looking for ways to make programming more engaging and interactive while providing opportunities to connect students with fellow students.  AOTA also introduced a student newsletter written by students to deliver practical information that typically isn’t covered in the classroom.

Introduction and evolution of new programming and engagement opportunities at the annual conference

AOTA student members receive full access to their annual conference. But navigating this large event can be overwhelming to students who are also still navigating their careers. AOTA looked to make the event more approachable and valuable to students by including a student session track featuring content that is specific to their experiences.

Additionally, Gainer and Stutzbach are continually looking at new ways to engage attendees and “shake up” the programming to appeal to younger members. According to Gainer, “Our conference team is a very creative group that is open to new ideas and are willing to try new things.” Just a few of the elements they have recently introduced include:

  • Interactive, discussion-based sessions
  • Fun movement breaks: imagine 600 people learning to Salsa for 30 minutes—an element that was so successful it’s making an appearance for the third year!
  • Adult coloring books for a creative mental break
  • Live feeds on Facebook and Instagram so those that couldn’t attend feel like a part of the action

Created a tiered rate structure

To provide a more gradual increase in dues as a student is just getting established, AOTA offers a new practitioner rate that applies for the first two years after graduation.

Created leadership training and opportunities for new graduates

AOTA has created leadership roles for new graduates on governing bodies, allowing them to provide their input and perspective on the direction of the organization. AOTA also helps facilitate leadership opportunities with state associations. They have also created an Emerging Leaders Development Program—an application-based program where accepted members participate in a 3-day leadership training workshop and are then paired with a mentor who guides them throughout the year on service learning projects.

What’s Next for AOTA

Although AOTA already has an impressive roster of initiatives aimed at attracting and retaining younger members, they are always looking for ways to improve and grow. Stutzbach notes, “We keep a pretty solid feedback loop going to understand what members need, where we can do better, and where we should go next.” So, what’s next on the docket? “It’s time to revitalize the program that started it all—Conclave. Attendance has been somewhat static, so we’re looking at some new ways to reinvent this very valuable event.”

Advice for Fellow Associations

For those organizations who fall within the 50% indicated in our 2019 Conference Industry Report who don’t yet have a plan in place to address the needs of young professionals, Gainer and Stutzbach have the following advice, “Try something small and attainable, gather feedback and build from there.” Both are huge fans of surveying members as well as communicating some of the new initiatives being introduced.

Here is some additional advice Gainer and Stutzbach shared for organizations just getting started:

  • Make sure you pull in the perspectives of young professionals across the organization: what’s trending, what they’re interested in and what will resonate. You also need to have at least one dedicated staff member to make sure this input is infused into everything you’re doing or else you’re going to lose sight of it as you become buried with your day-to-day tasks.
  • Hire someone young.
  • If you can, get a social media person and figure out how people in that profession connect with each other. Then, add social media components that allow members to feel connected not just to your organization, but to your people. Let them in on the behind-the-scenes of what you do.
  • People have to be empowered to take risks. But create opportunities to take risks that have minimal consequences, so that if something doesn’t work, it’s not a huge monetary loss.
  • Have fun with it.
  • It doesn’t have to be complicated. Start small and build from there. Some things will just happen organically that way, so not all the work has to solely be on you.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail. You’re going to try something, and it may bomb, and that’s okay.
  • And for goodness sake, don’t prevent students from going to sessions at the conference. Seasoned members are open to, and excited about, sharing their experience and wisdom, and helping students transition into the workplace. This could be the best place for your association to start.

For more insights on how associations are using their educational content to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse group of members, download our 2019 State of the Conference Industry Report.

Download Our 2019 Conference Industry Report

 

We are excited to announce that our 2019 State of the Conference Industry Report: Delivering Educational Content has just been released! A new year is here and with it comes new challenges and opportunities for association and conference professionals.

For the fifth year in a row, Omnipress has tracked the evolution of conference content and the role it plays at an association’s annual event. While educational content continues to provide a significant amount of member value, this year’s report highlights some changes on the horizon: emerging themes, new challenges and increased opportunities for organizations.

Delivering Educational Content: Current Challenges and Future Opportunities

For instance, this year’s report indicates that meeting planners they are being asked to deliver conference content in more formats than ever before. On average, associations are providing content in 2.6 formats—up from 2.4 in 2018, and 2.1 in 2017. The most noted increase was in the number of respondents who are providing three and even four different content delivery methods for a single conference. The reason? Attendees have indicated this is what they want.

Conference demographics are more diverse than ever, with four generations now living concurrently in the workplace. Additionally, there are ways than ever for people to consume content, which is creating a diverse set of preferences that don’t always follow generational stereotypes.

While associations look for ways to provide device-agnostic content, budget does come into play—particularly with other internal stakeholders. Few meeting planners have the luxury—nor the bandwidth—to do it all, leading to some tough decisions.

Other conference industry trends from our 2019 report:

  • Association membership trends mirror conference attendance trends, which means membership and conference teams need to work together more closely to achieve organizational goals
  • While organizations are offering more content formats at the conference, there is still uncertainty on what the content mix will look like in the future
  • Emerging learning trends are starting to have an impact at the conference
  • Organizations have not yet fully addressed the needs of younger generations

The report compiles data from an online survey of 150 association and meeting professionals to understand how organizations use educational content to increase visibility, extend their value and reach new attendees.

The purpose of this report is not just to present the data, but to help facilitate a cross-team discussion on how to leverage your greatest asset—education—to advance your mission and achieve strategic goals.

Download the free report to read the full results, and use it to spark a conversation within your own organization.

Should Associations Take A Blended Classroom Approach to Instruction?

 

Blended learning first emerged as a buzzword for continuing education professionals more than a decade ago and continues to be considered among the top trends for continuing education programs because of its effectiveness for knowledge delivery and retention. As a result, many associations have implemented a blended learning strategy into their training programs, offering learners the opportunity to access education both in the classroom and through e-learning. Looking forward, there are indications that the conversation is starting to shift from blended learning to blended classroom, and associations may want to take note.

Blended Learning vs. Blended Classroom

Typically, the term “blended learning” is used to describe an approach to training that mixes traditional, classroom-based instruction with online learning modules outside the classroom.  While the use of e-learning tools is a way to extend the learning experience, this traditional approach to blended training may not go far enough to meet the needs of learners—particularly the emerging Generation Z. In response, some organizations, taking a cue from trends within the K-12 learning environment, are focusing on ways to blend multiple learning formats and technologies within a single classroom setting to meet the personalized needs of learners and provide deeper knowledge.

In the most common execution of blended learning, the only component that is truly “blended” is the subject matter. Although complementary, the in-person content is delivered separately, and often in a separate context, from the e-learning modules, which can lead to inconsistencies in both delivery and retention. Additionally, in the traditional approach to blended learning, the classroom content typically takes the form of a lecture, with little opportunity for in-field practical application.

Within a blended classroom, a learner may interact with printed materials, an LMS, mobile content and even virtual and augmented reality technology all as part of a single learning experience. E-learning is no longer a separate activity, but rather, it becomes integrated into the classroom, and vice-versa. The role of the in-person training becomes less about delivering fundamental principles, and more about facilitating a deeper understanding of how to apply the knowledge.

How does this play out in practice?  Here is one example: An instructor may introduce a broad concept using a printed coursebook, then have learners turn to a video or e-learning module to illustrate the concept. The instructor then may incorporate independent study time for participants to use AR and VR tools, e-learning simulations and printed workbook exercises to deliver personalized, hands-on application of the discussed concepts, followed up with group discussions to share experiences and ideas.

Consider a Blended Classroom Approach to Learning for Your Association

While blended learning is a major topic of conversation among adult continuing education and training professionals, the execution of a blended classroom is most commonly found in K-12 and even technical and trade school programs. Which is the very reason associations may want to start thinking about applying it into their continuing education programs. In a few short years, your newest (and youngest) members will be conditioned to expect it.