3 Must-Have Tools for Conferences

As you may have heard, CareerCast.com named “Event Coordinator” the 6th most stressful job of 2012.

As a person who coordinates meetings and annual conferences for associations, you understand the stress of speakers not hitting their call for final presentations deadline, getting the most current information in the printed conference programs, ensuring those programs arrive on time, making sure your attendees can find their handouts online and offering a website that professionalizes your conference…and all of this is just work-related stress!

While there are a lot of details you need to be concerned about when planning an annual meeting, there are certainly some you SHOULDN’T be worried about. Here are 3 tools you can use to help ease the stress of event planning.

3 Tools to Improve Conferences

  1. Collect, Manage and Review Presentations Using an Online System.
    Stop using email as your tool for collecting your final presentations and start using a system that keeps you organized. Collecting final presentations via email may be better than Fed Ex deliveries, but it certainly doesn’t mean you have a cutting edge collection process. As busy professionals, we understand how easy it is for emails to disappear, sometimes even before we get to see them. (The love/hate relationship with our spam filters is never ending.) Creating one online location for ALL submitters and reviewers streamlines the entire process from your initial call for abstracts to collecting and reviewing speakers’ final presentations.
  2. Provide a Conference Program and Speaker Materials in a Condensed Learning Journal and Flash Drive. More conference materials mean more worry about which conference materials are going to arrive on which day from which vendor at what location. This is completely unnecessary. Instead of having your conference final program, session materials and notepads, try a conference learning journal that includes both your final program and extra note pages in one spiral bound book. Then, attach your flash drive of conference proceedings to the inside cover. And finally, right under that flash drive, include a link or QR code which will lead attendees right to your conference’s online event community where they can download the speaker handouts.
  3. Publishing Your Conference Handouts and Proceedings in a Digital Publishing Platform. Don’t leave it to your presenters to take business cards and send their handouts in a link to session attendees. This is crazy, but it still happens. Start publishing your conference proceedings and session handouts in a consistent online location (better known as a digital publishing platform). Then, keep publishing year after year in this same knowledge center under the same URL… for example, “conferencehandouts.yourassociations.com.” Market this website everywhere (in emails, on the program cover, on session starter slides, etc.). And, if you’re publishing your materials through this digital publishing platform, attendees should just be able to Google it and find it easily.

Spending less time worrying about conference materials will give you more time to focus on more important aspects of planning a meeting or conference.

What are some other resources that would help make your conference planning job less stressful?

Provide Value and Attendees Will Come (and Return!)

Is “Corporate Social Responsibility” important to your events?

Are attendees important your events?

Yes is the answer!

However, when I learn that events are dropping printed educational materials to “be more green”, what I am really hearing is, “We need to save money/reduce costs.”

We know that travel has the largest negative impact on the planet. We know the per cup rate of coffee at some meeting locations are in the range of $10 to $15 per cup. And, we know that attendees are looking for increased value for the hundreds to thousands of dollars they have invested to attend your meeting.

So, why do meeting professionals and educational leaders cut printed conference materials attendees find useful?

Let’s just suppose there is an option to increase value to help justify the current or even a higher price an attendee pays!

MPI to Drop Printed Conference Journals. Really?

After learning that my dear friends at Meeting Professionals International (MPI) wanted to take a more “responsible” approach to their WEC event by not providing their attendees with a Conference Learning Journal, I was shocked.

Let me make this known: I’ve been a MPI member and sponsor since 2004, and I am an MPI fan! And, as an attendee and avid conference go’er to many events each year, I had to respond to what is right.

Here are some excerpts from my email to MPI that I encourage you all to consider when planning your event:

Hi (name withheld to protect the brave MPI-er here),

Thanks for the note. I understand MPI’s thinking on this but I respectfully disagree. Please indulge me for a minute or two on this…

I actually think we should come at the CSR issue in the context of “what is the best attendee experience we can deliver” and then offer things that meet this objective in a responsible manner. I truly think that MPI is doing a disservice to its attendees by removing minimal yet useful tools from the on-site offering.

— Attendees need something to navigate through the event so they will likely print out (on paper) the conference schedule and bring it with them.
— They will likely want to take notes in some of the sessions they attend, which causes them to buy, bring or borrow a note pad to do so (again, paper).

I think a great stance for MPI is to present a value in the form that anticipates an attendees needs and then fills those needs… so attendees come away with the thoughts of, “Wow, they thought of everything and gave it to us in a responsible manner.”

A small printed journal using all recycled materials helps do this and helps attendees walking away with this thought… “Geez, this event is offering less value every year.”

How MPI Responded

MPI thought it over and decided to proceed with a useful, on-site printed tool that will enhance the attendee experience. Now that’s gutsy because it reverses an earlier decision to not produce any printed materials and at the time of their decision when they were only 5 weeks out from the event. Nice work MPI!

Here Are 3 Ways To Better Your Meetings

  1. Design your events to meet your attendees objectives first while considering other guiding principles like CSR, diversity, etc. If you don’t know their objectives, ask them!
  2. Be open to advice from trusted sources, even if it is at the last minute (that’s one of the many things I like about MPI!)
  3. Be open to change, change for the better.

I’d like to hear your stories of how you are maintaining… or better yet, increasing value to your event attendees while still meeting higher level objectives for Corporate Social Responsibility, Green and Diversity.

Conference Notebooks, Not Notepads

 

Remember when you were back in school and for each class you had a spiral-bound notebook?

Each class had a different flavor, and you took time to doctor them up with stickers or other cool designs. Then you get a real job and your employer hands you a… you guessed it… a notepad.

Everyone at work is carrying around these notepads, writing on one side only (not green!), flipping pages over the top edge (curling paper!) and tearing pages out (no organization!).

To make ourselves look professional, we buy a leather or vinyl organizer to hold our beloved cheap notepads. I have to say, I’m not a big fan of notepads if you are taking more than one page of notes and plan to refer back to them later.

Sound familiar?

Conference Notebooks | Perfect for Attendees

conflearnjournal_sm1A growing trend with many of our clients is providing their attendees with a program/notebook, usually in the 6×9 format. Sometimes it’s called a Conference Notebook, sometimes a Learning Journal. Regardless, it’s a great on-site tool that usually includes all the conference program and agenda information to help attendees quickly figure out what sessions to attend. It also contains about 30 blank pages for attendees to take notes. Some clients even include a CD with the session handouts on it.

Since we produce conference notebooks for many of our clients, I get the luxury of taking a few for my own use.

Yes, I carry around these little conference notebooks that say, “Meet Different” by MPI, or “2007 Professional Education Conference – MPI.” Hint to association marketers: Your logo and conference info lives long after the event. And, people are always asking me, “Who’s MPI?”

I Love My Conference Notebooks

Here’s why:

  • They’re compact.
  • They have a nice pocket in the back for carrying loose paper or business cards.
  • I can use both sides of the sheet.
  • They don’t take up half the table when the notebook is open.
  • It’s different and I look more professional.
  • Each meeting or note is dated so I can quickly refer back to it.
  • The cover identifies me with my profession (plus, I can draw cool things on it).

How I Use My Conference Notebooks

  1. notebook-cuOne for blogging notes, website technical things, etc.
  2. One for general meetings (many topics in this book).
  3. One that I take to educational conferences – my learning notes never get lost!
  4. My favorite use: I have one for all my hockey practice plans, drills, etc. It’s the best organizing tool that ever happened to my coaching career. I have every practice logged in a single conference notebook which makes it so easy to reference.

When you’re planning your next conference and want to give your attendees something useful and reusable, give them a conference notebook and save your dollars on other things like hotel notepads and fancy leather notepad holders.