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Friday, July 11, 2014

Grocery stores and Trade Shows

QuickMobile team prepping for a day at IMEX Frankfurt

What do grocery stores, trade shows and airports have in common? The more shows I go to, the more travel I do, the more it strikes me that there are many common elements to the experiences, which I share my first thoughts below.

  1. They are all places with a LOT of people, some there by choice, some by necessity.
  2. Traffic flow has to be thought out ahead of time and managed on a daily, or even hourly basis.
  3. Music adds more to the experience than announcements.
  4. The biggest companies get the prime real estate.  (do you know the premium for having your product beside a check-out stand?)
  5. They SHOULD all have wi-fi!  (and often don’t)
  6. They are full of possibilities.  
    1. If you are in an airport you are either going somewhere or meeting someone, both are opening up experiences you may not have otherwise.
    2. If you are at a trade show you are likely going to see people you know, meet with organizations you are aware of, and find new partners you could work with or new people you can collaborate with.
    3. If you are in a grocery store, you may be there planning a dinner party or deciding how you will eat this week – will it be white wine and popcorn, a brown rice cleanse or perhaps steak and red wine on Saturday night?  
I really love all of the above experiences. I like the planning , I don’t even mind standing in line and imagining what all the people around me are there for – What are they buying? Did they really think those shoes made sense for this? Why did they come?  Is their anticipation of the experience being met?  

The next time you are heading out to any of the above… tell me what you look forward to, or what really makes you crazy!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Customer Service Rules

Helping at the IRF
Customer service comes in many forms, but one thing I know absolutely is that we recognize and appreciate excellent service, we talk about bad service, and we have become immune to average service.  From my first career as a hairstylist and salon manager, to my second as a meeting planner and event producer, I have innately understood that great service is the only option if you want to become successful in that thing called work most of us will have to do for a long time.  We are lucky when we have work we love doing, and enjoy the rewards of providing good service. In the meeting and event industry, service is often our only differentiator, and while I have dozens of stories from my work in this arena, below I share a few that have inspired me to think about how we can do what we do better.
Trevor sharing knowledge

I have a few stories, the first from my colleague Trevor, a star among us in how he makes people feel, and who appreciates great service.  Trevor comes home from IMEX Frankfurt, exhausted as you would expect, and gets in a taxi to go home. The taxi is a regular taxi on the outside. Inside it is uber-clean with an office organizer on the
dashboard for the driver’s pens, receipts etc. The car smells good. There is nature/spa music playing at a reasonable volume and the temperature is comfortable.  The driver at the end of the trip says thank you very much, here is my card with my mobile number on the back and if you would like to book a ride with me, please call or text.  A week later, Trevor remembers this experience, texts the driver for a 4am pickup. He responds and says he will see him at 4am, and would he like a coffee? How would he like it?  At 3am the driver texts and says, see you at 4. At 345 he texts and says I am in the Tim Horton’s lineup would you like anything to go with your coffee? Guess who Trevor will have pick him up when he comes home?  And – this is a regular taxi driver and not a private car service, or a fancy sedan – nobody told him to do this – he has taken it upon himself to offer this level of service.  Guess who Trevor calls every time he has to go on a trip?

The next is from Andy who as someone who makes orthopedic braces understands well how important service is and who enjoys helping people greatly. Today he got a new drum. I love this story because it is from a guy in Beaverton who hand-makes the drums with an amazing amount of care and attention to detail, and who will only sell to musicians. Why? He wants people who love music to play his drums - not for someone who appreciates the beauty to make them a coffee table or a lamp.  Great service comes with passion for your product.

My cousin Kerry owns a coffee shop, the Hawthorne Cafe in Milton, which means for the most part her and Matt spend seven days a week caring for the basic coffee and food needs of guests, and who have focused on what matters to them - fresh, wholesome food, organic and fair trade products, and being a go-to place for those who appreciate excellent f & b products and great service.  They have created a warm environment that is conducive to families and individuals, indoors in a great space and outdoors on a fabulous patio, plus catering, jam nights, and other ongoing events. They ALWAYS do this with joy, and if you are near the area, I would stop in! 

Many of us are familiar with the famous level of service provided by Ritz Carlton properties. and on the Event Alley Show we were lucky enough to capture Jeff Hargett, a great speaker on the subject of service and a true master of this subject as the Senior Corporate Director, Culture Transformation for this organization as he shares his thoughts. It was one of our more technically challenging episodes as he joined us over a wifi connection, something we can all agree has not reached the level of service we now require (!) but well worth the listen for the content he shares.

How do we inspire this level of service from every individual who works with us?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Better Way

In the last few weeks I have been to a number of industry shows, meetings and events, and for the most part, all the things we keep talking and writing about, all we have learned about how people learn and connect, is largely ignored.  I offer up below examples of the hum drum to the oh so much better.

First, the average. I won't name names.  
Venue: large hotel in a convention city. Mobile app - average - it opens with an ad for the mobile ad company, it offers up basic functionality for finding my agenda, and one speaker has used the polling function that is available. The social activity is minimal, so my thirst for knowledge as to what is happening around us, coming up or is inspiring others is not sated. As I walk up to the registration desk, I am greeted warmly but told that my badge isn't ready since they haven't printed speaker badges yet, and plan to do that later in the day.  I can go to the first session though if I like, and coffee is available. Coffee, scones and cookies. Yes, it is 8:30am and the brain-foodie in me shrivels a little. Enter the first session, set for 200+ in classroom seating facing directly to the front, stage is way on the left. So I sit on the left, and approximately 40 people join me, leaving the speakers to ask any questions across a relatively vast, dark space from their dimly lit stage.  The session of course is on the future of meetings. The morning sessions have good speakers, followed by a boxed lunch available in the trade show area, with seating for a few at rounds at the end of the rows. Again, a sandwich or wrap, cookie and fruit, and a salad with some unfortunate small nut additions in an unlabeled container which cause my lips to go numb (first sign there is a nut in here for the allergic me), and enough packaging to make the sustainable me a little sad, but even more than this, the amount to be opened and consumed means people have to sit for a while, which means they are not visiting the exhibitors who await them.  Here again, rows of pipe and drape, some exhibitors have very nice spaces, and as is typical in this type of show many leave up their black and white hanging sign the exhibit company used to id the space.  The flow through the show is light, and the exhibitors offer up their cheery exuberance and overall the experience leaves me wanting more.  It isn't that it is bad, it is just "same" and the declining numbers are to me an indication of a need to spice this baby up!

The better. Venue: large convention centre, in a space filled with natural light to begin. I walk up and give my name, am checked in by one of the plentiful staff on an iPad and my speaker badge generates on wireless printer in seconds. There is a small printed agenda available, and innovation is featured, and served up in a gorgeous room set with great lighting and interesting chairs and a nice stage draws people in. The app is likely full of good information, but no matter how socially able I dislike having to use facebook or linkedin to access any app - I know it is my own issue, but since it is a compact agenda I don't download it.  Outside the trade show is a lounge open to all set with a variety of interesting furniture, and offering complimentary mimosas.  Inside the trade show floor is abuzz with action, caterers serving up bite size samples, photo booths drawing people in, music overhead at a reasonable but energizing volume, mainstage presentations which allow more innovative ideas and suppliers to be showcased, and an engaged audience taking the time to speak with exhibitors, you feel as though participants will leave refreshed and with new ideas to take back to their clients.

My (personal) favorite so far of the last six weeks. BizBash Planathon, Toronto. Venue: Palais Royale, which really puts its best foot forward. QuickMobile is a sponsor, and I am
there to represent this, but even more so to be part of the mentor group, which leads tables full of eager planners through a fun, interactive and deep brainstorming to transform an existing event... into anything they can imagine in 30 minutes.  These sessions are fun, fun, fun, and the reception which follows on the patio overlooking the lake could be dampened by the downpour, but the combination of the music enhanced with a figure skater moving across a teflon rink to the songs, fantastic food presented in a range from small plates and spoons, to a paella pan and chef to homemade popsicles in an ice and dry ice display and a selection of mojitos full of fresh ingredients - they really took the opportunity to showcase their abilities. This combined making the best of a venue, having a setup conducive to the objectives (at the last minute at the client's request all the tables were flipped from 6' rounds to 5' rounds for easier conversation to be had), allowing ample time for conversation and by the format, making those conversations easy to have. The learning comes from every group coming up with ideas that inspire other ideas and allow you to build on these, and sparks fly!  BTW - the app is gorgeous, sparkling champagne bubbles invite you in to explore - you can connect to all the other attendees - and after the event is over, the videos of the awesome ideas will all be shared and easy to find for all who participated.

Sunday, June 15, 2014


It is that time again, to check in on how fast our tech world is spinning around us, and seeing how we are doing as the meeting and event industry at keeping up – with developments and with our attendees' expectations.

Hyper-connectivity is a topic I have written about before, and we know as individuals how much time we spend researching purchases on line, especially for travel.  According to a recent study by the Boston Consulting Group (shared by Dylan Bolger at the Incentive Research Foundation Invitational) we spend 40+ hours researching on-line for our vacations in the pre and post booking process.  So, what else are we finding when we open our browser and type in our destination(s) of choice – perhaps a meeting we are interested in pops into our frame of reference, and by virtue of the location, we feel more compelled to go.  We also reach out through our many social media channels to see who else we will see at #meeting, sometimes during the decision process, and certainly after we have booked.  We will communicate via text, emails, dm’s, and possibly even the old-school way, by telephone, and make plans for when we are there, scheduling meetings, breakfasts, and post-event cocktails.

Most of us will now arrive with multiple devices which all require wifi connectivity, something we recognize is a precious commodity, especially when we check into a hotel that is charging per room per device, often at $14.95 per!  Some loyalty programs will offer complimentary wifi as a benefit, but bandwidth remains an issue whether we are paying or not, and the concept of catching up on that Netflix show while away from our children remains just that, a concept as the bandwidth often doesn’t allow video streaming applications to even open, thus forcing us to spend that time checking email for example.  

Personal control is our new mantra, as we want to decide, in the way of all teen-agers across time, to do what we want, when we want. Like a good teen, we are often stymied in this desire by conference or event plans without enough choice, the meeting equivalent of being told “No, you can’t just go out and hang around!” On-site examples may include a reception where the whole room is noisy making it hard to converse, or there is only one focal point with no alternate activities, or there are no gluten free options, or free time is negligible as a few frustrations we may have all experienced.  We now have a stronger desire for targeted media as we process up to 65,000 pieces of data a day coming at us from radio, billboards, television, browser searches, emails, text messages and more.  We also now have more tools, in the form of mobile devices and filters which allow us to easily target information and to receive targeted information specific to our needs and interests, and as organizations trying to maximize engagement during specific times, we need to be keenly aware of our opportunities to make meaningful connections – live and digitally in our changing paradigm.

S’mobility is another topic I have written about, and certainly SoLoMo or Social Local Mobile has become an expectation. I want to be able to reach out and connect across multiple platforms at all times, and when I don’t have wifi, I may incur data charges that certainly seem unreasonable, especially on top of monthly bills we have to manage.  Another SoMoLo acronym refers to Social + Mobile = Loyal, and when we enable our conference and event participants to connect on-line to each other, to f2f and virtual participants, to sponsors and exhibitors and their people and websites for added information, to speakers and their sessions and their notes, to our schedules and to information about attending and maximizing our participation, and when this is done easily through a great app, we develop more brand loyalty to the hosting organization because the experience becomes more comfortable, easy, and more pleasurable overall.

How will you marry digital into your meetings to contextualize the overall experience for your participants?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

On Friendships

A reason, a season or a lifetime, friendships flow through our lives and come in all shapes and sizes and timeframes, and outside of our family are the true meaningful foundation of our lives. This picture is from my 40th birthday, where I invited a group of fabulous women. These everyday heroes have truly positively impacted my life and I was so happy to celebrate with and because of each of them. While I don't get to see any of them enough, I know that when I next see them, we will pick up exactly where we left off, and the conversations will always be natural.

In the event industry, we have a job that is more of a lifestyle due to the intense nature of the work, the shared passion for a successful project to take place, often multiple days spent working in close quarters, and it won't take long to determine if you are on the same playing field as the others, and to quickly determine who you would spend more time with outside of the work environment.  Anyone reading this who works in our industry knows exactly of what I write - and many of you have become friends we travel to visit, who I have created games with and written articles with and dream-wrangled events with, and who we have invited to break bread with us in our home. 

But now our friendships often begin less organically. Where we used to meet at school or work, at conferences or through friends or because you are neighbors we now are meeting on-line, through social media, or forum groups, attending hybrid / virtual conferences often long before we meet IRL (in real life). When we meet without facial expressions, without inflection, without pheromones or visual first impressions, how does this change the conversation?  These conversations will generally begin based on mutual interest - in work or a hobby - and from there will grow as any conversation does, in small steps, and when we do meet f2f, it is always a joy.  

For those of you who have become part of the fabric of my life over the years, in any of these scenarios, thank you for all the enrichment you have brought, and I can't wait to see you again!  

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mobile - Events - Fun

Introducing the Plan-A-Thon Toronto on May 14

Six weeks into my new job with QuickMobile not only do I remain extremely excited about the possibilities for mobile I am looking forward to some great upcoming events. 

For the balance of the year QuickMobile has partnered with BizBash to support their Plan a Thons - and what I know is when people I admire such as Warner Brothers Hillary Harris tell me how much fun a Plan a Thon is - I know we are in for a great ride across five cities, beginning this week in Toronto!   

At IMEX Frankfurt this year with the QuickMobile team we will be doing a really fun activation - so stop by there and say hi to Trevor Roald, get a great picture you can share and make sure to tag me back on the post @TahiraCreates so I can follow along on the fun! They will also be releasing the results of the meeting planner survey done in partnership and the results are pretty interesting. I feel many of us are still just starting to tap into the potential of our participants having their "world in their pocket" and I think the next few years will really see us use this to our collective advantage.

Add to this some great travel to shows including HSMAI, AIBTM and the IRF Invitational where you can also catch the Event Alley Show live, and it is going to be a rocking next few months. I look forward to catching up with MANY of my far-flung friends - it's going to be a blast! 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

BizBash Live - Alyse Pask Interview

Since 2001 BizBash has been my home page, and I feel fortunate to now be one of the bloggers able to share information about the great people in our industry as they appear at various fabulous BizBash events around the country. Today we have an interview with Alyse Pask of PASK productions who will be at BizBash Live on April 23rd in Fort Lauderdale, talking about "7 Values Every Planner Should Live By".  In an industry where we can struggle with the how / ethics of doing business I think attending this will be an excellent way to spend some time - being inspired by a thoughtful presentation which ties success to values.  Following you will see why I think this, as Alyse shares her thoughts.

Q1. Your transition from Army National Guard to president of PASK Productions must have an interesting story, would you like to share a little of your journey between the two?  
A1. When I started the company, I remember thinking that there was nothing that had prepared me better for the challenge then my military training. I am sure many people would think the transition would be difficult however the military and the business world have many similarities which are parallel... In both worlds you must set a goal and determine the best path to get you there. The military helped to strengthen my personal confidence to take on any challenge and the stamina to push myself at all costs to attain my goals. I think everyone can relate to this...There are moments in everyone's life that you must believe in yourself and know you have the ability to succeed... My personal journey in the military mentally prepared me to fight to achieve my dreams. 

Q2. Through your career you have focused on a variety of luxury brands – what drove you to found your own company to focus on this?  
A2. It was the passion to elevate creative energy that drove me to focus on luxury brands. Many luxury brands are dedicated to embracing unique experiential design in their events. PASK is driven to create one of a kind experiences that inspire people. I believe this passion can help deliver authentic experiences for the luxury category.

Q3. Did you just find it was time to bring your own values to each and every project?
A3. In the fast paced industry we are in, I wanted to stand for something I believed in. I am passionate about the work we do. We want to inspire the world one person at a time ;)   (Editor's note - isn't this what keeps all of us producing events to some extent?) I decided at the inception of the company that I would put a piece of myself into everything we touched. I have done this by encouraging my team to embody these values. I believe it is what sets us apart.

Q4. You obviously understand brand management. Tell us a little more about how your core values at PASK have defined your brand.
A4. I strive to instill my personal values in all we do. By living these values, it allows the team around you, the work you produce and the clients who bring you opportunities to have the same positive thread that hold it all together. We are all drawn to like minded people that respect our work, this is what the values help to maintain. 

Q4. I believe events can be done in a sustainable manner (and teach a Sustainable Event Operations class at BCIT) and I love that you also are responsible for an eco-music festival, EMU – can you tell us a bit more about this festival and how it came to be?
A4. EMU, Eco MUsic, Festival was my brainchild and passion project for 5 years that I turned into a reality. It was an epic experience that challenged my value of personal courage. I have always dreamed of doing my part to make the world a better place and this festival helped me to feel that deeper connection to the world around me. We wanted to shift people's consciousness through education and music to create a party for positive impact. 
Please see the link below which explains all our efforts to inspire change for the eco conscious movement:
Author's note - this looks AWESOME and accessible and interesting and FUN 

Q5. PASK has a great roster clients including a host of premium liquor brands – after creating their special events, what do you do for fun and relaxation?

A5. I LOVE to travel and see the world... I am drawn to adventure travel. It allows me to push myself out of my own boundaries to be more. Whether I am traveling to India for Kumbh Mela, hiking to the top of Mount Fuji in Japan, or meditating on a sailboat with my Dad I find myself deep in moments of adventure. It inspires me and in turn allows me to build that inspiration into the work we do.

Do you want to hear more?
Alyse will be speaking in Fort Lauderdale on April 23rd during BizBash Live: The Expo, South Florida in the Event Innovation Forum track. More details on Alyse's session "7 Values Every Planner Should Live By" can be found here