Sunday, January 22, 2012

Talking Tech

Thank you to the MPI BC Chapter who invited me as the keynote to open the Technology Roundtable Education at this month's chapter meeting. It was a privilege to join the roundtable presenters Marc Smith from Amuse Consulting, Mike Granek of AI, Ciprian Bandu from PSAV, Romulus Tang from Vernon Technologies and Trevor Roald of QuickMobile to talk tech.

It was definitely daunting to consider how much technology is changing our (meeting and event) world, at a pace that it is difficult to keep up with and that determining not only where to focus our own organizations but also our clients', well it can make one's head spin! Deciding what to focus on in a maximum of 30 minutes was also a bit daunting, but knowing that if I was able to provide a solid overview, the participants who had the opportunity to attend three roundtable sessions and delve deep into the specific technologies would leave with more options in front of them made it less so.

While each individual will leave with their own takeaways based on the roundtables chosen, here is what I hope I was able to convey.
  1. A girl opened technology day! I know that in the industry there are a few female producers and leaders in the event technology space but it is not the norm, interesting in an industy that is otherwise heavily weighted to the female gender. My point - if how technology impacts your events interests you, then dig in, learn about it and have some fun!
  2. Start with Why. Technology can create WOW environments and support learning and connections. It can also be budget intensive so know why you are adding elements and how it will support messages and engage participants.
  3. Technology provides tools that can create efficiencies - web registration, marketing, iPads with or in place of binders, replacing paper information with electronic distribution, and so much more. Find the tools that suit your needs.
  4. Consider how a mobile app can fit into your overall event strategy and how it can benefit your community building efforts in particular.  With hundreds of thousands of apps in the world and millions of tablet users attending our meetings, this will become the new norm, an expectation of the participants.
  5. Social media is not going away, so if you are not already using social media to promote your events and build community, start experimenting. It was great to see that at least half the room was already using this to their advantage.
  6. Consider how a hybrid meeting can extend your reach, break down borders, allow for presenters and participants to both be included, and how it can be your best marketing tool to increase registration year to year as people see the great content, but still crave the human connections that come with face to face attendance.
  7. Gamification can be fun, enhance learning, create a collective goal and friendly competition, and add context and excitement to learning.  It boosts endorphins, and creates hope and optimism, all positive feelings that will then be connected to your organization / event.
  8. Make technology comfortable for people to use. Selling Vancouver at AIBTM and IMEX this year using the touchscreen presentation supported with the iPad app specific to selling the local hotels made it easy for people to access information in their own way, and they really, really liked it.
  9. QR codes and their variants are also here to stay for a while and are inexpensive (or free) and fun to include.
  10. FourSquare, NFC - near field communication and other location based software is not going away and it has many potential applications for conferences and events that connect people and could be worth exploring or promoting. 
  11. Find trusted partners, collaborate, be transparent in your needs, expectations and budget, and then go forth and create really cool stuff.
  12. Do not forget the human connection. If you are going to have a hybrid event, you need human hosts to embrace the remote audience and engage through the back channels. If you are going to create a game, you need creators and then you need players. If you have guests, the technology should enhance the experience, and add to the learning or connections.
  13. Create space and time for conversations. Understand that some of these may be face-to-face and some may now be via other mediums, and that all are important.
  14. Technology is a tool, not a strategy.
`The essential difference in service is not machines or things. The essential difference is hearts, minds, spirits and souls.`   Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

We Have NO Ball - the Blogalog Continues!

In an ongoing discussion with @projectmaven Deborah Pannell, we look at the differences between events in New York and Vancouver, and as New Year's approached, where I was up the coast in Sechelt, a quaint community only reached by ferry where we celebrate with neighbours at a beach party and launch fireworks at New York New Year's (letting those with children have fun and then still get home at a decent time) I realized, we have no ball.
Heading down to the "beach shack" for the party
Times Square for as long as I can remember has owned New Year's Eve. Millions of people join in via live feed to count down New York time, even though only a slice of the people watching live in that time zone. A perfect example of Event Marketing - make your place the "go to" place!

While I plan large events all the time, I have to say that I don't really like being in the midst of large crowds, perhaps it was all the risk management training I have done and knowing the seven ways crowds move... However my friends who have experienced NYNY have said it is one of their most memorable experiences EVER and would do it again!

In Vancouver there is no first night, no central gathering, no ball. There are instead snowshoe hikes and fondues, warm homes with friends and gourmet dinners, restaurants and nightclubs full of revellers, and even a special occasion venue or three hosting an event of their own. Would it be cool to have a ball? Of course! I would also like to have the tree like they have at Rockefeller Centre, but these, the famous window displays, Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parage, these are part of the magic of New York and we wouldn't want to compete with that!

We are lucky here, we can celebrate with NY at 9pm, and then celebrate again at midnight in our own time zone! What we do have, all around Vancouver and the areas nearby, ios the opportunity to wake up on New Year's Day and enjoy that first cup of coffee with this kind of view!

The view on New Year's Day

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Loyalty in the New Age

Who's in?
In a prior (long ago) post I looked at what it takes to build a team, which is at its best, a collection of Talent. Organizations around the world work hard to recruit the "right" talent, the people who will add to their team. As a Producer who has worked closely with a number of the best organizations in the world on meetings and incentive programs we see how hard these same organizations strive to create programs designed to reward hard work and increase loyalty. We see employee engagement surveys, performance reviews and SMART goal setting and succession planning all designed to inspire employees. As event professionals, we build unique, once in a lifetime experiences that employees can aspire to be rewarded with, and when they leave, we see the tangible results of a well planned program in their smiles and warm goodbyes as they thank the team - both their management as well as the on the ground support teams - for this incredible experience.

This all works. We see the employees who are working often long hours and being constantly available to their clients and the demands of the clients, making deals and high-fiving (literally or figuratively) when "success" is achieved. This success is often tied to revenue generated, often due to sales made, and occasionally to incredible service provided, when it surpasses expectations and is noted by a client or colleague. This is the norm in many organizations, across all sectors. Recruit well, develop talent committed to success, grow the organization, reward the talent - this can include saying thank you, offering public recognition in meetings, or providing tangible rewards with cash or prizes or, the ultimate, an experiential trip usually shared with a special guest, often a supportive spouse or partner.

We all know many hard working people. The more our world goes on line, the more it is assumed we will be available at all hours and on all days. We can now do nearly everything on line, increasing not only the time we spend available to others on line, but the amount of things we now all do for ourselves at work that may have in the past required support staff - from courier dispatch to travel booking, and everything in-between. We seek jobs that will provide us with job satisfaction, where we can feel part of a collective greater than ourselves with values we believe in, and where we want to be part of the success. We are chosen, we fit ourselves in, work hard, and have loyalty to where we work.

There is some criticism of the millenial generation that perhaps because they are better than the previous generation at setting boundaries, that they are not as committed. The current research shows that they are not perhaps as loyal to an organization but perhaps more loyal to their particular leaders within that organization, and yes, they are better at "turning work off". In my experience they work very efficiently at work and produce incredible results time and again. I think there are lessons to be had here, that perhaps work should not be the be all end all that we can make it when we commit to an organization and make work a priority.

Here is another reality I have seen more perhaps in the last decade, and have certainly been on the receiving end of (when an organization closed suddenly). Organizations, even those that invest resources and energy in creating loyalty, are quite simply not that loyal back. I would bet we all know someone whose life has been turned upside down when one day the doors where they work close suddenly (horrible, I can assure you) turning out a workforce into a quiet economy, or when they are suddenly, without warning and without cause finding themselves being walked out, their jobs eliminated, no chance to say good-bye or clear out any personal items from their desk. The iPhones and blackberries, laptops and filled rolodexes removed. Shame felt when there is no reason for shame, the organization has "decided to make a change" or "eliminated this role" and "it's not personal, it's just business." Of course, the organizations and the leaders who make these decisions have reasons for making these decisions and often these are financial and certainly nobody out of that decision making process is privy to the details, as it should be and will of couse remain. Sometimes this is fast, like a bandaid mercilessly ripped, and sometimes, as I have had friends go through it is a long and arduous "who will go next to meet the required numbers?" Loyalty destroyed, hope ripped open, and trust eroded, in the space of a heartbeat.

Disbelief settles in. So what are we to do when we find ourselves on the receiving end of an organizations need to move forward without us? Here is one of the best posts I have ever read on Life After Layoffs by meeting professional Arlene Sheff - heartwrenchingly honest, and worth the read.

The harsh reality I see is that this cycle won't change. Loyalty will be sought and rewarded, often to degrees that are awesome when you are a leader in your organization. This will ensure that loyalty programs and incentives have a healthy future, good for the meeting industry. Often though you can work as hard, as efficiently and with as much passion for your job and your clients,  and just as quickly this can be taken away - the message may be delivered by one person, they are often in the position of being a messenger without having been the decision maker - a time not enjoyable for anyone.

 So what can we do to protect ourselves? I surely do not have the answer to that question... maybe you have a suggestion or two?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Karate Kid Lessons for Event Planners

There are many lessons in martial arts that can apply to life and also to event planning, and having just watched it again with my own two "karate kids",  these are the ones that struck me.

  1. It takes discipline.  To be good at anything, you must apply yourself and learn first the basics (wax on, wax off; hang up your jacket, pick up your jacket) before you can get better at what you do.
  2. It takes hard work.  There is no easy way to produce a great event.  You can get more efficient, but there are not short cuts. Goals, objectives, marketing, registration, logistics, production schedules, technology integration, engagement, interaction, each has to be done in its own time.
  3. There will always be someone out to get you.  That is life, choose your friends well and be kind to your family, support those that support you.
  4. There are winners and losers.  Nearly every piece of business is competitive - that is the nature of the beast.  Put your own best foot forward, accept winning and losing graciously.  But do your best to win.
  5. Take risks.  Use your fear to your advantage. Use the adrenaline, use the fire and try new things.  But make sure you are asking the right questions of the right people to ensure the risks are the right risks.  
  6. You can always use a good teacher. Sometimes they are people you seek out. Sometimes they find you.  Sometimes you need them back.  Lessons are everywhere. Accept them.
  7. The human factor.  There is always a human factor to everything and human nature tends to give power to the negative.  Remain focused, seek the positive solution and move forward with determination.  When you believe you are doing the right thing for your clients, for the guests, make the effort to explain why you think it will work. 
  8. Hello and thank you. If you only learn two words in every language, these two will get you a long way.  Show people they are genuinely welcome, and thank people for their help.  I have had the opportunity to work in many places, and have had an even better opportunity to share places with our children, and this they too have learned.
  9. Don't cheat. You will be caught out. Keep your promises.  You only get one chance at integrity.
  10. Don't give up. Let the people who can and want to help you, help you get back up.  Tell them how they can help you, then accept their help.  But do it knowing that ultimately, even when people have your back, it us up to you. I know when I produce an event, I don't do it alone. I do it with a cast of many, and each of them supports me, and each of them requires my support.  Seek solutions together.
  11. Respect. Respect people for what they bring to the team.
  12. Never say never.
What lessons would you share?