Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Worst Conference Evaluation Form (and thoughts on volunteer speakers)

A colleague who agreed to volunteer his time to serve on a panel at a conference noted that the evaluation form for attendees had these 2 questions:

1. Speaker(s) who did not measure up: (names of all conference speakers listed to make selection)
2. Then note, speaker(s) who impressed you the most: (line to write in names)

Isn't that rotten? I really do believe conference organizers sometimes take their job so routinely that there is little consideration to the amount of time (and grief) it may take to be a volunteer presenter at a conference.

A few thoughts:

1. If the assumption is that more than one speaker isn't going to measure up, then that's action to take BEFORE you ask them to participate. Check out the skills of who you ask first. Don't make the audience find out for you.

2. Remember that speakers who agree to speak on controversial topics (to make YOUR conference and topic way more interesting) can get audience backlash because attendees don't like the message - even if the speaker is really good. That's human nature. The more appropriate questions are: a) did the speaker know their topic; b) were they able to communicate the information; and c) could they answer questions. It's really easy to be the speaker giving the popular position. The ones you should REALLY appreciate are the ones willing to take the hits for giving the opposing/unpopular side.

3. Don't take your volunteer presenter for granted just because they agreed to present without pay. A small gift or even a thank you note is better than absolutely nothing. If they're also attending the conference, consider discounting or waiving the fee they paid. And if there is gift, maybe put thought into it, or select something generally useful (like an Amazon gift certificate or ask their office what they like) versus pulling something from a cabinet with your name on it. Many volunteer speakers already have plenty of items with other organization or event names on it.

4. More speaker gift thoughts: Whoever is in charge of deciding the speaker gift should maybe randomly poll a few people to get ideas. For example, a) I don't drink and weirdly get bottles of wine routinely as gifts or in my room (maybe people think I NEED a drink?); b) If you give a gift that is way too big to put in carry-on luggage, you should immediately offer to ship it FOR the speaker. Otherwise it may get left in the hotel room; c) Recent speaker gifts I really liked - Bose headphones, a Kindle, a small gift bag (with inexpensive items) clearly tailored to me (e.g., a note pad with my breed of dog on it, notecards with my name on it, a People magazine, trail mix, inexpensive gift card); d) Before you imprint your event logo on the speaker gift, ask yourself if the gift might be much nicer, and more used, without the imprint.

5. Speakers who are peers of the attendees are likely doing YOU a favor. They aren't there to build a separate business and their ego is probably already intact - they are there to HELP the attendees. That doesn't mean they are also volunteering to welcome the Twitter attendees to type throughout their entire presentation about everything from their hair, to their outfit, to any other catty remark that comes to mind and gets posted to their followers and posted on the web. Criticizing content is one thing, but conference organizers are going to bear the burden in the future on the willingness of volunteers to give their time when social media bullies can make it personal. In my opinion, adult attendees should behave like respectful adults towards speakers (using any tool), and we'll need to figure out how to remind them of that (somehow!)

Love your volunteer speakers. They'll help make your program a success (and save you money).

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Right to Bare Arms

I noticed lots of high school kids wearing shorts to school when it warmed up to 27 degrees. And that explains why I often wear sleeveless clothes. Nearly all year. And Michelle Obama is my sleeveless hero.

There's clearly a need to balance professional with practical; but it really is miserable to feel over-heated at business or formal events when you don't have to be. And I know it's sometimes respectful to an audience/group to wear a suit so sometimes I have to appear to wear that much for a whole presentation/meeting - but then turn into an association version of Cher by un-layering before it's over.

I don't think Michelle's sleeveless style choice is just about her biceps. But, whatever the reason - hooray. It's now apparently fashionable for women to bare arms.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

8 Ways to Save (or Make) Money in Down Economy

Here are a few ideas I heard at a recent conference:

1. Hire an intern to do special projects (check local colleges);

2. Put info on a screen during meetings instead of making copies;
3. Hold a garage sale for old furniture and equipment;
4. Aggressively market courses/programs to non-members (at higher fee);
5. Cut refreshments at meetings (if can't entirely eliminate);
6. Provide incentive to pay dues early (lower amount, voucher);
7. Ask members to assist with social media monitoring/maintenance (add as admin);
8. Pull out certain dues-based programs and make them user-fee based instead. See if they can stand on own (then discontinue).

Special thanks to Jerry Matthews who facilitated the panel, and I understand has an excellent full day training (and therapy) session for AEs working with changing economic conditions.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I hope the members don't see this ...

All association executives should think about "member perception" about spending, especially in a bad economy. Recently at a group dinner, in a hotel meeting room, I GASPED when the appetizer arrived and it was shrimp cocktail. I even looked at the door to be sure it was closed like I was doing something illegal or unethical, even though I didn't actually order it. My thought: I hope the members don't see this.

The next night another large group went to a pizza place to save money for everyone. It was great, and an alternative for a business dinner (and yes, there are non-carb options nearly everywhere now).

At a recent convention planning meeting we were very aware of what attendees "might think". It's just the way it is now.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Staff Massage?

I mentioned to a HR attorney that I was waiting in an office when a masseuse strolled in to massage the staff. Apparently this is not uncommon anymore and a way to "reduce employee stress." No clue if it's the employee or employer paying for it.

Now, I'm a huge fan of spas ... but I think it's weird to have massages in the office. Actually, having an "in-office pedicure" while on a conference call could be very efficient. If massages are okay, what about pedicures?

Would it be inappropriate to have the masseuse arrive during a Directors meeting to sort of work the room?

What do you think: In-office massages - Yes or No?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Ask for too much and you get ... Nothing

An association blogger recently announced that he could no longer keep up with the 129 blogs he subscribed to, so he dumped them all. That's a great example of how people turn themselves off, and also how associations turn volunteers off.

For example, I love magazines and newspapers. But would never subscribe to 129 of them (especially daily). If I had a huge stack of newspapers, I'd likely not read any of them. With 3 or 4 (my real number), I'd always read them. Same with magazines. The trick is to know how to pace ourselves, so we don't completely give up in frustration, "lack of time", or "hey, I have a real life." And frankly, there's no way in the world I'd ever think to subscribe to more than 10 blogs. Ever. If I subscribed to 129 blogs, then I'd read none too. Pick your favorites. There's also a great nonprofit site on Alltop and Blogoclump to scan blog headlines to see what might want to read without subscribing.

Sometimes associations give members too much to do or too much to read. So what happens? The job is too big and none of it gets done, or that one to three inch notebook of material never gets read. The alternative is something manageable:

1. If fundraising, ask them to contact 3-5 people, not 50 and not 100. They might just do it.
2. If you have a lengthy report, always provide an executive summary. They might read it.
3. If you have a Directors meeting, give a one-page summary of key actions. They'll know what to prepare for, even if they don't read voluminous back-up. Same with financial reports. Always have a summary of key details and key variances.
4. Consider having an e-newsletter that gives 2-4 sentences on each topic, with links to more extensive info. And then start the newsletter with 4 words about each item. Let the members easily scan the topics and info. They might just read it.

Don't let yourself get into the "129 is too many" rut. You won't read at all. You'll stop participating. And rather than doing some, you'll do none. Just like some of your volunteers.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Best hotel room tip. Ever.

Today I got the best hotel room tip (ever) to solve the can't get the hotel room curtains closed problem. From my friend Scott Brunner: "Most decent hotels have two kinds of hangers in the closet, pants hangers and skirt hangers ... Use a [skirt] hanger with clips to clip the curtains closed. It's not pretty, but I've done it, and it works."

Before checking out of the room, I tried it. It worked. Love it!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Pack the diaper pins

It's been a really long time since I've even thought about diaper pins, and don't have a kilt pin (or a kilt) either ... but will own diaper pins soon. After wrestling to close the curtains in my hotel room for two days in a row, with no success, I'm going to start traveling with really big safety pins. I will get those curtains closed.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Back to basics

A comment that keeps coming up in the industry that I work with is the need to get "back to basics". Everyone needs to practice the basics, get back to the basics, re-learn the basics, etc.

So I was fascinated that this month's "Horizons" column in the ASAE Magazine "Associations Now" features an article entitled "Fundamentals for Tough Times" (by Ronnie Wilkins, CAE).

Includes these:
1. Be a good person.
2. Show up.
3. Work hard.
4. Don't quit.

For example, under work hard he writes, "However, I have not yet found a task I could not master through intense and protracted effort." I've found the same thing.

Ronnie is right. Tough times means getting back to the basics. For our members, and for us.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

3 things to do with business cards

Here's 3 things you may not have thought to do with your business cards:

1. Tape to bottom of your laptop. If you accidentally leave it somewhere, might be helpful to have all your contact info someplace obvious.

2. Keep folded one in your coat pocket. The adult equivalent of putting your name on the coat tag in marker. If someone accidentally leaves with your jacket/coat, there will be a way to find you. Or a way for you to prove it's yours if someone walks out of wherever you are wearing it.

3. Tape inside your briefcase, carry on, suitcases. Just in case the outer ones are gone (or there is no outer one).