VIRTUAL CONFERENCES – THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAIL

By Christina Welty

2020 has been a year none of us will forget. It has affected all of us differently, but one thing is for sure – we’ve all had to adjust and adapt in many ways. For the association industry, it has been particularly challenging as we’ve had to come up with ways to interact with our members virtually instead of our traditional in-person conferences.

I have planned conferences for years in various roles, but virtual conferences are much different.  While you don’t have to worry about some details (meeting your hotel room block, planning food & beverage events, etc.), some might be surprised to learn that it still takes a lot of planning and attention to detail to have a successful virtual conference. 

The last few months have been a whirlwind and while I’m certainly not an expert, I’ve learned some valuable lessons along the way and wanted to share them with you.

1.    KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

While a virtual conference might not be your first choice, it’s one of the only ways to offer your members content during this time.  Also, it’s a good time to remind your members of the value of your association. Do your members need CE credits or is this more of a check-in?  If CE hours are required for the profession and something members have come to expect during your in-person conferences, try to offer a similar amount of CE hours during your virtual conference.  Keep in mind though that people are getting “Zoom fatigue”, so be careful to maximize their time.  With one of our conferences, we presented a shorter live program with an opportunity to receive CE hours through on demand courses.  The on demand courses were included in the registration fee and participants could watch them at their leisure. Some organizations have offered all day programs for several days, but just make sure that’s what would be appropriate for your organization.   

2.    CHOOSE YOUR PLATFORM

So, now that you’ve decided to offer a virtual conference, what platform will you use?  There are quite a few options out there, with a variety of features.  I’ve used Zoom with the added “webinar” option for two virtual conferences so far.  It includes the ability to move speakers to a “panelist” setting and control when they show their video/audio and gives them the ability to share their screen. This program can mute all participants when entering the event to minimize background noise.  Participants are still able to interact with each other through the chat feature and ask questions of the speakers through a Q&A box.  It’s fairly inexpensive, user-friendly and the conference registrants do not need to purchase anything to use it. While many platforms existed before COVID-19, the market has responded quickly with additional online content delivery systems and there are dozens to choose from that vary in terms of features and price points. Do your research and find one that best suits your needs and budget.   

3.    SCHEDULE & SCRIPT

Now it’s time to outline your schedule and plan your speakers and emcee for the conference.  I’ve found that it’s more streamlined to have one person (probably your board president) as the emcee for the full conference and introduce the various speakers. If you would like to recognize your board of directors, you could have each board member record a portion of a welcome script, splice it together and play it during your conference.     Association staff will most likely be the “host” on Zoom, controlling the logistics throughout the day.  There is an option to have a co-host, which I highly recommend.  The backup host is just that.  If the host’s computer freezes for a minute or starts running updates, the backup host can jump in.  Things move so fast and there can be a lot of buttons involved, so even though some might think it’s overkill, I like to write out every “stage direction” and highlight them in the script. 

4.    REHEARSE, REHEARSE, REHEARSE 

With an in-person meeting, you most likely create a speaker contract, have a phone call/email about details and then meet the speaker onsite.  With a virtual meeting, it is imperative that you have at least one rehearsal with each speaker.  Make sure the speaker and emcee feel comfortable with the technology.  Practice transitions and sharing screens.

5.    GO WITH THE FLOW

Even with rehearsals, this is a live event and things are going to happen!  Remember to have a backup host, print your script in case you have technical difficulties and keep smiling!  Go with the flow and realize that things will not be perfect. 

6.    MUTE!

How many times have you attended a conference and someone’s phone goes off?!  If you are presenting, make sure to minimize background noise and turn your phone to silent or vibrate.  If you are presenting from your office (or even your house), unplug your landline phone too!  

7.    SETTINGS

As a host or panelist in Zoom, your screen looks different than what the attendee sees, so you might not realize that you’re on air!  Be careful and always assume you can be seen and heard. As a host and even a speaker, I would recommend signing on as an attendee on another device so you can see what the attendee sees. 

8.     MAKE IT INTERACTIVE

Although you can pre-record videos, it’s more interactive to have the speaker present live during the event and give the participants the opportunity to ask questions.  You can either have the speaker look at the Q&A tab and answer questions throughout his/her presentation or have a separate Q&A session with the emcee, making it as close to a fireside chat as you can!  I didn’t use this feature, but speakers can also create poll questions to keep participants on their toes or ask yes/no questions and have participants “raise their hands” to see if they are paying attention. 

There are so many aspects to a virtual conference, but I hope these tips will help as you plan your first (or next!) virtual program.  They are probably here to stay for a while!  And remember, every program is different, so you will likely learn something new with each conference you produce. What tips would you add to the list? 

COVID-19 – A Time for Refresher on Basic Board Member Duties

By Bennett Napier, CAE

2020 as we all know has been a “test” for not for profit organizations.

The short and long term impacts of COVID-19 on traditional revenue streams, membership needs and program delivery has created some interesting dynamics relative to board staff/roles.

I have heard countless stories this year from peers that serve as CEO of a number of associations where volunteer board members, while well intentioned, have placed themselves and potentially the organization in harm’s way, for example, having unauthorized ex parte communications directly with hotels related to contract negotiations on meeting cancellations or postponements.

Given what is at stake (which is survival for some groups), it seems appropriate for a refresher on board member responsibilities.

“Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”

Under IRS regulations, an individual Board member, including an individual serving in the office President acts as a part of a Board, and directs – but does not perform – the association’s duties. No board member can act unilaterally relative to making operational and strategic decisions absent what organization governance documents provide. While we may feel the need to act quickly in these uncertain times and obtain feedback from just the President or a few leaders, input from the entire leadership, when feasible, is the standard.

If organizational governance documents don’t provide clarity on some matters, then it is understood that the board would review items (requests, recommendations) and provide authorization on whom can take action, when action can be taken and at what cost (expense), if applicable.

“Who’s on first?”

All board members need to have a clear understanding of what they are responsible for and to whom they are responsible. This understanding will not only help avoid lawsuits and liability; it will also ensure the board functions more effectively.

Board members, by nature do not conduct the day-to-day operations of an organization; instead, the board sets policy direction, and conducts performance reviews of management/staff to ensure daily operations and the work plan are executed effectively. 

The Board especially in times like COVID-19 should rely on the advice and facts provided by the association’s operational staff who are more familiar with the day-to-day operations of the organization and its history of actions (in good times and bad times). Generally speaking, an association’s management staff is educated in association law and association best practices to ensure protection and success of the association.

The duty of loyalty for all board members is an obligation to act in the association’s best interests. Authority is granted either by the organization’s governing documents, which may include bylaws and policies and procedures or board authorizations granted through actions taken at a board meeting.

We have learned and seen a lot this year – let’s use this opportunity to continue to grow in our own skills and continue to educate and train our dedicated volunteer leaders.

Working From Home: AKA, How to Keep Your Cat out of your Zoom Meeting

Ahhh, working from home.  It sounds so dreamy, and it’s portrayed on TV as the most easily executable task there ever was.  Picture it:  the kids are off to school.  The kitchen is sparkling clean from the previous night’s family dinner, where afterwards you enjoyed a nice card game as a family. Your house is clean, smells like freshly baked cookies while you sit in your favorite comfortable chair, sipping coffee out of a nice mug that has a sentiment on it like “Mom of the Year” or “Best Dad Ever”.  What a dream, right?

Except… that is not how it worked out for ANY of us in real life.  Suddenly, we were in the middle of a pandemic.  We began prepping at Partners, just “in case” we were suddenly working from home.  Technology was checked for all employees to determine what tasks each staff member would still be able to perform with their current remote setups at home.   Lists were made of things we would need to have with us, in order to keep a smooth flow going for all Partners’ clients.

Fast forward to the second week of March 2020 – the schools in our county go on Spring Break, never to have another day of school for the 2020 school year.  We are suddenly in quarantine, and all of our “just in case” plans are now “make it happen” plans, and we are all working from home.   We all agreed: working from home is just not as glamorous as it looks on TV.

Staff meetings and client team meetings are now happening via Zoom.  Half of us have sound, no video.  The other half of us have video and no sound.  We are all looking like something the cat drug in with un-brushed hair, trying to help each other with our tech struggles over the phone.  The good news?  We all worked through it together.  In addition, we are all now Zoom experts serving the company well, as we are still not traveling currently for company or client events.

I feel comfortable sharing some of the most important takeaways I gained from our journey:

  • Stay on your routine. Set your alarms, and “go to work” like it is any other day.  Not doing this will ensure complete chaos.  Trust me on this one.
  • Schedule breaks to execute your tasks that are NOT work related. If you jump up 30 times a day to do “just that one thing”, you will lose your train of thought every single time.
  • Stay connected to your coworkers – even a simple text or phone call will remind you that you are all a team.
  • Remember the physical background of your home office and execute Zoom meetings without your cat in the room!

We have been so fortunate here at Partners to have amazing management who have guided us through this pandemic with astounding patience.  We may still be in a strange spot, but we are certainly all prepared for the future.

Ricki Romig

 

Seriously?

By Kristi Spargo, CAE

Like gazillions of others around the globe, as of late I have spent some (aka way too much) time binge-watching TV. I subscribe to a variety of streaming services and recently selected a potential new addiction. After the first somewhat engaging episode, the little black box popped up in the corner and informed me, ‘120 seconds until the next episode’ and even included a clock politely counting down.  I said aloud with disgust to no one else in the room, “Are you serious right now?” Continue reading “Seriously?”

(Team) Building Better Boards Outside the Board Room

By Dee Kring, CAE, CMP

In my many years of working in association management, and especially now that I work for an association management company and serve multiple associations on a daily basis, it is clear to me that not only is there an association for everything, but every association and its culture is very different. In my role as Executive Director, I interact closely with the Board of Directors comprising many unique personalities, and I’ve learned that it is important to foster healthy relationships both in and out of the board room for overall effectiveness. Continue reading “(Team) Building Better Boards Outside the Board Room”

CMP: A Dedication to the Meeting Profession

By Kristyn McCauley, CMP

woman writing on notebook
Photo by bongkarn thanyakij on Pexels.com

There are many acronyms in the association world, especially when you work for an association management company, and one of those acronyms you may see pop-up is CMP. Most often spotted after someone’s name, the acronym “CMP” stands for Certified Meeting Professional.

Certified Meeting Professional is a credential administered through the Events Industry Council. According to the EIC (another acronym there), “The Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) program was launched in 1985 to enhance the knowledge and performance of meeting professionals, promote the status and credibility of the meeting profession and advance uniform standards of practice. Today, the CMP credential is recognized globally as the badge of excellence in the events industry. The qualifications for certification are based on professional experience, education and a rigorous exam.”

So why might someone who plans meetings in the association space work towards earning their CMP, and how would they do so? Continue reading “CMP: A Dedication to the Meeting Profession”

3 Tips to be More Effective at Work

by John Ricco, CAE

number-three-fingers

So we’re two months into the year and your resolutions are probably long forgotten. If your intent was to be more effective or efficient at work, here are a few easy tips to help you get back on track.

PROBLEM # 1: Technology is evil . . . sometimes. Be extremely cautious about how you use technology at work. Grabbing your cell phone to text a short reminder to your boss can easily result in taking a “quick second” to check that Facebook messenger notification and before you know it, you’ve wasted 15 minutes on the new YouTube channel dedicated to zit popping (who knew?). We all know to shut off alerts to avoid distractions and unfortunately texting has been added as an integral part of business communication. Continue reading “3 Tips to be More Effective at Work”

Peeling Back the Layers of Successful Sponsorships

By Kim Barclay

Why should your company consider any sponsorship?  There are more reasons than you think.  Everyone knows that sponsorships give you brand visibility.  Whether it be at an in-person event or an on-line presence, being a sponsor will get your company seen.  But it’s much deeper than that.  A sponsorship should be seen as an investment.  Yes, one expects return on that investment and to get the most bang for the buck, but most times there is not an immediate, tangible ROI.  Sponsorships need to be thought of as a foundation to build on.  Building relationships with organizations and individuals in your target market.  Being a sponsor can give you credibility, and a positive reputation and perception from your audience. Continue reading “Peeling Back the Layers of Successful Sponsorships”