Saturday, October 30, 2010

Can you hear me now?

Price for flying in world renowned motivational speaker $10,000;

Venue and catering $25,000;

Not being able to hear a word she says, because her lapel mic keeps cutting out and, you were too cheap to retain an on site A/V technician – tragic

Times they are a changin’ and if you are still thinking that your administrative assistant, or your in house IT Technician can look after all of your audio visual needs at your next staff conference….you may be heading straight for disaster.

Cutting corners in you’re A/V area is not fair to your speaker and it is not fair to your audience. Speakers, particularly those traveling the professional speaking circuit, become accustomed to a certain level of expertise. Sure, there are some that will say, “no powerpoint screen? No problem, I can do it without”. But, there are many who have carefully designed their presentation and will be frustrated if their needs cannot be met. I was once at a very large gathering where the speaker, a Master Event Designer, said at the beginning, “I have everything I need right here on my IPhone – I can control the lights, the sounds, the mixed media right here” and…..he couldn’t. The worst part was that he kept interrupting his presentation to troubleshoot his A/V problems and as a result couldn’t deliver what we were expecting. In hindsight, maybe he was showing us what not to do….but I don’t think so.

Audio Visual expertise is not only important for large conferences and presentations, it is equally important for social events. You owe it to your guests at your wedding or party to have a handle on the lights and sound. No one wants to look back on the wedding video and see Great Aunt Sophie holding the microphone like a telephone and not being able to hear her words of wisdom, or your master of ceremonies is unaware that his lapel mic is still on when he makes an inappropriate remark.

So here are some quick tips for ensuring your audio visual goes off without a hitch.

  1. Get to know your speaker – contact your speaker well in advance to ascertain his/her audio visual needs and expectations. Make sure that you are asking all of the questions required to ensure that you will be adequately prepared for the presentation. Some basic questions to ask are: Do they require a proxima, computer (MAC or PC), lectern, handheld mic or lapel mic, whiteboard or flipchart, markers. Is the presenter going to move around the stage or go out into the audience? If a stationary lectern mic is required, you might want to discern how tall the presenter is and if that will be adequate for his/her needs. If the presenter is short like I am, a stool may be necessary..or if taller than average, you don’t want them to have to stoop to speak into the microphone.
  2. Hire a professional – If you are moving beyond the realm of the banquet hall sound system and having to rent additional equipment, then hire a professional to be on site. Make sure that you budget for the professional technician to be there during set up and run through to troubleshoot any unexpected problems. I cannot count how many times a speaker has arrived with a presentation that is just that much different that it requires completely different hardware and software. By having an A/V professional in attendance at the run through, you are dealing with any problems and coming up with solutions in plenty of time to ensure the event goes off without a hiccup.
  3. Examine goals and objectives thoroughly – If you had your heart set on an amazing wedding day video compilation set to music, etc. then perhaps having Cousin Betty capture the magic on her new phone isn’t the best option available. And no….it doesn’t matter if she just finished an online video editing webinar and is “super stoked about shooting the film” – you might want to check into a professional.
  4. Think a wee bit outside the box – If you have a large number of people attending the presentation and the room is quite large, consider hiring a professional to film and project the speaker onto the large screen simultaneously so that everyone can see him or her. We all can relate to being at the back of the room and not being able to pick up on the subtle nuances of the presentation that come from being able to hear AND see them.

The bottom line is, the proper audio visual design can make or break your event. You can wow your audience with the sights and sounds or you can make them wish they were somewhere else.....


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Want to know a little more about me?

Recently I was approached by the editorial director for "The Meeting Planner's Best Resource" a weblog and e-newsletter for the meetings and events industry about being their October Planner.

I responded with something like "I am tickled pink that you would consider me for a profile" (because I was tickled pink) and that started the ball rolling.

I took the weekend to respond to the was harder than I thought it would be, but in the end I think it turned out pretty darn well.

So...if you want to know a little more about me, check it out here!


Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Good, the Bad and the "Oh No You Didn't"

The dreaded nametag, badge holder and lanyard….. Most of them have one thing in common, as soon as I put them on, they flip over showing…..well, showing nothing. If I am so fortunate to be given a badge holder and lanyard that is constructed so that it doesn’t flip over, then most likely there is a nametag inside the badge holder with my name printed in a font from the times of early Rome. Very pretty, but unreadable. It is quite embarrassing to have someone standing there looking directly at your chest (where the darn badge holder is hanging) trying to read your name. Invariably I look down as well, just to be sure that I don’t have a button popped. Can this be fixed? Of course! If you have badge holders which flip over – utilize that back of the nametag white space real estate by printing the attendee’s name AGAIN. It can then flip flop as much as it wants and the name will still be displayed.

First name first! – Print the attendee’s name as if it is being read (because it is). First name, then last name. Use a larger font for the name than you are using for the rest of the information. Don’t clutter the nametag with useless information. Name and company is adequate. Don’t get fancy with the font and make it large enough to read from a comfortable distance.

My biggest pet peeve is the “us versus them” nametag/badge holder. Perhaps you are attending a luncheon or evening networking event, and those belonging to the hosting association have fancy, schmancy badge holders whereas the invited “guests” receive the standard, “Hello My Name Is” stick on type and are handed a sharpie with which to write their name. This doesn’t work on so many levels. First, no one wants to stick a super-sticky adhesive nametag onto their nice blouse and secondly, by having guests write out their own nametags, you end up with a hodgepodge of handwritten nametags with differing information. Some will default to using only their first name, others will write their first and last name, title, place of business, etc. filling in the white space to the point that it is unreadable. Secondly, what if you didn’t print enough fancy, schmancy badge holders/nametags for the association members and end up having to give a member one of the “Hello My Name Is” nametags? They won’t be very happy because they will spend the time responding to the question, “I thought you were a member? You aren’t a member anymore?”. My feeling is that if you are going to use an “us versus them” nametag strategy, then you must commit to being 100% correct, i.e. no mix ups. Someone told me once that even the nicest, most expensive outfit can be ruined by a crappy, scuffed up pair of shoes. Think of the event as the outfit and nametag/badge holder and/or lanyard as the shoes. If you are concerned about having to provide that many lanyards and holders and the expense, simply ask for them back which really, you should be doing already (see previous blog article).

Lettering on the lanyard – “1 888 We Rent Crappers” along with a picture of a porta-pottie written over and over and over again on the lanyard. A perfectly good sponsor, but not for your lanyard. Think carefully about the logo (if any) imprinted on the lanyard as it also impacts whether or not the lanyard can be recycled to be used at another event. Perhaps better to imprint the sponsor’s name or logo on the paper nametag insert in the corner or along the bottom.

Use badge holder ribbons – I love badge holder ribbons! At the MPI Conference I attached so many ribbons to the bottom of my badge holder that it looked like a flag! Badge holder ribbons are a great way to personalize a nametag. There are stock ribbons that say things like exhibitor, speaker, attendee….but the possibilities are endless if you customize. My badge flew the “First Time Attendee, I Tweet and MPI Member” ribbons. Anyone looking at my badge holder could easily see that I was new, that I used Twitter and I was a member, which breaks the ice for conversation. You could have utilized the ribbons for your “us versus them” badge holder’s and avoided any controversy by giving EVERYONE badge holders including the guests and differentiating the two by attaching ribbons….simple!


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Can this Conference be saved?

Many have attended them. One, two or even three days of mind numbing sessions, in a large space devoid of attendees, people leaving early. This is a conference gone bad. It might have been great at its “first annual” but now has run its course. It just may be time to say farewell and move on.

What should you look for when planning your next annual conference that speaks, “time to pull the proverbial plug”?

Look back – Look back at the post mortem notes from your last conference. Read them carefully and look for clues. The post event survey should highlight where there were difficulties. Be incredibly open minded when reviewing this data… are about to commit precious time and money.

Volunteers have vanished – No one wants to volunteer! Volunteers sense a sinking ship and if they participated last year and were under-whelmed, don’t expect them to come back for a repeat performance. These alternatively compensated employees are seeking something other than money…they look for excitement, the opportunity to network, fun, personal fulfillment, etc. If they are not getting it at your conference, they won’t come forward willingly.

Poor attendance – Look back at the attendance for the past couple of years….is it decreasing? If you are seeing a decrease in attendance that you cannot explain, that is a sign that this year may yield even lower numbers.

Sponsorship is diminishing – There MUST be a return on investment for sponsors…..if they don’t see value for their sponsorship money, they will quietly step back. It starts with a large sponsor who might have been a “Premiere, Gold, or Platinum” sponsor last year but this year are looking at only sponsoring at the silver or bronze level. They are being kind – they don’t want to say no right off the bat, but next year they may be “unfortunately going in another direction with sponsorship funds”.

Speakers have gone A.W.O.L. – You have difficulty recruiting speakers for the conference. You may be trying to pull from a pool of speakers who have attended a previous conference where they were not impressed with the lackluster attendance and audience interaction.

The good news is that these signs don’t have to spell disaster. Sometimes, when you note these issues occurring, it just means you have to change the way you are doing things.

Here are some tips for reinventing your annual conference:

Re energize your organizing committee – this may mean replacing your chairperson which can be difficult. Often annual events go the way of the dinosaurs because someone in the organizing chain is resistant to change. Engage these individuals in other ways utilizing their expertise and experience.

Downsize – Wouldn’t you rather do an amazing job of a smaller event than a poor job of a large event? Downsize and make your new event much more exclusive. Downsize the maximum number of attendees, cut the event back to 1 day, change the venue to a more intimate space, etc.

Be Sustainable – By taking a sustainable approach to your conference, you will minimize unnecessary waste and become much more attractive to sponsors and attendees. No one wants to see waste or over the top excess. Focus on the hospitality – a smile is free!

Rewrite your sponsorship package – Completely change up your sponsorship proposal to reflect the new project. Look carefully at exactly what sponsors are receiving in exchange for their money.

Be Relevant – Times….they have changed and your conference needs to keep pace with not only the material being presented, but also the use of social media.

Be Responsible – Attendee’s are spending money on registration, accommodation and travel – you need to take some responsibility for this and offer them excellent value for their dollar.

Be Creative Don’t create a cookie cutter conference – personalize it as much as possible.

Be Organized - Many times attendees are frustrated because the conference seems unorganized and/or unprofessional. If this is the case it may be time to call in a Professional Meeting & Event Planner who can guide you properly through the planning process.


Monday, October 11, 2010

I'll trade you!

After reading the blog post of Heidi Thorne of Promo with Purpose Today about Promotional Tradeshow Lanyards - How to save money and go green, I was inspired to write one of my own which I think (hope) complements it.

The badgeholder and lanyard....they are simply a given for conferences and events. We have come a long way in greening that industry with lanyards made from recycled pop bottles and badgeholders made from corn, but how can we take this one step further? Heidi talks about asking attendee's to give back their badgeholders at the end of the event. Some relinquish theirs without even asking, others seem to want to hold onto them. What can we do to encourage more attendee's to hand theirs back which ultimately addresses the first and second "R" - Reduce and Reuse (we can use them again at the next event).

Trade the attendee something for their lanyard! At one of my events I asked the caterer to bring in freshly baked chocolate chip cookies when there were only 10 minutes remaining to the event. The smell was heavenly and everyone's mouth was watering. Standing at the exit, our staff "exchanged" or "traded" a cookie for a badgeholder and lanyard. We got over 80% back!

Have a draw! Advertise throughout the event that there will be a draw from those who hand in their badgeholders/lanyards. At the exit, have containers clearly marked for that purpose. We have given away such things as an IPOD, but wouldn't a Kindle be great!

Heidi was right about being fairly generic with the lettering on the lanyard. That way, you can reuse it at any future event.

If you have personally collected a number of badgeholders and lanyards when attending conferences and events, give them away to non-profit groups in your community to use for their smaller events. They often need badgeholders for support groups and seminars.

Judy K

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"No Soup for You!"

“No Soup for you” was a catchphrase made popular by a 90’s Seinfeld episode. A restaurateur dubbed the “Soup Nazi” insisted on patrons ordering their soup according to his strict instructions. Those who deviated from this are told, “No Soup for you” and are turned away….never to taste the delicious soup.

Funny on a television show…yes….not so funny in real life when the caterer actually says, “no food for you” because they ran out!

Catering nightmares… with anything, they definitely do happen from time to time. Problems are not the norm as there are many great, professional catering companies out there. Oftentimes, the nightmare stories arise more from miscommunication.

Here are some tips!

First! Check with the venue about bringing in an outside caterer. Some venues insist that you use a specific caterer.

Check references – When you approach potential caterers, ask for references, preferably from similarly sized events. If they tell you that they have never catered an event for more than 50 people and your event will have 400+ guests, that may be a potential red flag.

When you call the references ask many, many questions including:

  • Was the caterer easy to work with?
  • Were they flexible?
  • Did they source local ingredients?
  • Were they on time?
  • How did the food taste?
  • Was there enough food?
  • Were they professional in manner and appearance?
  • Did they have enough staff?
  • Were they accessible?
  • Would you hire them again?

Communicate – Oftentimes problems arise from miscommunication between planner and caterer. You must be crystal clear regarding your needs – do not assume that the caterer is a mind reader.

Put it in writing – Make sure that you draw up a contract with your caterer, which outlines the deliverables and expectations. Go over it carefully with the caterer to ensure that you are both satisfied.

Arrange for a tasting – If you are indecisive about some menu items, arrange for a tasting. Whereas some caterers allow for a free tasting once the contract has been signed, don’t be shocked if there is a charge for a menu tasting especially if you are tasting many, many selections.

Food Service Permit – Catering companies are required to have permits, discuss this with your caterer to ensure they have proper permits/licences.

Guaranteed Guest Count – The number of guests you are guaranteeing for the caterer. If you have agreed on a luncheon at a price of $15.95 per plate, when you guarantee/confirm 85 persons to the caterer, you will be billed for 85 regardless if only 60 people attend. Usually the number is confirmed 3 days to one week prior, but in remote locations, the date could be two weeks ahead of the event. After you have provided the guaranteed guest count, you cannot decrease that number. The caterer has already purchased food, etc. for that amount. You can sometimes increase that number slightly, but this option must be discussed with the caterer prior (when you are negotiating the contract).

Gratuities – A gratuity is charged in amounts varying from 15% upwards. Confirm the gratuity with your caterer when negotiating the contract.

Insurance – Proof of liability insurance

Some additional points to discuss with your caterer

  • Has he/she worked in this particular venue before?
  • Menu planning
  • Food service style, i.e. buffet, plated, etc.
  • Timing
  • Food quantities
  • Food presentation
  • Staffing
  • Staffing supervision
  • Leftover food policy
  • Dress code, protocol, behaviour
  • Rentals
  • Corkage fees
  • Cake cutting fees
  • Special meal requests
  • Set up/take down

Champagne wishes on a beer budget – Be realistic with what you can afford!