Monday, July 29, 2013

Surprise by Design

I am addicted to TED talks in the same way some folks are addicted to Pinterest. TED holds two annual conferences per year (one of them will now be hosted in Vancouver next year...yay Vancouver Convention Centre) which I can dream of one day attending. In the meantime, I watch TED talks online and it was during one of these viewings, that I stumbled upon Tania Luna and the concept of “Surprisology” (this particular talk was on the TEDxTeen site - Tania also has talks on the TED home site)

Tania speaks about gratitude and the concept of the appreciating the moment. She also talks about the amazing feeling that washes over us when we are surprised. You can check out her website at

What is the best part of a surprise?

It is the look on the face of those involved at the point that they realize that it is really happening. It is the “wow” moment. Luna calls it the “freeze” effect or the “duh” face because it hijacks all of our senses and stops us in our tracks.  What about the child who tastes lemon for the first time – think about the look on their wee face. Shock followed by realization. It turns out that something else happens when we are surprised…… we learn.

We habitually drive the same route every day to go to work. The novelty has worn off and we now travel on autopilot – not taking any notice of our surroundings. What if you decided to change it up and go another way? Your senses would be heightened, you would be much more aware of the turns you are making, the people you are seeing. You would be looking at your daily drive through fresh eyes.

The same premise can be applied to a conference. When we surprise our attendees, they become engaged. When they become engaged, they are much more likely to learn.

Some examples of where you can add the element of surprise at your next event:

Speakers: Hire speakers with a message that is untraditional, a message that evokes an emotional response from the audience……someone with whom the attendees may disagree.

Entertainment: What about a music group that poses as the wait-staff and then suddenly breaks into song. A wonderful surprise!

Food: introducing non-traditional conference food can create conversation. Provide a juicing machine and a selection of fruits and veggies - invite guests to create their own super juice. Interrupt their meal selection with something a little different – make them go “wow”.

Go from Day to Night: Have you ever considered scheduling your conference sessions in the evening and giving attendees the daytime hours to go sightseeing or to participate in a daytime team building exercise?

Room layout: what if attendees walked into a room that had no tables or chairs? What if the room was full of bean-bags, exercise balls and benches? Granted….this approach might not work in many situations, but occasionally, it would be a welcome change.

Tahira Endean, Director - Creative & Production, Cantrav Services recently wrote in her blog post titled, "Power of the Collective" that "....Flashmobs are another great example of bringing people together in an unexpected way". She is correct! The best part of a flashmob is looking at the faces of those watching as they begin to realize what is actually happening. 

The element of surprise can be healthy. It keeps life from becoming boring….it keeps US from becoming boring, it keeps our brain active. Pick up a book that you would normally have passed over in favour of another, try a food that you normally shy away from, listen to a different type of music – embrace the concept of being surprised. You never know… might learn something.

I would love to hear other examples of using the element of surprise at a conference or event!


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Why shoot the messenger service?

This morning I chimed in on the above twitter conversation. The City of Prince George had announced its decision to temporarily suspend or render dormant, both their Facebook and twitter accounts. They announced that they are currently reviewing their use of social media and during this assessment phase, they are basically unplugging from social media.

At this point, we do not know if the severed connection will be permanent or only temporary, but over 2000 thousand facebook fans (many of which are probably residents of Prince George) are left wondering, “why?”.

What would be the purpose of unplugging during this time of review? Certainly there are analytics that they can use whilst still being engaged with their community?

Did something happen? (wild speculation abounds)

I am wondering…..will their evaluation delve into what the value of the Social Media engagement was to subscribers? What the consequences of unplugging will be?

I am not familiar with either of the City of Prince George social media accounts, but certainly there would be many of the 2000+ fans who checked the site regularly for information. Where do they go for that information now? The city website? 

Good luck with that.

The success of any social media account is tied to engagement. Engagement is not a one-way stream of information: it is sharing information, providing feedback. It is the realization that you need to give in order to get.

Engage. Inform. Retweet.

Three little words: so very powerful in mastering social media.

Facebook and twitter should not be used simply as a bulletin board to announce the next Farmer’s Market, or Town Hall budget meeting – otherwise you should abandon it in favour of a piece of bristol board and a permanent marker.

Why? Why abandon such an important conduit for communication? A system that can assist you in:

·   Early warning in case of local emergency 
·   Local event/tourism promotion
·   Getting feedback via survey links
·   Authentic, real time engagement on local issues
·   Acting as a portal for the community

Case in point. Can anyone truly quantify the tremendously important and positive role that social media played in the crisis in Southern Alberta?  Mayor Nenshi and his superior command of twitter helped facilitate a Herculean effort by his community following the flooding.

Followers looked to him for guidance, for assistance, for information.

He informed.
He engaged.
He retweeted.

My question after learning of the City of Prince George decision: Why would any community deliberately sever that important conduit of communication?


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Bl!nk: The Rx for your Association

Let’s face it. Many Associations are struggling:

  • Membership declining
  • Lagging conference attendance
  • Disengaged or disenfranchised membership

How can Bl!nk help?

Created by Judy Kucharuk, Green Meeting Specialist & Sustainability Consultant with Footprint Management Systems Inc. and Elizabeth Henderson, Sustainability Strategist with Meeting Change, Bl!nk™ was developed as a way to engage Association membership in an exciting new way.

What is Bl!nk?

An individual Bl!nk™ Presentation lasts for a minimum of 2 minutes and a maximum of 5 minutes. These are rapid-fire presentations are meant to keep the audience engaged. High energy and fast moving! There are few rules…..the presentation needs to reflect the individuality of the person(s) presenting. It comes with no string attached: No auto-advancing slides every 15 or 20 seconds, no specialized format. Quite simply, Bl!nk is an “opportunity” – an opportunity to be heard, be noticed. Designed for the new member or the member who wants to engage, but doesn’t have enough material for a half hour presentation or the skill set the beat the clock Pecha Kucha or Ignite style.

It is for the presentation that doesn’t quite fit in the conventional “box”.

The Bl!nk™ Presentations were “introduced so that we can get to know one another in different, meaningful ways and as a result, find connections that we didn’t know existed. These presentations are about what we miss, about discovering the magic among us” and were specifically designed for a conference or congress.

Blink – To close and open one or both
of the eyes rapidly.

A blink of an eye takes approximately 300-400 milliseconds...or about 1/3 of a second. Think about it....33 percent of that second is given over to complete blindness. humans, blink an average of 15,000 times per day, which means that we have our eyes closed for approximately 5,250,000 milliseconds per day (seriously? Wow!)....which calculates to 5,250 seconds per day.

Based on my mathematical calculations using an extremely sharp pencil and Google, this means that.....on average, we (humans) spend over an hour each day blinking.
So……my question to each and every one of you is…
 “Do you ever wonder what you miss?”
“Through the passage of time, Associations may become predictable with their conference content and the membership can disengage”. 

Bl!nk™ was developed to:

·   Engage new members
·   Curate content
·   Discover connections

Engage New Members: Bl!nk™ provides an opportunity for new members to introduce themselves in a unique manner which may assist them with building relationships within the Association or Organization.

Curate Content: A Bl!nk™ presentation can become a way to curate new content for future conferences and education. Through the introduction of Bl!nk™ presentations, conference organizers can see which content creates the most buzz, the most conversation, the most “retweets”, providing valuable data when moving forward with future conferences or planning educational opportunities.

Discover Connections: A famous saying is, “we don’t know, what we don’t know” and Bl!nk™ presentations can assist with discovering connections that we didn’t know were there. There is magic among us!

Is Bl!nk new?

Bl!nk was first introduced in 2012 at the GMIC Sustainable Meetings Conference in Montreal and was also included in the 2013 GMIC Sustainable Meetings Conference in Chicago. Poetry, music, comedy, traditional powerpoint….each presentation was a little different, very personalized and the participants enjoyed a freedom of expression unlike any opportunity provided before.

Are you interested in learning more about Bl!nk or bringing the presentation style to your next Association event? Feel free to contact me:

Judy Kucharuk
(250) 784-4237

Monday, July 15, 2013

Distracted Living
Originally published in Dawson Creek Daily News July 9, 2013

If something life-changing occurs and no one takes an Instagram photo of it, did it ever really happen?

If it doesn’t appear in a Facebook timeline or get announced to the world in a tweet, do we still care?

We live in a world that measures the success or failure of a life event by the amount of “Likes” or “Retweets” that it generates [insert heavy sigh here].

Isn’t that kind of sad?

Instead of enjoying a memorable moment, we spend those moments taking video and pictures so that we can enjoy it later? We hide behind the camera or smartphone, looking down into our lap, tweeting, texting to prove that we were there. To whom are we proving it? Do you ever wonder what you are missing when you are looking into your lap?

Distracted DRIVING is deadly, but what about distracted LIVING?

We have lost the ability to live in the moment – myself included.

We love to listen to a great storyteller, but instead of allowing them to create an elaborately constructed picture in our minds we insist that they compress it into short, 140 character paragraphs. We request that they make it "tweetable".

Everything is getting shorter, faster – we are compressing life.

What is the answer? How can we begin living a less distracted life?
  • Turn off the phone at the end of the workday: easier said than done – I realize that (the only time my phone is off is when the battery dies). If you historically leave your phone on 24/7, ease into this concept slowly. Begin by turning it off at 9:00 p.m., and then decrease it by one hour each night. Who knows? Eventually you may be able to turn it off at 5 p.m. without feeling as though you are slacking off.
  • Announce your intentions: Change your voice message to something like, “If you are calling after 5 p.m., I will return your call after 8:30 a.m. tomorrow morning”. Experts call this “setting boundaries”.
  • Quit being the family videographer!: If you must capture a moment on film – have someone else do it, leaving you to enjoy the actual moment as it occurs. There is no replay button on life.
  • Commit to one social media free day each week: Pick a day that you unplug from social media. No Facebook updates, no chatter on Twitter.

I am addicted to social media. I react like one of Pavlov's Dogs when I hear the “ding” of my blackberry. The urge to check my phone, to determine the origin of the ding (was it an email, a Facebook comment, a tweet) is so overwhelming that I disconnect from the actual moment.

This overload of technology is not making us smarter. A study by the British Institute of Psychiatry found that “…excessive use of technology reduced workers’ intelligence”. The IQ dropped significantly when under the influence of “infomania”.

Our “infomania” combined with the urge to multi-task is unhealthy. It causes stress, anxiety and who knows? It might even begin to change our brain chemistry.

Emily Dickinson wrote, “Forever is composed of now’s”. She was right. Let’s make memories the old fashioned way, let’s live them.


Monday, July 8, 2013

Learning is fun!

Posted originally in the Dawson Creek Daily News July 2nd

I am going to admit something. I don’t really know how to use a measuring tape properly. I mean…of course I know how to physically use the tape; it is the reading of the tape that causes me (and those around me) so much angst.

Case in point. When I was asked to measure my front door for my husband, who was downtown looking for a replacement door, I responded with,  “It looks like it is 31 and then 8…, maybe 9 little lines”.
Then I think I heard a scream….probably a coyote or something.

He didn’t pick up a door that day.

My feeling is that the only people who need to use sixteenths or thirty-seconds are NASA folks and perhaps people who build prosthetic limbs. Everyone else is just showing off. Little ol’ me has no need to venture that far into the fraction world.

It does not go unnoticed that I have not fully embraced the metric system yet either.

I am not math illiterate, but I am not a savant either. I am somewhere in the middle with momentary flashes of brilliance and small gaps of ineptitude. The measuring tape thingy falls into one of the gaps.

I have other strengths. As a troubleshooter, I can come up with ways (coping mechanisms) to deal with my measuring tape issues.

  • I could use a string and take said string down to the hardware store!
  • I could take a marker and put a little dot on the measuring tape and then take the tape with me to the store!
  • I could take a picture of the marked up measuring tape, clearly showing the measurement, and then show the picture to the helpful folks at the hardware store!

I just heard another scream……..

I am not the only person in the world who struggles with reading a measuring tape. I recall that my Automotive Instructor friend would teach a “reading measuring tape” class at the beginning of the school year. I am certain he did it to save his own sanity.

Considering my shortcomings, one would think that I would be more empathetic towards those who also have difficulty with problems involving math.

I am empathetic, unless it verges on the ridiculous………

Recently, a very good friend of mine relayed a story to me and gave me permission to share it with all of you.

“Jane” was catering a meal for a large group of people, and needed to pre-order some buns from a bakery.

Jane approaches the bakery counter and is assisted by a smiling, young bakery employee. Let’s listen in…..

Jane: “I need to pre-order some buns for an event next week”
Bakery employee: “No problem, how many would you like to order”
Jane (refers to her guest list and does some calculating in her head): “I think I should order about 175 or 180. Let’s do 180, then I will have some extra”.
Bakery employee: “We sell them by the dozen, so I will have to figure that out”.

The young bakery employee proceeds to bring out her calculator and begin calculating while Jane looks on.

12 x 6? Nope…shakes her pretty head
12 x 7? Nope….shakes it again
12 x ………


Jane (baffled by what she is seeing, looking around to see if she is on a Just for Laughs program but seeing no cameras, now begins to speak very slowly to the young employee): “Perhaps if you take 180 and divide it by 12, you will come up with the answer”.
Bakery employee (big smile on her face because she has now learned a “trick”): “It’s 15! You need 15 dozen buns”.
Jane: “I need half to be whole-wheat and half to be white”
Bakery employee writes down 15 whole-wheat and 15 white
Jane (no longer interested in continuing with the teachable moment): “No….I don’t need 360 buns. Just give me 8 dozen whole-wheat and 8 dozen white”.

I think I just heard some screams……..coyotes again?


No Swag Left Behind......

Recently, I had the opportunity to read a blog post from a gal named Jen , author of the blog “The Martha Project” titled, “So you are going to be hosting Blogher at your hotel……”

Jen penned an…….let’s call it  “instructional” post for the Chicago Sheraton to assist them with catering to the needs of the 2013 Blogher Conference attendees. Her post has sparked a firestorm of comments and a wee bit of a controversy.  

One piece of advice jumped off the page and sadly….provoked a physical reaction that caused me to spill my morning coffee.

I love my morning coffee.

What could possibly have caused such a reaction?


Who knew?

Not me.

I had no clue that there were still conferences that did that kind of thing. I had no clue that there were still conferences where attendees would receive so much “swag” that they would have to leave three feet of “stuff” stacked in their closet with a note explaining that housekeeping could have it.  If you don’t want your crap….what makes you think that Housekeeping does? And why does it suddenly become the responsibility of Housekeeping?

That was the comment that made me spill me precious java.

As a sustainable meeting planner, swag is looked at very carefully, very thoughtfully. I am a wee bit horrified that a high level event such as Blogher may not have a policy in place to limit wasteful/unwanted swag. And while we are on the subject of policy……Jen advises that the hotel should come up “….with a policy for items left behind in the room for housekeeping”.


The Blogher conference organizers should be creating the policy surrounding swag and communicating that policy to expo or tradeshow participants. If Blogher already has a policy surround swag then.....the Blogher conference attendees should have an ethical policy NOT to accept items that they will not use or items that will simply get left in their hotel room for Housekeeping to manage or dispose.

There is a silver lining…..If the attendee’s of Blogher are the “shopping powerhouse of the family”, then this conference has a tremendous opportunity to influence behavior.


I know many sustainable meeting planners who would LOVE the opportunity to green the Blogher conference….myself included.

After I cleaned up my coffee and poured a fresh cup, I immediately sent this tweet to Heidi Thorne. 

Heidi is a promotional products marketing expert and speaker and has a background in the tradeshow and hospitality industries. She is also editor of the Promo With Purpose Today blog and author of SWAG: How to Choose and Use Promotional Products for Marketing Your Business. 

Heidi is also a friend and I knew that she would have something to contribute to this conversation:

I totally agree that it is not the hotel's responsibility to deal with the overabundance of swag, it's the conference's. Being from a hotel background, I recognize that this creates a difficult scenario for the Housekeeping Department. Housekeeping personnel are instructed not to mess with guests' belongings. Say the Housekeeping Manager observes one of the staff walking out with a bunch of these items (since Jen says they were nice). Was it given to the staffer? Or stolen? It puts the Housekeeping staff in a difficult position.

In Jen's defense, I understand the problem. I've been to these types of affairs myself and come home with a TON of swag that I don't know what to do with. What I usually do is donate it to our local charities. But for those who are traveling by air and have to drag the swag home, it's a problem.

What I'd suggest is a "Share the Swag" collection bin near the exits of the conference on each day. Since it appears that many of the items were of good quality, they could be donated to a local charity, maybe a women's shelter. The charity may even agree to pick up the items in exchange for some plugs during the conference or even a donation. Otherwise, the conference could box them up and ship them to the charity. True, sponsors may be a bit unsettled by this plan. But alerting them in advance of the program may make them think twice about what they are giving away.

It is also the conference's duty to guide sponsors on what is appropriate for the group. Conferences can even limit the amount and type of swag that is distributed, selling those limited items as sponsorships. For example, a conference could have a T shirt sponsor, a water bottle refreshment sponsor, etc. I've observed a couple of events over the years who have done this and I think it's the alternative to a giant bag o' swag that no one wants. It also eliminates the duplication of items. No one needs three water bottles.

Thanks Heidi! You have provided some great tips. Thanks to Jen from "The Martha Project" for sparking so many different conversations about the importance of rethinking giveaways. The time for deciding what to do about the swag is BEFORE the event, not during.