Category Archives: Attendance

Handling Crisis Situations for your Meetings

A blizzard shuts down transportation routes across the nation, stranding attendees and exhibitors in distant cities as a convention is scheduled to begin.

A shuttle bus runs over and kills an attendee in front of a hotel.

A bomb threat empties a convention center in the midst of the busiest day of a major tradeshow.

These and other crises can wreak havoc on any type of meeting planned by an association or corporation. Even worse, meeting-related crises occur at a time when staff and volunteer leaders are already stretched to the limit with onsite responsibilities.

How does an organization respond?

“It’s a challenge,” says Al Rickard, CAE, president of Association Vision, a Washington, DC-area communications company. “Meeting crises call for a special type of crisis management and communication.”

Rickard offers this meeting-specific advice:

• Anticipate that a crisis may occur and designate a high-level executive to lead the response.  Develop a plan to delegate this person’s meeting-related duties to others if needed.

• Bring the crisis management plan with you in hard copy and electronic formats and make sure key staff and volunteer leaders have a copy. Review the plan briefly before leaving for the meeting.

Create a local media list for the city where the meeting will be held so you can quickly send them information if needed.  While you’re at it, update your trade press media list.  Have them loaded and ready to use on a moment’s notice.

• Create a master list of contact information for all onsite staff and top volunteer leaders, including cell phone numbers, emails, hotel information, and onsite schedules.

Locate the nearest emergency facilities to your meeting, including a hospital, fire station, and police station and have their contact information readily available.  Make sure contact information for key staff at the meeting facility and all official meeting hotels is also available.

• Develop a plan for quickly communicating with all attendees if necessary, even if they are not at the meeting facility. Twitter and Facebook can be very useful tools as long as attendees know to consult these sites to check for news and updates.  Broadcast emails can be used, and hotels can also place messages on room phones.

• Identify and brief a few staff who are not at the meeting on the crisis management plan and provide them with all critical information. They can be valuable assets in a crisis since they can work remotely away from the crisis scene.

• Take advantage of having your top leaders together in one place and meet as needed to develop response strategies. But make sure you designate a single spokesperson.

Rickard has also published 17 Commandments of Crisis Communication, and Association Vision is listed on

What Makes a Successful Webinar?

The do’s and don’ts of hosting a successful webinar, that will generate repeat attendees:

Establish a Twitter hash tag prior to webinar and include hash tag with dial/login instructions. While attendees may converse via the virtual meeting chat platform, if your audience is accustomed to Twitter, this is most likely where they will opt to connect. Be sure to have an organizer monitor comments for feedback, questions and technical assistance.

Strong preparation should not be overlooked. By the time attendees sign into the platform, technical glitches are worked out and introductions are made, the time for information sharing is short but vital. Practice your speech to ensure you have enough time to present the information. Thorough presentation slides can assist with this.

Traditional face-to-face presentation best practices still apply. You’re not off the hook just because attendees cannot see your face. Content must be engaging and informative just as much, if not more so than if in person.

-Since presentation slides are the sole visual for the webinar, these mustpresent the information in a clear, concise manner. Remember, presentation slides can be posted as a resource after the event. Attendees will appreciate thorough and entertaining slides that are consistent with the flow of the presentation.

-Familiarize yourself with the webinar software. Utilize the attendee mute button while the presenter is speaking. There’s nothing worse than an attendee placing a call on hold and disrupting the presentation with hold music, or hearing typing or phones ringing in the background!

Leave adequate time for questions. Whether you choose to answer questions along the way or at the end of a presentation, it’s vital for a successful webinar to include the audience’s comments and questions.

Creative Meeting Ideas

Redefining value has become more important than ever before. What worked last year or the year before may be out the window, especially with a rapidly changing economic landscape and competitors scrambling for market position.

Here are some creative marketing ideas to help build meeting attendance:

Go Viral – Forget the swine flu! We’re talking about viral exposure in the social media. Come up with unusual – even outrageous – ideas for your meeting that will start tongues wagging and tweeters tweeting. Get your executive director to volunteer to sing a song onstage at the Opening General Session if the meeting attendance sets a record (be sure to post a video of him/her singing a few lyrics on YouTube as a sneak preview). Then have your Board members, convention planning committee members, and other leaders start tweeting about this and posting links to the YouTube video and your meeting website.

Talent Search – Everyone has talent, right? (OK, maybe some people are more talented than others.) Have a “Talent and Great Ideas Show” at your next meeting. Use your e-newsletter, online convention promotions, and the social media to recruit members to participate. Each person needs to demonstrate their talent for a minute or so (do a card trick, play a musical instrument, sing, dance, juggle, do an impersonation, etc.) and then deliver one industry-related great idea that attendees can take home and use in their business. Record a couple short videos with willing members to show how it works and post these on YouTube as examples. The show will add fun and value to your next meeting, and create powerful social media marketing leading up to the meeting to promote attendance.

Jeopardy – Think of an important topic in your industry and imagine how that might play out in a Jeopardy-style game. (Remember, answers must be phrased in the form of a question!) Creativity is the bottom line, of course – think about how the game can be built into into a PowerPoint presentation, for example.

What are you waiting for? Step out of your comfort zone, toss ideas around with colleagues, and think about the wow factor!

Social Media Tips for Planners

10 Easy Social Media Tactics for Meetings & Events:

  1. Know your audience’s social media habits, so you can communicate most effectively. Use tools such as Twitter Search or Technorati to do research, or simply conduct a member survey.
  2. Use Facebook or Eventbrite to promote and register people at your event. These tools allow people to easily spread the word to their friends and let people see who else is attending the event.
  3. Promote your social media activities through traditional channels to encourage participation, including websites, signage, welcome remarks, hotel room drop offs and programs.
  4. Set up an event-specific Wiki or social network. This will help break down barriers between people and facilitate the exchange of ideas during the conference.
  5. Start and promote an event blog with news and updates. If an entire blog is intimidating, simply start with Facebook updates.
  6. Create an “upload atmosphere” at your event to encourage blogging and Tweeting. Provide powerstrips and make sure Wifi is available to your attendees.
  7. Create and promote one consistent Twitter hashtag for your event. Twitter hashtags help aggregate individual Tweets into one area. By using a hashtag (or Twitter search term) into their posts, attendees can easily find all the posts relevant to your event.
  8. Live blog and Tweet from the event to provide “official” messaging and generate excitement.
  9. Interview speakers using a flip cam and post the content to your event site. This provides visibility for the speakers and also gives bloggers something to share.
  10. Create a group on Slideshare so that all presentations can be shared electronically with attendees. Reducing the number of presentation handouts also is a nice “green” element that can be promoted to attendees.

The above tips are adapted from a seminar sponsored by the Hilton Washington,  for meeting and event planners on how to leverage the vast world of social media specifically for their needs – helping them attract, engage and respond to their attendees.  To develop and conduct the complimentary seminar, Hilton Washington engaged its communications partner Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide and Ogilvy Washington Digital Influence Specialist Sarah Marchetti. The full presentation can be accessed on Slideshare.

Why Seating Matters

Dr. Raddes book Seating Matters offers innovative setups for meeting rooms

Dr. Radde's book Seating Matters offers innovative setups for meeting rooms

Quick, what’s the best way to get the most seats in a meeting room?

Straight across, theater-style, right?

“Think again!,” says Dr. Paul O. Radde of The Thrival Institute, who has authored a new book, Seating Matters.

“The industry mindset is that straight rows maximize a room, but they don’t – they create dead space,” he says.

“Dead space is any excessive or wasted space in a room that could be excellent seating for participants, such as up front around the stage or down the center of the room. For example, the center aisle, the best seating space in the room, is not set for chairs.”

Radde recalls a meeting at a major hotel where he had arranged to have curved rows with all the seats facing the center of the stage. When he arrived for the event, however, he found that the hotel staff had lined up straight rows instead, believing that was the only way to fit 1,800 seats in the ballroom.

That evening, Radde worked with the staff to reset the room with curved rows and showed them how to fit not only the required minimum of 1,800 seats in the room, he easily had room for another 300 seats for a total of 2,100 – even with the fine tuning of widened aisles toward the back of the room to create adequate space for schmoozing.

Straight-row seating is problematic for Radde on several counts:

1.) It requires people seated facing the wall on the outside of front rows to turn in their seats and turn their heads up to 85 degrees to view the stage.

“Unless people are within the three seats closest to the aisle in the center of the room, they report discomfort within 15 minutes,” Radde says, “and this detracts energy and attention from their positive meeting experience.

2.) “You come all the way across country or the world to meet, network, and learn with your peers and colleagues,” Radde explains. “So you don’t want to be slotted into a straight row when with a little imagination you could be in a more interactive setting.”

Angled and curved row innovations allow people who cannot see each other in straight rows, to see and interact with each other across the entire room.

Seating Matters lays down five principles to troubleshoot and design state-of-the-art seating arrangements in any meeting room. These principles not only increase seating capacity but also reduce stress, promote networking, and enhance learning. More than 70 illustrations and photos give the reader accurate descriptions of innovative setups.

Replacing Rounds

Meal functions at rounds present yet another challenge addressed in Seating Matters. Round tables crowd the room, create huge dead space, and make it difficult for people to talk with colleagues seated directly across the table. They raise their voices to cover the distance, but soon give up and chat with the persons next to them. Then too, half the people at a full round are facing away from the speaker. Turning chairs around is a cumbersome option.

Radde suggests using rectangular tables with the short ends aimed at the stage, forming a room-wide “starburst” pattern. Participants sit on the long sides of the table with one person seated at the head of the table facing the stage. This creates a more intimate setting, allowing people to see and talk to each other and to see the stage without turning chairs around. Tables shaped like trapezoids can also be used to create this type of setting.

“Meetings are supposed to bring people together, but even before people arrive, the straight row seating arrangements have limited the potential interaction and dynamic of the meeting.” Radde declares.

“I hope planners and facilities will read my book and see how a little creativity and innovation with seating will vastly improve the meeting experience for their participants. Best of all, it costs nothing to do this, while creating more value for the meeting.”

The book Seating Matters is available at

Keep Your Meeting at the Top of the Value Chain

Is your association and its major meeting at the top of the “value chain” in your industry?

Being at the top of this chain means that your association and meeting will outlast your competitors as members, meeting attendees, sponsors, and exhibitors make tough choices in today’s struggling economy.

If you’re not there, how do you get there?

Jane advises planners keep a relentlent focus on member involvement

Jane advises planners to keep a relentlent focus on member involvement

Jane Berzan is the former Senior Vice President for the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), where she led a top 100 trade show as well as supplier relations, exhibits, sponsorships, advertising and global development.

During her 12 years at NACS, she created a highly integrated program built on long-term relationships and high-value benefits for supplier members. The annual NACS Show tradeshow she managed featured 1,400 exhibiting companies in 380,000 net square feet that generated more than $16 million.

“Solid relationships built on listening, communicating, and then providing the value suppliers want is the key to succeeding in today’s market,” says Berzan, who just launched her own consulting company, JMB Business Solutions. “These are the ways to reach the top of the value chain.”

One innovative program she led and managed was the “Hunter Club,” named after the founder of NACS. It provided an exclusive club for top suppliers, giving them preferred exhibit locations, access to NACS leaders at special events, previews of new industry research, and more. Low-key word-of-mouth marketing added to the high-level appeal of the club.

“This is just one example of finding ways to make suppliers feel special and increase the value they receive from your association,” Berzan explains.

She also has advice for planners who may hear grumbling from exhibitors and sponsors about declining participation in meetings.

“Listen carefully to exhibitors and sponsors rather than telling them what you are doing for them,” Berzan says. “Seek their input on attendee recruitment ideas, identify specific decision-makers they would like to meet, and develop innovative marketing efforts to recruit them to your meetings.”

In many consolidating industries, there may be fewer players, but overall buying power is the same or greater than it was before the consolidation.

“In these cases, focus less on the number of attendees and more on the quality and aggregated buying power,” she advises.

“The bottom line is that it’s more important than ever to keep a relentless focus on member involvement,” Berzan says. “It’s far more than attending a conference, purchasing booth space, or reading the magazine – it’s about how members benefit from their participation—a lifelong mentor met at your conference, a great idea that made a difference to their business, or best practices they bought back to their company – so they never question writing the dues check or making travel plans to attend your events.”

Jane Berzan can be reached at