Suzanne Zeppernick, CMP, CTA, has been the National Sales Manager for the Greater Columbus (Ohio) Convention Center since 2007. The following is an interview with Suzanne.
Q: What trends have you seen develop as associations get back to hosting conferences for their members?
I’ve seen two associations with similar missions collaborate to sponsor a single conference. Associations are also getting corporate sponsors to pay for sessions, meals, internet connectivity for attendees, and other amenities that the associations used to cover themselves.
Associations have gone green by developing apps to replace the expensive publication of convention guides. These apps can be personalized by attendee and, if a particular attendee’s agenda changes, the association can push out notifications to the attendee’s smartphone or tablet in real time and often just in time.
Associations are using room setups that are different from the standard theater or classroom sets, such by using small group clusters of chairs that foster interactive communication and idea sharing.
Also, associations are facilitating more informal meeting gatherings in the public spaces. Planners appreciate when there are comfortable places to sit and meet among peers outside of the normal breakout sessions.
Some associations are fitting a formerly three-day conference into a two-day schedule, to get their attendees back to work sooner.
Q: What do the best Association Executives do for their members’ benefit while planning for an upcoming conference?
First, they select an affordable destination that is easy to travel to, both for the association and its members. Next, they create excitement for the destination city by using social media and by producing a short video about the city, or they will use a video from the local convention and visitors’ bureau, and send the link to their members via email.
Also, the executives create short video clips to promote the upcoming event that include highlights from the last conference.
For their members, they negotiate the best rates at local hotels and make sure that the conference meeting space is easy for the attendees to navigate. For the association, they will negotiate the best rates for food and beverage.
They will be clear about deadlines and send reminders: to sign up, to book the hotel, and to buy booth space.
The most successful conferences post speaker presentations online and will have dedicated trade show hours.
Q: What are some things that can easily be overlooked? What are some common mistakes associations make and what can be done to avoid them?
First, take into account in the full costs of running a meeting, including whether the destination is union or non-union, internet fees, walkability and digital signage. By using our digital signage outside the meeting rooms, for instance, one conference planner saved their organization $20,000 in easels and signage fees!
Next, choose a destination that has many restaurants and attractions close by. Connected hotels, too! For instance, Columbus now has 2,100 rooms conveniently connected or attached to our Convention Center.
Never overlook the benefit of dedicated networking time. To most attendees, it’s as important as the session schedule.
Get bids and /or incorporate services from the in-house AV company even if you usually travel with your preferred audio visual company. Why? The in-house AV company usually knows the equipment best and how to service and troubleshoot onsite issues. Using the in-house vendors also can save on costs with patch fees waived and set up day rental waived for decorator services and/or AV set up.
Work with the local CVB to plan experiential tours of the city. This offers an excellent way for visitors to take in the local sights and allows colleagues to meet and interact outside the conference setting. For example, ASAE does an excellent job of providing a selection of city tours offered as both pre- and post-educational sessions.
Provide airport transportation and concierges stationed at hotels and at the conference to provide assistance with directions, restaurant choices, area attractions, local events and more.
Conduct post-evaluation surveys using Survey Monkey or Poll Daddy and incorporate those ideas and suggestions into the next meeting.
Q: How do you see association events evolving in the future?
Technology will continue to make it easier for a conference to go green, and to track CEUs.
For instance, use badge scanning for CEU credits upon entering the education session. And to take it a step further, these CEU’s could then be automatically updated to the user’s own online profile. This could be a huge asset for re-certification requirements.
We will continue to see smaller group sessions, such as collaborating in conversation “pits,” for attendees to more easily network and to develop solutions to share with their entire group.
Even with advancing technology, the value of meeting face-to-face will never go away.
Attending conferences allows for networking opportunities and personal interaction that you can only get from in-person meetings. The face-to-face interaction with colleagues is invaluable!