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Five Kinds of Organizational Bias That Could Be Ruining Your Remote Meetings

Written by anijmeh on . Posted in Federation News, news-feed

Leaders should keep a close eye on the subtle ways that they—or their employees—might be introducing biases to the way they approach remote calls.

Lots of different behaviors manifest themselves in subtle ways in the workplace. And that’s true when the workplace is virtual as well.

It can affect leadership or worker interactions, and it can leave workers feeling slighted or missing the bigger picture. And the best way to avoid those issues is to know that they’re out there.

Here are a few kinds of bias you should watch out for when it comes to your remote calls:

Distance bias. You know what they say—out of sight, out of mind, right? Well, that’s a problem when your staffers are out of sight, and there may be a tendency as a result to want them in sight. Good luck with that in a virtual environment. Robby Macdonell of the firm RescueTime told Fast Company last year that leaders need to take seriously the work that people are doing remotely. “It seems to be a problem in decision making and collaboration,” Macdonell explained of the problem. “You should assume that a dial-in on a conference line is not a seat at the table.” This is doubly true when the office reopens, and some employees inevitably stay home.

Expedience bias. Sure, you may expect your staff to hit the ground running and be hard at work throughout the day—an approach called expedience bias—but that approach could actually be counterintuitive, according to leadership strategists David Rock and Khalil Smith. In a column for Forbes, the two point out the danger of booking meetings both at the start of the day and consecutively. “Start virtual meetings later in the day so people can complete those big and innovative projects when they naturally want to. Chances are you’ll see productivity soar,” the authors write. “Additionally, just because it is possible to schedule meetings back to back, doesn’t mean it is a good idea.”

Safety bias. Rock and Smith also warn of another form of bias that can play a role in virtual discussions, safety bias, in which leaders focus on losses over gains that come with potential risks. And that can lead to a bad combination of bad motivations, they say. “This cocktail can have managers anxious about what they don’t see, and questioning whether employees will be as productive when they are working from home and incapable of being observed,” the authors add.

Unconscious bias. But what about biases that surface during discussions? Researchers from Michigan State University and the University of Colorado say that virtual meetings can surface issues of inclusion and unconscious bias—say, in efforts to offer lighthearted icebreakers or create fun Zoom backgrounds, you may step into issues that can be sensitive for some. “Unconscious bias includes using language, symbolism and nonverbal cues that reinforce normative social identities with respect to gender, race, sexual preference and socioeconomic status,” noted MSU social science researcher Amy Bonomi in a news release. “For example, when the virtual background of a Zoom meeting attendee has pictures of his or her wedding, it unintentionally reinforces the idea that marriage is most fitting between opposite sexes.” Bonomi recommends using inclusive language to ensure nobody is left out and to avoid unintentional symbolism.

Confirmation bias. In a recent article on the London School of Economics and Political Science’s LSE Business Review, authors Rachel Jaffe and Grace Lordan warn that the ease of falling into issues of confirmation biases and groupthink are higher in virtual environments, as they affect the speed of decision making. “Confirmation bias arises when new information is ignored that does not support the verdicts and outcomes that are already preferred by a group,” the authors wrote. “In a virtual working setting accessing new information is easy. There is after all email, messaging, and quicker access to internet. Out there somewhere is something or someone that confirms what you are thinking right now is right!”

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Steps You Should Be Taking Now for Your Fall Conference

Written by anijmeh on . Posted in Federation News, news-feed, Uncategorized

This is the fourth in a series of blogs posts, written collaboratively by our team, which uncover lessons learned in advising dozens of our clients on their events in the time of COVID-19. Although each situation has its own unique issues, we hope you find nuggets to help you with your disruption response and planning.

Over the past couple weeks, conversations with our clients have shifted from crisis decision-making for conferences occurring in the near-term (reactive) to scenario planning for the fall (proactive). While there is still significant uncertainty for the health and safety of mass gatherings, those of you with your major events in Q3 or Q4 have a little time for weighing your options.

Scenario and Contingency Planning

In our Conference Go/No-Go Decisions in a Pandemic post, we provided a framework for scenario planning. Many have taken this to heart and are working on at least two plans. Here’s what some of them include:

  1. Buying Time. Some events in Q3 are exploring options for postponing to Q4. 
  1. Resetting Expectations. Quite a few corporations and universities have instituted travel bans and/or are making major budget cuts. Conferences with strong global participation are expected to be more regional in the near-term. Many people don’t believe that mass gatherings will truly recover until after a vaccine is widely deployed. The most common projection made by our clients is that their fall event will be 50% of what was expected for both revenue and in-person participation. 
  1. Plan for Hybrid. Any association that wasn’t live-streaming or capturing and scheduling replays of premium conference content is doing the research now to add this capability to their fall event. While many want to be pointed to a list of service providers or virtual business models, we’re finding that the solutions our clients are often short-listing include the technology and solution providers they are already working with, i.e., abstract management software, mobile app, floor plan management solution and webinar platform. 
  1. Education Experience. One positive outcome of this crisis is a greater focus on quality over quantity of education sessions. When all is clear we’ll be seeing more large-group experiences designed to rally the industry. Everyone is planning to add late-breaking topics to help their profession recover and evolve. Many are holding off on speaker invitations until there is more positive news of the country reopening. 
  1. Risk-free Participation. Any event that does move forward in 2020 will need to revisit their attendee and exhibitor cancellation and downsizing penalties. Most of our clients are waiving all risks for this year. 
  1. Virtual Contingency. For the most part, the elements in your hybrid plan can also be the main attraction of your virtual offering. The best plans we’ve seen for virtual do not just shift from in-person to digital. The education content should be significantly streamlined and delivered in digestible bursts. Don’t expect a virtual exhibit hall to deliver results. We have seen zero success stories for virtual expos.

Good-Faith Adjustments

If you are planning to move forward with your fall conference, now is the time to notify your hotels, convention centers and service providers of your lower expectations. Some planners don’t want to make a downward adjustment without confirmation from the hotel that the performance clauses are being forgiven. It could be months before a hotel is able to make that determination. While we’re not lawyers, we believe making good faith adjustments early-on puts you in the best position for Renegotiating Live Event Agreements When All Parties Are Innocent Victims.

Good partners will lower the room block and release meeting space you don’t plan to use, sooner rather than later. By doing so, inform the hotel that you want to make sure that they have available inventory for other groups that may be postponing their dates.

What advice would you add for organizers with fall conferences or shows?

Other Posts in this Series

Leading Through the Pandemic: Generosity + Empathy = Future Brand

Conference Go/No-Go Decisions in a Pandemic

Renegotiating Live Event Agreements When All Parties Are Innocent Victims

The post Steps You Should Be Taking Now for Your Fall Conference appeared first on Velvet Chainsaw.

How the Events Industry Is Coming Together Amid COVID-19

Written by anijmeh on . Posted in Federation News, news-feed, Uncategorized

Despite the large economic hit the meetings sector is dealing with due to coronavirus, industry professionals, venues, and organizations have still found ways to support one another and their communities.

I don’t know about you, but some days it can be overwhelming to read about COVID-19 and the impact it is having on people and industries around the world. That’s why this week I wanted to share some stories about how the events industry is coming together in these tough times to support one another and their communities. Here is a look at a few of them:

Celebrating virtually and globally. Earlier this week, close to 11,000 industry professionals came together for Global Meetings Industry Day: Virtual. The daylong, worldwide event focused on education, inspiration, and networking in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 12-hour event, hosted by Meeting Professionals International, connected members and nonmembers with personal and professional education, panel discussions, and conversations on recovery and meeting together again. The program was delivered across the globe simultaneously and translated into local languages.

“The ability to connect in a meaningful way and generate professional opportunities is critical to leading our economic recovery, perhaps now more than ever,” said Paul Van Deventer, president and CEO of MPI, in a press release. “This was among the most powerful experiences we have ever delivered to our industry. It was truly awe-inspiring and very emotional to see the overflow of passion verbalized via chat dialogue from our amazing community of professionals.”

Housing front-line workers. Last week, the American Hotel & Lodging Association announced that more than 15,000 hotels had signed up for its new initiative—Hospitality for Hope—which identifies properties that have offered to provide temporary housing for emergency and healthcare workers as the public health crisis grows. While the program primarily focuses on housing for healthcare workers, some hotels could potentially be used for other purposes, perhaps as emergency hospitals or places for those quarantined to stay. Hotel chains like Marriott and Best Western are also helping front-line workers with free and discounted rooms.

Donating food to local communities. In addition to housing, the industry is donating food from canceled events to those in need. For example, Caesars Entertainment provided 250,000 pounds of food, the equivalent of about 208,000 meals, to food banks and charities nationwide. As a result of canceled events at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, food service provider Centerplate donated more than 1,000 pounds of food to local organizations. And the Pennsylvania Convention Center and its Aramark partners donated 800 pounds of perishable food items to Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission and the Valley Youth House’s Achieving Independence Center for distribution to individuals and families in need.

Lending a helping hand. The Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association’s COVID-19 Hospitality Workers Relief Fund provides gift cards for local grocery stores and pharmacies to hotel employees who have been furloughed or laid off. Similar efforts are also underway in New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

If you have other stories about how the industry is banding together, please share them in the comments below.

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How Events Are Leveraging Creativity As They Go Virtual

Written by anijmeh on . Posted in Federation News, news-feed, Uncategorized

From creating virtual tradeshows to turning a three-day event into a multi-week offering, event planners are getting experimental as they go virtual.

The current time requires more than a little improvisation just to keep things moving.

And sometimes, that improvisation can turn out to be something of a creative shot in the arm. In the case of their events, organizations have been willing to try lots of new things in an experimental form to help ensure that their members can benefit, even if it’s not the same thing as a person-to-person experience.

A few notable experiments have managed to stick in recent weeks. Among them:

Building a virtual expo hall. The Toy Association, which puts on two Toy Fair marketplaces annually, has taken those events virtual by putting on a series of digital “seven-day market weeks” that will help toymakers show off their wares through a number of virtual events. In a recent news release, the association noted that the structure would allow virtual attendees to browse exhibitors by category, take part in educational sessions, and take appointments with vendors—just like at any traditional tradeshow. (The group says the virtual shows will supplement, not replace, its existing events.) “Our aim is that Toy Fair Everywhere provides the industry with the much-needed opportunity to connect and engage from afar while continuing to make essential headway for their businesses to forge ahead in the current climate,” explained Marian Bossard, the association’s executive vice president of global market events. The first virtual event will take place starting July 13.

Boosting engagement with news customers. In recent years, news publishers have found success by building events businesses that help expand on their coverage. Why can’t that work online? As Digiday notes, many of these publishers, such as the Texas Tribune, have taken steps to set these events up virtually. The Tribune’s CEO, Evan Smith, noted that the nonprofit had already incorporated livestreaming elements into its approach and was expanding on those elements. “We’ve seen no disruption in revenue to this point,” Smith told the outlet. “It’s early, so I’m not foreclosing on the option for disruption, but it’s looking good.”

Stretching out the event digitally. The Brewers Association’s Craft Brewers Conference was supposed to be a three-day event in San Antonio, Texas, this month. Instead, it’s now a five-week program with offerings throughout the month—40 total seminars over five workweeks. Notably, the virtual event has been made free by the association. “Since we’re all social distancing and getting our share of screen time, CBC Online is an opportunity to invest in your education, so that when the dust finally settles, you will emerge stronger and smarter than ever before,” the conference website states. “We promise you’ll leave with some great new ideas to bring to your job.”

Developing educational opportunities, even for nonmembers. Around the country, the Girl Scouts are taking steps to help students remain active and earn badges. And if you don’t have a membership? No big deal. The Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan, for example, is offering its services to members and nonmembers alike, including by offering a virtual patch program to nonregistered scouts. “We want them to know that in the midst of all that’s going on, they can still learn and grow, and have fun at home while doing it,” said Tiffiny Griffin, the group’s vice president of programs, to The News-Herald.

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How the COVID-19 Crisis Is Accelerating the Shift to Online Member Engagement

Written by anijmeh on . Posted in Federation News, news-feed, Uncategorized

Associations that focus on changing up traditional member engagement are more likely to succeed during—and after—the turbulence caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent report.

By now we all know everything has changed—in a big way—because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now it’s time to figure out how to best navigate these waters to come out more successfully on the other side.

The Strategic and Economic Impact of COVID-19 on Associations, a report published last month by Association Laboratory, Inc., points to a shift from traditional membership models to more digital ones. The data backs it up: 57 percent of association leaders said they are expanding investment in online education, 52 percent are looking into virtual conferences, and 62 percent plan on shifting content to a digital platform.

Dean West, FASAE, president and founder of Association Laboratory, said associations have been exploring digital relationships with members for years, so it’s not a new concept. But the trend is being accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report recommends a broader approach to engaging members beyond the static framework of singular face-to-face meetings. In the future, West said, it will be more important to combine face-to-face meetings with other association programs to give members a more holistic experience that includes local, national, and online activities. Connecting those dots, where the sum of the association’s parts is greater than its whole, will be “the next evolution of the association business model,” he said.

Specifically, associations will need to:

  • understand how attendees use face-to-face events relative to other forms of engagement
  • use pre-meeting activities to build excitement before face-to-face events
  • give attendees access to content following events so they can present the information to their teams when they return

The goal is to create pathways through membership programs and services—beyond traditional product silos like education, meetings, and advocacy—that will incentivize members as they move from path to path in their experience with the association.

In the short term, West offered three tips for association leaders as they navigate the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic:

Don’t panic. “Take a deep breath and don’t do something stupid. Because three years from now, your board is going to look back at whatever you’ve done with a very different eye.”

Look for opportunities. “You can’t look at a crisis only as a threat. You have to consider it as an opportunity to create energy toward strategic change, because we know the crisis will eventually subside.”

Set priorities and assess results. Prioritize programs based on how many members are served, how much each one costs, and what the return on investment is. Then make the tough decisions to drop the ones that are not cost effective or worthwhile. “It’s not that the individual programs aren’t important,” West said. “It’s that those individual programs do not affect a member’s decision to join or to retain.”

The report points out that the association community is known for its ability to quickly mobilize in the face of crisis. “We’ve been through this before with 9/11. We all thought no one would ever attend a meeting again,” West said. “Two years later, the meetings industry was booming.”

The difference between 9/11 and the current crisis, he noted, is that COVID-19 is much more wide-reaching, and no one knows how long the uncertainty will last.

In spite of the daunting challenges and economic impact of COVID-19, West sees a silver lining: Every day associations are discovering that they have both the capacity and the capability to do things differently and more successfully. And the crisis has generated a tremendous opportunity to experiment with new strategies and get rid of things that have not provided value for many years.

“Sometimes,” he said, “you just have to prove to yourself that you can do it.”

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Four Suggestions to Strengthen Your Remote Employees’ Security

Written by anijmeh on . Posted in Federation News, news-feed, Uncategorized

As associations take their work remote, it’s becoming increasingly essential to have security strategies in mind that account for local Wi-Fi access and personal devices employees might not otherwise bring to the office. Here are some strategies to consider.

With more staff  than ever working outside of the office, the attack surface is in many ways both larger than ever and outside of your control.

Which can be a huge problem if you don’t have a plan to manage things remotely and keep users’ data safe in an array of environments. Some of the best solutions involve guidance; others involve strengthened security.

Read on for a few tips to keep remote employees secure in a home environment:

Multifactor authentication matters more than ever. If your organization once saw your office’s security mechanisms as a useful way to ensure that only approved people would be able to access a platform, a change in location basically ensures a change in dynamic. As CIO notes, now is a good time to take steps to strengthen security, particularly when it comes to multifactor authentication, such as smartphone apps like Google Authenticator or even physical keys.

Get your employees to secure their routers. An open Wi-Fi network is the kind of bad news that can let in bad actors, especially in relatively tight environments such as apartment complexes where neighbors are separated only by single walls. The security firm Kaspersky recommends both ensuring that your users’ Wi-Fi passwords are set, as well as ensuring the router itself has its login information changed. “If you have never changed the login and password required to enter the router settings, do so now,” the company explains. “The default passwords for many models are not only too weak, but also known across the Internet and easily searchable.”

Discourage the use of personal devices for work purposes. In an article for Security Boulevard, writer Francis Dinha notes that the use of computing devices at home often means that users could be taking a more lax approach to using their personal machines on the job—which can create security problems down the line, especially if they’re letting others use their laptop or desktop machine. “Now that those personal devices are connected to your company network, it’s important that they understand: It’s time to treat every device like it’s a company device,” Dinha writes. “Set a clear protocol in place, with potential discipline if that protocol isn’t followed, that no one is to share their devices with anyone outside of the company. Make sure you communicate these expectations clearly with your team.” If you’re giving them work devices, you should take steps to bar them from using their personal devices to get on the corporate network.

Discourage the use of external media. A recent guidance document from the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre notes that USB drives can lead to the theft of data or even potential malware infection. “USB drives can contain lots of sensitive information, are easily misplaced, and when inserted into your IT systems can introduce malware,” the agency states. The guide recommends that organizations only allow storage devices that have been explicitly allowed by the organization itself.

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How to Look Your Best When Videoconferencing

Written by anijmeh on . Posted in Federation News, news-feed, Uncategorized

As we move into the new normal of remote work during the COVID-19 crisis, we are spending more time on video calls than we have in the past. Two experts offer tips for ensuring your visuals look top notch.

In this time of social distancing, many association staff are meeting with colleagues, members, and others virtually with teleconferencing. While being able to see people online is fabulous, it’s important to look professional to ensure you get your message across.

“We are so used to doing things by phone that we don’t think about the visual impact,” said Sheri Singer, founder of Singer Communications. “The visual becomes part of your message, and you don’t want the visual part to distract from what you’re saying.”

Singer and Kiki L’Italien, CEO and host of Association Chat, offered tips for work-from-home videoconferencing. (Images are courtesy of Associations Now‘s Julie Shoop, who reports having a great time taking bad photos of herself.)

Lighting. When at home, many enjoy sitting near a window. Great in person, but not on camera. “They look like they’re in the Witness Protection Program; you can’t see them,” said L’Italien. “The light source should be behind the camera, so you are facing it.” If you have the inclination, L’Italien prefers ring lights and she recommends using three-point lighting: where light hits your face, and also comes at you from both the left and right.

Background. Got books on the shelf? It may be distracting, as your tele-buddies try to read your titles. Pictures of your kids? “That’s a privacy issue,” Singer said. “So, people have to ask themselves if they want that in the shot.”

L’Italien recommends finding a clean space just big enough to fill your shot. “The rest of the space you are in can be a tragic mess, but if what is behind you can be in order, then you’re in good shape,” she said.

Frame the Shot. “You want to be in the middle of the frame. You want it to look like someone is actually talking to you,” Singer said. “Don’t stand up and be far away from your camera. You don’t want people to be straining to see your face.”

Also, be mindful of the camera placement. “For some laptop models, the camera is coming from the lower part of the screen, so everyone is looking up your nose,” L’Italien said. Purchasing an external camera you can position, or raising your laptop (set it on books) can help avoid up-the-nose shots. L’Italien suggested aligning the camera with your hairline for a good face shot.

Dress for Success. If you’re a laid-back office, it is fine to dress similar for teleconferencing, but be mindful of your audience. “With members, you want to come across as professional,” Singer said.

Makeup. Both Singer and L’Italien suggest that everyone wear makeup to avoid shine on your face and to ensure you don’t appear washed out.

Keep it Simple. “Keep gestures to a minimum,” Singer said. “Too much hand gesturing is very distracting.”

Use the Camera. Some people may think it’s easier just to turn off the video. Not necessarily. “It might be to your detriment,” L’Italien said. “You might look like you’re not a team player.” However, sometimes the camera has to go off…

Stuff Happens. “If the dog starts barking, know where the mute button is. If your kid comes running through naked, know how to turn off the camera, and collect yourself before you rejoin,” L’Italien said. “The best way to recover from an interruption is not to act like nothing happened. If there are interruptions, address them, laugh, and move on with your meeting.”

The post How to Look Your Best When Videoconferencing appeared first on Associations Now.

How Organizations Can Cope With the Financial Fallout of COVID-19

Written by anijmeh on . Posted in Federation News, news-feed, Uncategorized

Just weeks into mandatory stay-at-home orders, conference cancellations, and new laws requiring paid leave for coronavirus, many associations are wondering how to stay afloat financially. Two experts offer some tips.

Associations reeling from the economic impact of the coronavirus—from cancelled events to new sick and family medical leave requirements—are wondering what they can do to make sure their doors stay open. I spoke to two experts who offered some options.

Andrea Wilson, partner at BDO, an international accounting and tax advisory firm, said associations should look at their finances realistically and assess where they are and where they’re headed if the current trajectory holds.

“You have to ask the questions: What happens if we lose 20 percent of our funding, 30 percent, 40 percent?” Wilson said. “That way you can predict the impact on people. You know at what point we have to furlough, and you have identified in advance points when you have to act.”

How an association acts will depend on its individual finances. “I don’t think there is essentially one silver bullet for everyone,” Wilson said. “People in finance need to go through and do that contingency planning and ask questions like, Do you tap into the reserve?’”

Dipping into reserves has many variables, Wilson said, including investment allocations and expected financial need, which advisors can help the association understand. Wilson said it’s also important to understand how reserve access is structured at your association. “Does that require board approval?” she asked. “If so, how are you engaging your board throughout this process so that they are ready?”

In addition to association-based resources, the government has help. The newly passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act offers some benefits for associations. Jeffrey Tenenbaum, an attorney specializing in nonprofit law, created a resource sheet to help organizations understand which benefits they’re eligible for.

The most lucrative portion of the CARES Act, the Paycheck Protection Program, provides loans of up to $10 million that are forgivable if spent on operating costs, including payroll, rent or mortgage, utilities, and group health premiums. PPP is available to some businesses and 501(c)(3) organizations, but Tenenbaum noted that 501(c)(6) groups are ineligible for the program.

Since some 501(c)(6) associations have related foundations that file as a 501(c)(3), I asked Tenenbaum if those associations would be able to get a little relief by applying for a PPP forgivable loan to pay foundation staff. However, Tenenbaum said that’s generally not going to work. “Most associations that have a related foundation have all the rent, mortgage, payroll, group health in one entity—and it’s the association,” he said. If those expenses are housed in the 501(c)(6), PPP can’t be used.

However, if your association is a 501(c)(6), don’t panic. ASAE and other associations are calling on Congress to add more economic relief for associations. Within the CARES Act, there are a couple of options. If you need a quick hit of cash—even if it’s not a lot—apply for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Emergency Advance.

“That’s a $10,000 loan that does not have to be repaid if you spend it on paid leave, payroll, or paying economic obligations,” Tenenbaum said. “While it’s not huge, it’s certainly something.”

For longer term needs, look at Economic Injury Disaster Loans. “While it’s not as beneficial as the Paycheck Protection Program, most notably that the loans are not forgivable, it is still a very beneficial loan program,” Tenenbaum said. “You can get a loan up to $2 million.” The loan term is 30 years and interest rates are low: 2.75 percent for nonprofits.

In addition to the loan programs, the CARES Act also includes tax relief if an organization has not used PPP. The Employee Retention Tax Credit is a 50 percent tax credit for wages paid by the employer, up to $10,000 per employee. The CARES Act also allows employers to delay payroll taxes between now and Jan 1, 2021, and those taxes wouldn’t have to start being paid until December 2021.

Tenenbaum noted that there is concern these programs might run out of money, which is why he recommends applying as soon as possible.

What is your association doing to deal with the financial hurdles created by the coronavirus crisis? Please tell us in the comments.

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Five Ways to Create Better Engagement During Virtual Events

Written by anijmeh on . Posted in Federation News, news-feed, Uncategorized

Taking your conference virtual doesn’t mean you have to lose the networking and interaction that occurs at your in-person events. Some ideas for building better online engagement. 

As more associations convert their in-person conferences into virtual ones due to COVID-19, many are concerned about the ability to replicate the interaction, networking, engagement, and hallway conversations that are staples of face-to-face events.

On an ASAE webcast earlier this week called “Tips and Tools for Creating and Awesome Virtual Event Experience,” the two presenters said it is definitely possible—you just need to be thoughtful and creative.

Here are five ideas that 360 Live Media Director of Experience Design Beth Surmont, CMP, CAE, and Matchbox Virtual Cofounder and CEO Arianna Rehak shared during the webinar:

Prepare your speakers. “It is extremely difficult to present to nobody,” Surmont said. “A lot of speakers feed off their audience. So, the first time you present to no one, it is very strange experience and it can throw people off.” That means associations need to talk to their presenters about what to expect—and also what they can do to deliver the best experience to attendees. If they’ll be on video, that includes having a clean background (“think newcasts,” she said), wearing clothing that is not distracting, and having front lighting.

Get your audience ready too. “It’s very important to bring a specific level of intention to your virtual event to help your audience understand how they can have the best experience,” Surmont said. Tell them how to engage. “For example, submit your questions here. Raise your hand this way,” she said.

Surmont  suggested thinking of engagement through four dimensions: physical, physiological, intellectual, and emotional. For the physical dimension, for example, consider where people are participating from and offer tips on how they can create the best environment for themselves: “Keep your door closed, or put a sign on your door so you won’t be disturbed,” Surmont said.

Build a virtual environment that’s conducive to conversation. “While pre-recording sessions often gets a bad rap,” Rehak said, doing so allows speakers to engage actively in the conversation that is going on while attendees are watching their session. “The speakers love this by the way,” she said. “They are seeing their content come to life.”

If you do go this route, Rehak recommends having chat animators who “create a positive conversational environment that signals to other that they can join,” she said. “That can be as simple as being the first to say, ‘Hey, really excited to be here and get started.’ That will set the right tone.”

Host virtual roundtable discussions. “If you want attendees to dive into a specific topic, you may want to consider video chat breakout rooms,” Rehak said. “It’s really a way for folks to meaningfully connect with one another.”

To make this happen, have a designated facilitator in each room so the conversation stays focused and gets people talking. If your association is unable to provide multiple facilitators, Rehak suggest supplying each room with a list of guiding questions. “You want to give them a sense of purpose around their interaction together,” she said.

Offer a little bit of fun between sessions. Create moments between sessions that capture people’s attention. For example, you can provide additional content during breaks, such as meditation or a trivia game. Or if you have awards to present, consider playing short videos of the winners. “Really, the world is your oyster in terms of that you can offer attendees during these breaks,” Rehak said.

What ideas have you implemented for introducing engagement and conversation during your virtual events? Please share in the comments.

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Leading During a Pandemic: Setting Strategy, Virtually

Written by anijmeh on . Posted in Federation News, news-feed, Uncategorized

As virtual meetings become the new norm, more associations will need to Zoom strategic discussions. Here’s how to make that process effective.

The past few weeks have given many of us a crash course in teleconferencing. We’ve set up Zoom meetings, watched our colleagues’ cats and children stray across our feeds, and most likely discovered that short virtual meetings can be effective for small groups in your office.

But what about more complicated, days-long strategic conversations with a far-flung board? As travel restrictions and social distancing guidelines remain in place, more associations will have to conduct their board meetings virtually. And getting that right will require more of organizations than making sure everybody has a Zoom link.

You have to be paying attention to who has spoken, who is engaged, and who hasn’t spoken.

Earlier this month, association leadership consultant Lowell Aplebaum, CAE, helped coordinate a day-and-a-half leadership retreat for the board of the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI). The rapidly changing situation around the coronavirus meant that some were able to travel to Chicago for the meeting, while some were stuck at home. It was, accidentally, a hybrid board event. Aplebaum shared a few of his insights about the experience on LinkedIn, and I wanted to hear more about what worked during the event and what challenges strategy sessions still face.

The bottom line is that the system can work: “I’m not sure there’ll be a run to embrace all virtual all the time, but I think there’ll be more latitude toward hybrid approaches,” he says. “We’ve gained experience enough in this way of functioning digitally that we can blend in-person with virtual in meaningful ways.”

Aplebaum offers a few tips for how to make the most of a virtual or hybrid board meeting:

The conversation leader needs to be free to lead. Whether it’s the board chair or the CEO directing the conversation, that person should not be expected to be the ad hoc IT staffer in addition to moderating conversations. Assign a person to handle the technical issues. “In a digital environment it’s nearly impossible to be both a facilitator and contributor,” he says. “You need a back-end person to take care of logistics and knowledge capture.”

Recognize that virtual conversations aren’t introvert-friendly. A board member who is cautious about engaging during in-person meetings may feel all the more so in a virtual environment. A mass of little video boxes can be intimidating, and as Aplebaum points out, the virtual environment repels quiet—people will talk to fill the space. So be intentional about gathering input. “You have to be paying attention to who has spoken, who is engaged, who hasn’t spoken,” he says. “It’s harder for there to be moments to pause and process. A facilitator has to be really intentional about inviting voices you haven’t heard.”

Kill oral subcommittee report-outs. Kill them dead. Extended chatter from committee chairs about finance, events, membership, and so on can be boring on a good day. In a virtual environment those reports can feel like sitting through the most tedious, slow-moving art film you can imagine. “Do you really want every group reporting out for five minutes? That’s an hour of just sitting and passively listening except for your five minutes from your group,” Aplebaum says. “Take advantage of a digital platform to have the groups report out through digital means. During a break, have the facilitator go through it and then come back to the group with overarching themes that emerged from all the groups.”

Icebreakers and opportunities to connect still matter. Overall, Aplebaum says, the CSI retreat was a success: “We heard that every person felt that they were engaged and invited and there was space for their voice.” But the experience showed that even the best-planned virtual meeting will leave some people craving opportunities for social connection. Setting up a virtual “happy hour” where people can connect over meals can help. So can group activities that encourage people to share something personal. After all, these days people have their personal lives near at hand.

“One thing that I would do next time is have everyone find their beverage and then pick one picture on their computer or phone that shows me something about your life,” he says. “Or a physical object in your home. Something that tells the story of who you are, that lends itself to personal narrative. That can build cohesion in the group.”

Whether it’s leading virtual meetings, managing staff, or coordinating with stakeholders, I want to hear how you’re putting your leadership skills to use during COVID-19. If you have a story to share, please drop me a line at mathitakis@asaecenter.org.

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