Expos Don’t Work Well in a Virtual Environment

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Virtual Expo Truths

Nearly every conference and trade show professional is searching for that perfect virtual platform or pricing model for replacing lost expo revenue. I’ve got bad news for you. Virtual expos will never be able to come close to replacing the revenue generated from your face-to-face expo. Here’s some of our learnings:

1. Corporate Booth

In the good ole days, companies would hire a booth builder to design, build and maintain their displays. In the virtual world, we ask exhibitors to build out a custom booth on the platform the show organizer selects. They need to do this for every virtual show they participate in. We’re seeing companies take one of three roads – 1) opt out of participating 2) sign-up and give it a minimal effort or 3) build a digital showroom on their turf and use the virtual platform as the doorway to their showroom.

2. Participation and ROI

In the early going, most shows are actualizing paid exhibitor participation in the 25% range. The average amount paid per exhibiting company varies by show, but is always considerably less. While virtual platform solution providers tout improved behavioral data on attendees, booth visits and downloads, the quality of those interactions is not ringing the bell like the face-to-face experience. Virtual expos are more like commoditized digital advertising offerings than they are immersive deal-making spaces.

3. Trusted Platform

In the February 2019 issue of Convene, I wrote about Why the Sustainability of the Trade-Show Business Model is in Question. Reflecting on these thoughts through a post-COVID lens makes it nearly impossible for a new virtual platform to be trusted by both buyers and sellers out of the gate. It will be interesting to see how virtual CES 2021 addresses these challenges!

Up Your Sponsorship Game

While these virtual expo predictions are sobering, conference organizers should be taking steps to diversify revenue by going all in with sponsorship. Next practices for creating your sponsorship program include:

  • Embrace the belief that a successful sponsor program will always have fewer, but bigger sponsors.
  • Create three sponsorship levels – Premier, Industry Champion, Collaborator
  • Limit the number of sponsors at the Premier level to 4 – 6. Cap the next level and 8 – 12. Increased exclusivity is a must.
  • Allow customized packages for the Premier level.
  • Create a one-page sell sheet.
  • Provide sponsor benefits that include:
    • Access – Passes to VIP events and/or the virtual experience
    • Content & Experience – speak at session, track sponsor, keynote sponsor, webinar, Q&A sessions, blog, podcast, etc.
    • Presence – virtual expo, demo room, branded feature area, lead capture, product showcase
    • Advance/Post Recognition – promotional and registration emails, website, social media
    • Recognition in Platform – video or banner ads, SWAG

Sponsor Success

Virtual sponsorship success is not going to be dependent on your platform, prospectus or sales skills. To make a short-term impact, you will need:

  1. Custom sponsorship packages that include thought leadership (speaking opportunity) inventory.
  2. Sponsor benefits that provide access to VIP segments and leadership.
  3. Sponsor benefits that go beyond the dates of the virtual event.
  4. Senior leadership who will leverage their relationships to open doors with major investors.
  5. Major investors who have high potential of renewal.

What has worked, or not worked, for you with your virtual expo or sponsorship offerings? 

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Should Your Chapters Sign a COVID-19 Waiver?

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What happens when your chapters hold in-person meetings—even after your association has made it clear that events should only be virtual because of COVID-19? A waiver might be a good idea.

There are plenty of opinions on the right amount of coordination—some might say control— between national associations and their chapters. COVID-19 has raised a new wrinkle.

In June, the national board of Mocha Moms, Inc.—“the premier voice and support group for mothers of color,” according to its website—issued a directive stating that its chapters were to stop holding in-person events until further notice to ensure member safety. Despite the notice, which referenced CDC’s explanation that the virus is transmitted from person to person through respiratory droplets, leadership became aware, through posts on social media, that some chapters were holding in-person events.

Mocha Moms’ general counsel, Manotti Jenkins, recommended that the organization issue a mandatory waiver to protect itself in case someone attended an unsanctioned Mocha Moms event, contracted the coronavirus, and brought a lawsuit against the organization. But does a waiver completely protect an organization from liability?

Generally speaking, no, according to attorney Jeffrey Tenenbaum of the Tenenbaum Law Group. Waivers “cannot hurt the association from a legal risk management perspective,” and requiring a waiver will likely help the organization, Tenenbaum wrote in a recent article. However, “waivers are regularly challenged and nullified by courts for a variety of reasons,” so it is not a good idea to rely on them as a “complete liability shield.”

Mocha Moms recently sent out the mandatory waiver to all members, reiterating the policy that all its events should be virtual only—not in person, even socially distanced—and requiring that members sign and return the online form by October 31. Members who have not signed the waiver by November 1 will be placed on probationary status and subject to removal by the national board—with no exceptions, the organization said.

The waiver states that, because of the national directive, “effective June 6, 2020, until further notice, Mocha Moms and its chapter, state, regional, and national leaders shall not be legally responsible in any way for the transmission of the COVID-19 virus alleged by anyone to have occurred during any in-person event or gathering of members of Mocha Moms, Inc.”

The waiver, Jenkins said, puts them in a position to win a lawsuit on a motion to dismiss if someone does file suit against them. “It’s prudent practice for organizations attempting to protect themselves from liability to do something like this,” he said.

In a video to members, Mocha Moms National President Kuae Mattox explained why enforcing virtual-only events is so important, referencing staggering statistics from the CDC about the losses the virus has caused to date—and daunting estimates for the near future. “We must keep our families and our children safe,” she said.

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How to Move DEI Conversations Beyond Just Talk

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A commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is admirable, but success requires action. A few association leaders shared how to move beyond good intentions.

Protests around social-justice issues this year have prompted associations to prioritize conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). But a conversation isn’t the same thing as taking initiative, and DEI is one of those things that has a way of generating lots of goodwill that can diminish over time.

Last week, a roundtable of five association executives addressed what that action can look like. The virtual meeting, moderated by Vista Cova’s Lowell Aplebaum, CAE, took its inspiration from CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion, an initiative of PricewaterhouseCoopers that includes a pledge that CEOs lead DEI conversations, implement education on unconscious bias, be transparent about their experiences, and engage the board in their efforts. Thus far, more than 1,300 CEOs, including around 180 in the association and nonprofit space, have signed on to the pledge.

You can (and should) watch the entire conversation here:

But a few takeaways emerged from the conversation that deserve particular attention. A similar Vista Cova roundtable on the topic back in July spotlighted how motivated associations were by current events. This time around, leaders delved deeper into specifics.

How do we get the most diverse group of people together to have this conversation?

Do the research to understand the scope of the problem. The assembled executives all acknowledged that transparency—with themselves and their organizations—plays an important role in starting a DEI effort. Christie Tarantino-Dean, FASAE, CAE, CEO of the Institute of Food Technologists, got the ball rolling with a task force assigned to look at the association’s culture. It found that “we’re an organization that was made up of insiders and outsiders,” she said. In the four years since, IFT has made a point of owning those inequities—Black women in the field make 37 percent less than white male counterparts in the same job, she noted—and looking for ways to address them.

Bake DEI into every decision about decision-making. The Infectious Diseases Society of America has a drafted a board-approved roadmap on DEI, with specific goals around gathering data, studying processes, and welcoming differences. Among its goals is to “promote fair treatment and access to opportunities for all members within all levels of the organization.” That means making conscious efforts to recruit diverse teams for staff and committees and to study IDSA’s organizational structures to make sure they’re inclusive as well. “When we look to form committees, or pull a panel together, or whatever it may be, there is no hesitation from any of our staff to say, ‘OK, how do we get the most diverse group of people together to have this conversation?’” said Chris Busky, CAE, CEO of ISDA. “I can guarantee you that did not happen four years ago.”

The day-to-day stuff matters, too. Big-picture, long-term strategic DEI work around staffing, volunteer leadership, and membership is important. But it’s also meaningful to engage with staffers on everyday issues too. Leaders should keep an eye on troubling events in the news or opportunities for civic engagement that staffers might want to participate in. Angela Thompson, chief human resources and diversity officer at the American Counseling Association, said ACA has found that approach meaningful. “We have a focus on wellness and self-care for staff, so in addition to trainings, we’re giving staff mental health days to take for themselves, time off to volunteer for civic duties and around social justice,” she said.

Track the benefits and make a business case. During the conversation, Thompson also noted that there’s a cost to not engaging in DEI efforts, and Busky added that such conversations need to be part of board discussions. “Find a connection to your strategic plan,” he said. “Begin working internally with staff on small projects and training, and share results with your board. Share data that clearly shows the benefits of DEI.”

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Ideas for Community Service Projects During Virtual Events

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Long a staple of in-person meetings, community service projects and social responsibility initiatives are being transformed for the virtual environment. A look at some possibilities.

A common way that attendees get to know each other at in-person events is by participating in service projects or other volunteer efforts that support the host city’s local community.

But, like so many aspects of face-to-face meetings, these efforts have had to be re-envisioned due the COVID-19 pandemic and the pivot to virtual and hybrid events.

But, not to worry, they are still taking place. Here is a look at how a few organizations have transitioned their community service projects and volunteer opportunities to the online environment:

Virtual meal packing. Since 2015, AARP Foundation’s annual Celebration of Service has engaged thousands of volunteers to pack millions of meals for seniors struggling to put food the table. The event is typically held on the National Mall in Washington, DC, but for Meal Pack Challenge 2020, volunteers are being asked to do the project from home and help reach the goal of delivering more than 2 million servings of food. Volunteers go online to request a box, shopping list, and prepaid shipping label from the AARP Foundation. Once the box arrives, they can shop for groceries and fill the box with items on the list. After shopping is complete, they have the option to either drop the box at UPS or schedule a pickup. The box will then be delivered to Capital Area Food Bank, which will distribute the food across the DC region.

Socially responsible session tracks. With industries focused on having social and ethically responsible leaders and members, some associations are putting a focus on session tracks that speak directly to this. One is the National Association of Realtors, which is hosting Social Good Sessions on topics like sustainability, socially ethical marketing practices, and more.

Virtual races. A common way that associations raise money for their related foundations or other charitable groups they’re supporting is to hold races during their conferences. This year, many have converted those to virtual 5Ks where attendees log their miles from any location of their choice. Among them: National Guard Association of the United States, Chicago Association of Realtors, New York State Occupational Therapy Association, and Association of Water Board Directors—Texas.

And even if associations aren’t offering specific community service activities or sessions during their virtual conferences, they are still encouraging attendees to give back to their communities. For example, the Eastern Association of Colleges and Employers suggested different ways people could help others during the pandemic, such as giving blood or showing appreciation to those on the front lines.

“The in-person conference would have provided a great opportunity to give back to the community, and although the conference is now being conducted virtually, the committee still wants to offer attendees an opportunity to make a difference,” the group said. “Share what you are doing to give back to your community on social media and tag #EACEGivesBack!”

What virtual community service opportunities have you offered your attendees? Please share in the comments.

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How to Bring Influencers Into Your Association’s Advocacy Efforts

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Influencers can drive a lot of attention and engagement toward your cause. But for the partnership to work, it takes the right influencer and an association that knows how to negotiate and collaborate effectively.

When thinking through your cause-marketing strategy, working with an influencer might not spring to mind. But influencers are powerful persuaders who have built trust with their audiences. On top of that, influencers tend to prioritize authenticity—a useful trait for cause marketing—says Kristy Sammis, executive director of the Influencer Marketing Association.

“A lot of influencers won’t take work if it doesn’t make sense for who they are,” she says. Consider these tips to find the right influencers for your cause-marketing efforts and how to collaborate with them effectively.

Look Within

Before venturing out into the world of influencers, take a look in-house—the right influencer could be a member of your organization. “I guarantee that any association has members who are natural advocates, because they’re already members and they have a good following across social media,” Sammis says.

If a member has a strong online presence, ask if they would be willing to advocate for your association and its cause. To promote participation, you could offer member incentives such as discounts and special benefits, similar to a member referral program.

Search With Focus

If you look outside your association, you’ll want to find an influencer who naturally aligns with your cause, not just someone with a large following. Instead of mass-emailing stock messages to a bunch of popular influencers—which Sammis calls the “spray and pray” method—identify ones who fit your niche and reach out to them.

A simple online search is a good place to start. To narrow your search, check Twitter and Instagram to see who’s been using hashtags that relate to your cause or organization.

Take advantage of tools that go deeper: The free site Upfluence offers an influencer search tool, and Influence.co provides a platform where you can build relationships with influencers. Platforms like these offer data on an influencer’s performance, so you’ll get a sense for how effective his or her messaging is. As you search, keep in mind that featuring diverse and underrepresented voices will benefit your organization, as inclusive marketing is on the rise.

Once you’ve identified candidates, do your research: Look at their entire social media presence to make sure they are truly compatible with your association’s message.

“Even if you’re expecting them to post on Instagram, see what they’re saying on Twitter,” Sammis says. “It’s about looking at the whole picture.”

Find an Influencer Who Prizes Authenticity

In cause marketing, you’re asking an influencer to advocate for a cause, not a product, which is why the message needs to be genuine. Sammis says influencers who post only sponsored content might not be your best bet because the message won’t seem as authentic.

Look for someone who populates his or her feed with a balance of sponsored and nonsponsored content—a sign that the influencer knows how to work with a brand while maintaining a distinct, authentic voice.

To see a successful example of this, look to the the Arbor Day Foundation, a nonprofit that partnered with popular YouTube content creators Jimmy Donaldson (better known as MrBeast) and Mark Rober on the viral #TeamTrees campaign, a fundraiser with the goal of planting 20 million trees. Donaldson’s and Rober’s positions as authentic, influential voices attracted major publicity and led to $20 million in donations in just a few months.

Invite Collaboration

When approaching influencers, it’s useful to have a specific plan of action to present to them—where they’ll post, how often, the type of content, and so forth. But Sammis says that associations will not get the best out of influencers if they treat them as if they’re freelance copywriters or photographers instead of collaborators.

“Influencers love to be consulted, to be collaborative, and to be given the freedom to be creative,” she says. Give influencers a chance to push back on your original idea and offer their own, as they’ll be most effective when using their own words in a genuine way.

That said, cause marketing could have you talking about serious or sensitive topics, so it’s reasonable for associations to provide guidelines on tone, topics to avoid, and what language is appropriate.

Negotiate With Industry Benchmarks in Mind

It’ll help to have a sense of what to offer influencers based on their reach and what you’re asking of them. Sammis says while cost fluctuates from one influencer to another, an expected charge from a micro-influencer (someone with 10,000 to 50,000 followers) for a single Instagram post would be $300 to $500. Sammis says payment is usually preferred, but benefits such as a membership in your organization are appropriate as well.

Some organizations may bristle at paying an influencer on ethical grounds, but Sammis argues that it’s not payment for a glowing recommendation.

“You’re not paying the influencer for their favored opinion—you’re paying the influencer for their time, for their creativity, for the effort that they’re putting into this,” she says.

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Four Ways to Build a Better Home Office

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If you find yourself in need of a better place to work in your home, a mixture of improvisation and added tech could help you build the ideal office away from the office.

Your couch or your comfy chair might have seemed like a good idea when you were just getting started with this whole remote work thing, but now that you’re working from home for months on end, you might need something better for the long haul.

Read on for a few ideas for putting together a home office on the fly:

Aim for out of the way. Whether  you’re in a large house or a small apartment, your office area should allow you get away from distractions so you can focus. An unused area intended for storage like an attic or even a large closet could work; an empty room would be even better. If those options aren’t available and you need to set up in a lived-in room, choose one without a television set. Your kitchen table can work in a pinch if a desk is not an option, but set boundaries so that those who live with you know that when you’re sitting in your home office, you’re working. CNN recommends at least two sources of lighting—and if you can put your desk near a window, even better.

Get a monitor, a webcam, and other accessories. While it’s possible to get by with just a laptop, a larger screen helps you focus on the task at hand and may improve productivity, especially in certain types of work. Graphic design tasks, for example, are easier with extra space, and more real estate means more room for a spreadsheet. A traditional computer monitor is best, but if you need to improvise, an old flat-screen TV can make a decent makeshift monitor, as long as it has an HDMI port on the back and a resolution of 1080p or above. Many current laptops include either an HDMI port or a USB-C port, so they can be plugged into any modern screen with the right cable. Additionally, an extra webcam that isn’t on your laptop can improve the overall quality of your video calls (if you can find one, as shortages have been reported).

Consider comfort. If you’re going to be sitting in a chair for eight hours a day, every day, invest in a good one. They can get expensive, of course—a Herman Miller Aeron, for example, sells for upwards of $500—but there are a wide variety of options available. You might consider a “gaming chair,” a racing-inspired desk chair that might be a bit blingy for a work environment but is designed for long hours of sitting, is highly adjustable, and may cost less than a high-end office chair.

Make it your own. If you’re running low on space, you can still spruce up your work area to make it feel more like an office environment. According to the New York Post, some New Yorkers are bringing a little design whimsy to small nooks inside of tiny apartments. “It was really important to have a space to sit down that wasn’t my couch or propped up on pillows in bed,” Megan Collins, a fashion writer, told the Post.  She worked with a designer who painted an accent wall in front of her desk in her Lower East Side apartment, put up a bulletin board and accessories, and added a stylish upholstered chair.

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Membership Tips for Challenging Times: Three Ways to Put Members First

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When everyone is affected by the same crisis, figuring out what you can do to help others is not always easy. Here are three ways one association, inspired by its members, helped them during a critical time.

In response to a recent blog post on keeping members close in challenging times, I heard from Keith Chamberlain, director of membership and experience at the Healthcare Financial Management Association, with some ideas he has implemented for members during the pandemic.

HFMA’s members are finance professionals in the healthcare field, and the association helps them navigate many challenges in the U.S. healthcare system. Knowing that its members had the backs of the clinicians they were working with during the pandemic, Chamberlain said, we asked, “What can we do to have their backs?”

HFMA created these new programs for its members in response to the pandemic:

Renew now, pay later. With the help of its IT team, HFMA created a “Renew Now, Pay Later” program for its largest group of members, who were lapsing on June 1. Members clicked a button stating their intent to renew and gave their credit card information, but HFMA didn’t charge it for 90 days, providing a grace period for payment.

It was not difficult to set up, Chamberlain said—the IT team simply created a new 90-day subscription for that group of members. HFMA already had monthly billing installed, so they just leveraged the technology to use monthly dues payments in a similar way. Fewer than 100 people have taken advantage of the offer, but those who have are “delighted” with the option, he said.

Sheri Jacobs, FASAE, CAE, CEO and president of Avenue M Group, said she has seen organizations extending their dues payments from 60 to 120 days. “It is my recommendation that associations do what they can to keep their members,” she said, “even if it means they will experience a loss in dues revenue.”

Responsive resources. In January, HFMA launched a new version of its members-only online community forum. Like many other online communities, this one has specialty areas focused on topics like revenue cycles and legal and regulatory issues. When the pandemic hit, the association’s business partners asked what they could do to help members, so HFMA created a unique forum for them where they could share ideas, solutions, and resources. It gave business partners “a place to reach out to their customers and connect in a way that was authentic and provided supportive value,” Chamberlain said. “It remains one of our more active community forums.”

Thirty-day free trial. In April, Chamberlain’s team unrolled a full-access 30-day free membership trial at a time when people in the healthcare space needed access to resources specific to their field. HFMA’s publishing team had ramped up content related to Medicaid reimbursement and other pressing healthcare topics, which new trial members could now access when they needed it most. That program brought them “hundreds and hundreds” of new members, Chamberlain said. Almost 60 percent of those new members have stayed on past their free trial.

Many associations had been slow to change until the crisis hit, which Jacobs attributes to their tendency to evaluate the “risk of change without considering the greater risk of maintaining the status quo.” Cognitive bias causes people to resist change because, she said, “they focus on what they might lose rather than what can be gained.”

HFMA’s experience is a good reminder to consider the second part of that equation.

What is your association doing that is working right now to engage, retain, and recruit members? Share your thoughts in the comments or send me an email.

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Low-Cost Ideas to Engage and Retain Members

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Associations are rallying and coming up with solutions they might not have thought of before the pandemic. Here’s a look at what one small-staff association with a tight budget is doing to keep its community close in difficult times.

In a recent article, I covered member engagement strategies some larger associations with deeper pockets were using. I also wanted to see what smaller associations were doing to engage and retain members with fewer resources. I spoke with Lindsay Currie, CAE, executive officer of the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR), who shared four ideas.

Talk it out. People are lonelier and more isolated than ever, she said. They don’t have typical pathways to interact with colleagues in their own organizations, and they aren’t meeting new people at in-person conferences. Recognizing that members were missing the connectivity of community, CUR established CUR Conversations, a low-cost way for members to connect on a video-calling platform.

Any member can propose a topic for the call, which is limited to a specific number of people. Members can join the casual forums to discuss hot topics, issues they are struggling with, success stories, and more. The calls connect members who don’t know each other, which eliminated a stumbling block for members who didn’t know who to contact, Currie said. CUR sends out an email inviting members of the community to get together and share ideas for an hour on the video calls.

“We don’t have to develop any content, and it’s not a heavy lift for us, but members are getting a lot of value out of being able to connect with their colleagues,” she said.

Take five. Knowing that people are short on time and overloaded with emails and articles, CUR developed Five in Five, videos that provide five tips, solutions, or answers to questions in five minutes. The association recently created a Five in Five video on how to better leverage their online community platform, and a member provided five tips on how to host a virtual symposium.

Since CUR’s small staff doesn’t have any video technical skills, Currie said they use an inexpensive platform called Animoto to produce polished videos very quickly. The videos are uploaded to CUR’s YouTube channel and then shared on various communication platforms, which allows CUR to find members where they are.

“We wanted to focus on things that would support our members when they had time and bring them together. They’re the experts. We’re the facilitator of the conversation,” she said.

Welcome aboard—again. Many of CUR’s members have been with the association for a long time, so they realized they needed to launch a re-onboarding campaign to update members on new benefits they might have missed.

They highlight one area of CUR benefits each month and explain how members can access the benefits and use them. They recently launched the first in a six-part series, and Currie said the click-through rate was very high. “We’re really trying to reengage our members and remind them of the benefits we have right now,” she said.

A month of thanks. In November, CUR will launch a month of thanks with a Twitter takeover. The association will ask members to share positive stories to provide an opportunity to celebrate within their community and exchange ideas.

The silver lining in all of this tumult, Currie said, is that associations are coming together and finding new ways to share. Another positive is that people are much more willing to test and try new things. “None of us are experts in this environment,” she said. “Being willing to test is critical.”

What is your association doing that is working right now to engage, retain, and recruit members? Share your thoughts in the comments or send me an email.

 

 

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Will Attendees Be Asked to Screen Themselves for Symptoms of COVID-19?

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Once in-person meetings and conferences begin again, some associations may ask attendees to answer a daily health questionnaire or undergo some type of symptom screening for COVID-19.

Over the past few weeks, kids in many parts of the country have been returning to school after six months away. Getting kids back in the classroom safely—if only part-time—has required detailed planning and coordination.

Earlier this week, I was talking to a friend of mine who lives New York City about her son starting kindergarten. Standard guidelines to stop the spread of COVID-19 will be in place (masks, temperature checks, and social distancing). But in addition to that, his class will be held outdoors, and parents are required to do a health check every morning. After answering a few questions online, parents are given either a smiley face, meaning they can bring their child to school, or a sad face, which means they need to stay home or provide additional information.

Last week, I wrote about how convention centers are preparing for the eventual return of attendees by adding new technology like thermal imaging cameras that will take the temperature of conventiongoers when they arrive onsite.

In addition to technology offered by meeting venues to help monitor attendee health, associations—much like schools—may consider asking participants to fill out a daily health questionnaire before they arrive for their day of learning and networking.

That’s exactly what the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association did for its 2020 Cattle Industry Summer Business Meeting in July, a hybrid event with an in-person component in Colorado. According to an article posted on PCMA.org, NCBA asked its in-person attendees to use a COVID-19 symptom screening tool.

Developed by 42Chat, HealthShield allowed attendees and staff to respond to a three-question survey via text, which could be completed in less than 15 seconds. After taking the survey, attendees either received a valid green check mark to enter, or a red or yellow mark restricting their access or asking them to take additional steps before entering.

NCBA didn’t require attendees to be screened via the text tool, but those who used it and received a green check mark were able to move quickly through the doors by showing their phones. For attendees who didn’t complete the survey online, NCBA had staff onsite to conduct the screening in person.

Tradeshow service provider Fern also recently announced that it was partnering with ShareMy.Health to launch Fern Health Check, a digital platform that allows tradeshow and event organizers to collect self-assessments from attendees, staff, and other participants.

“The return to live events is going to be about shifting the mindset of attendees, exhibitors, venues, and local jurisdictions to a place where they are again comfortable hosting and attending events,” said Jim Kelley, Fern’s vice president of marketing and industry relations, in a press release. “We believe Health Check is a key tool that will help this occur.”

As your association plans for the eventual return of in-person meetings and conferences, what type of health checks do you anticipate asking attendees to take part in? Please share in the comments.

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3 Ways Associations Can Make Decisions Fast in a Crisis

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In the pandemic, every moment matters—and Indy is making moves.

It might be human nature to freeze in the face of crisis. But the only way for businesses to navigate through sudden upheaval is with speed and agility. Quick, data-driven decision making must lead the way for all aspects of associations—from meeting planners grappling with the transition to a virtual event, to membership teams struggling to keep members engaged.

Consider what’s known as the SODA loop. The acronym stands for scan (the circumstances), orient (to the changes), decide (on an effective response), and act fast to implement it. In crises, businesses that successfully tighten that loop will come out on top when the dust settles. Here are some tips for how to make it happen.

Organize a committee of experts.

When the pandemic began impacting events in March, the Indy Convention Center evaluated the situation and moved swiftly to adapt. It changed air filtration systems and sanitization protocols, revamped the floor plan for greater capacity, and invested more than $7 million in overall improvements.

“Indy was built to host major events. It’s what we do,” explains Roberta Tisdul, the director of convention services for Visit Indy. “After years of hosting Final Fours, large-scale conventions, and a Super Bowl, we have perfected the local organizing committee concept. By including leaders representing the full spectrum of the hospitality industry, we are able to form a united front.”

Adapting that organizing committee model, the team created the Indy Tourism Recovery Task Force, which provided a platform to orchestrate unified city-wide safety and hospitality guidelines.

Build and adapt infrastructure.

The ability to react swiftly in changing times is easier when a business already has some infrastructure in place to prepare for eventualities. But crisis can also be an opportunity to build upon or even set up new infrastructures that guide the business into a changed future.

Indy found itself well prepared when circumstances called to pivot to new space restrictions mandated by the city as well as an increase of hybrid and virtual meeting requests. First, the city had the space: The Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium, connected by an enclosed skywalk, combine for nearly 750,000 square feet of exhibit space, more than 80 breakout rooms, and three ballrooms. But the Indiana Convention Center also worked quickly to revise floor plans with built-in six-foot physical distancing measures. These new protocols allowed Indy to host more than 40,000 attendees across 18 events amid eased restrictions in August.

“Each of these meeting groups proactively worked with Visit Indy, the Indiana Convention Center, hotels, and the Marion County Health Department to have their health and safety plan approved,” Tisdul explains. “That’s the team mentality here in Indy.”

For hybrid meetings, and the need to connect virtual attendees with the destination, Indy has developed video content that can be customized for breaks—from zen time lapses to mixologist recipes to virtual workouts.

Internet bandwidth has also become essential to hosting large-scale streaming events. And the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium offers 21 gigabits per second of bandwidth, more than 2,000 Wi-Fi access points between both venues, and free Wi-Fi available in public areas.

Communicate and collaborate.

A strong team can harness its effective collaboration and communication strategies to weather a crisis from a unified position.

“We’ve always known the hospitality community in Indy is one team, yet this pandemic solidified it,” Tisdul says. “From hotels, to A/V companies, to the city—we’re all working to find solutions to the evolving challenges. Indy was one of the first cities to resume hosting large meetings, and to do that safely required a vast amount of collaboration.”

But the midst of an emergency is not an ideal time to put that team framework into place; rather, teamwork should be a goal organizations strive to build every day.

“Quick decision-making is really indicative of the people and processes you have in place even before a crisis strikes,” Tisdul says. “Combine a productive, positive, and progressive attitude with a proven track record in hosting large events and you have a team that is ready to weather this storm and come out stronger than ever.”


Visit Indy proudly serves as the official sales and marketing organization for USA Today’s “#1 Convention City in the U.S.” Learn more at VisitIndy.com.

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