Recently we held our third annual educational conference for meeting professionals in our destination. It is difficult to pull people away for a full day event but we were determined to provide top-notch education that would be equivalent to the high cost of travelling to a major industry event. Organizing an event like this takes as much coordination as a three day conference and sometimes more in that timelines are tight. So what are some of the steps in putting the event together?
1. Consult with your target audience. Don’t assume you know what will motivate them to come. By bringing a team of seasoned planners together we were able to get their ideas on what type of education an advanced planner would find valuable. The other benefit is that once people share their voice, you have buy in. A third benefit is that the energy of the event changes when seasoned planners are in the room. This was a great blend of strong talent from all corners of our industry.
2. Build a team of committed volunteers. This was the toughest part I encountered. Volunteerism seems to have lost the sizzle. So many teams are working with fewer staff and larger workloads. Business is short term and a few members had to step down to manage revenue generating activity. It is a sign of the times that our association and many others are going to need to address in an effort to provide the same level of benefits and programming that were offered when volunteers were able to give more time and talent and had greater support from their employers. The team that was consistent needs to be recognized for the added effort that was required because there were not enough of us. Marketing suffered because the talent and financial resources were lacking.
3. Identify the topics that need a zoom lens. What will get YOU out of your office for a full day? There were lots of ideas about topics of interest and the key thread was to make it advanced learning. We typically cater to a beginner or intermediate audience in an effort to widen the net. With this conference we determined that the “big fish” was the advanced learner. In looking at our chapter demographics, we have a lot of baby boomers so some of the technology shifts may appear to be less advanced but appeal to the generational gaps that are evident in today’s meeting world.
4. Build the schedule. We knew we needed the workshops to have more than 1 hour since there was a lot of material to cover in each topic. We kept most of the workshops on the same floor as the general sessions and meals but 15 minutes really was not enough time for breaks as this group LOVES to network and time needed to be built in for more interaction with the office. I believe the 15 minutes pre and post lunch was fine but we needed 30 minutes between the opening session and 1st set of workshops and again between workshop 2 & workshop 3. The closing session could have been blocked for 15 minutes allowing for closing remarks and the final raffle. Keeping the traffic buster in a public spot at the venue was a great call and I was thrilled so many folks found their way there.
5. Identify the anchor key note topics and speakers. Asking our board for suggestions on the most inspiring key note speakers who really have a grasp on our industry is what got us to contact Laura Schwartz. WOW! What a gift this gal is to the meeting and event industry. Always upbeat and so engaging yet she is real people … we became instant friends and she has such a powerful, well prepared message to share. From the time she finished speaking until the event was concluded 3 hours later there was a line to meet her and purchase her book. Bruce MacMillan, CEO and President of MPI was our opening speaker and we were so fortunate that he had the interest to see what we are doing and he donated his time to share the value of belonging to our parent organization. Of course, we took the opportunity to thank our gifted members for all their time and talent and the connections we have tracked of $1.4 mm since July 2010. Membership in the Tampa Bay chapter has a proven return on investment.
6. Identify the experts to train the workshops. Chapter Leaders have access to many proven experts who speak at other chapter events listed by topic. We started with this option and also looked at who is tops in their field in our local marketplace. Speaker travel and speaker fees add to the expense column and don’t insure greater attendance. Balancing the budget was an exercise that became extremely difficult when some sponsorship opportunities did not materialize. Still, we made a substantial investment in quality speakers and we had the perfect venue for advanced learning.
7. Creatively financing a $30,000 + meeting experience. Our number 1 goal is to invest in our membership and provide a learning and networking atmosphere where quality planners and suppliers can build relationships. A typical monthly educational meeting is built on strategic alliances that actually help to fund meetings and events like this one. We applied for an educational grant through the MPI Foundation which helped to further offset costs. We work on every possible avenue to provide the highest quality through our generous supplier donations. When challenged by lack of sponsorship, we work on creatively impacting the goals in the most affordable manner. Thank you Sam’s Club for the one day membership! I hope everyone enjoyed the healthy options!
Early results indicate a high satisfaction rating and a desire to make Meetings Academy and annual event with a full day of educational content. I would say that it was a success and my only disappointment is that the attendance numbers should have been much greater. A very special thank you goes out to the chairs
Margaret Williams (strategic alliances),
Christy Cromwell (education chair),
Roberta Blum and Carol Eaves (co-chairs managing logistics),
and their teams, the senior advisory group and the calling tree team. I also want to thank members of the board who cheered us on and dove in when their time and talent was available. MPI Tampa Bay Chapter rock on!