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Welcome to the first edition of the Conference Success Podcast, where we bring you tips, tricks and tools to help you organize and run better meetings, conferences and other events. (You can download or play the audio file right here, or subscribe for free through iTunes.)
In this episode you’ll hear a conversation with Ingrid Norrish of Creative Meeting and Marketing Services about the latest trends in event planning, including:
- greater emphasis on ROI
- shorter events
- local events rather than long-distance
- broader use of social media and e-marketing
Here is a transcript of the Conference Success Podcast:
Donna Papacosta: Conference Success Number 1. Trends in event planning. This is the Conference Success Podcast for October 15, 2009.
Hi, I’m Donna Papacosta at Trafalgar Communications and PodcastYourConference.com. You may be familiar with my Trafcom News Podcast, which is geared toward communicators. But Conference Success is for a special audience: People who want to create conferences, events and meetings that meet their organization’s goal or perhaps their client’s goal in every way.
In this podcast, we talk about trends, tools of the trade and sometimes technology too, including social media.
In this first episode, you’ll meet Ingrid Norrish. Ingrid has a company called Creative Meeting and Marketing Services in Brampton, Ontario near Toronto. She’s been involved in the meeting and event planning industry since 1985. Well, you’ll hear more about Ingrid in a minute.
For now, please relax and listen to Conference Success.
I’m here in Brampton, Ontario with Ingrid Norrish. Ingrid’s meeting and event planning experience spans two and a half decades and includes heading up a conference and seminar services department for a major educational institution which grew to a $2.8-million operation offering about 150 programs a year.
In 1994, Ingrid started her own company, called Creative Meeting and Marketing Services. She offers comprehensive meeting and event planning services, including consulting, to a diverse group of clients in the public, private and association sectors.
She’s a founding member of the Canadian Society of Professional Event Planners, which used to be called the Independent Meeting Planners Association of Canada.
She’s involved as an executive board member and was president during the startup of the association. Ingrid continues to be an active member of this association and also has served as an editorial advisory board member of the Meetings and Incentive Travel Magazine and the editorial board of Speaking of Impact, the Voice of Canadian Meetings, which is an industry publication.
Ingrid, what would you say is the greatest trend right now that you’re seeing in working with people who are planning meetings, events and conferences?
Ingrid Norrish: Well, Donna, I would say the biggest trend that I’m seeing and a lot relates to the economy at the moment is that meetings are being measured more on the return-on-investment they provide. And a lot of the things that organizations used to do like fluff or leisure activities, they’re being taken out.
What’s really important to organizations is what are people learning? Are they actually getting something for coming to this training or this meeting or this conference?
And more organizations are seriously looking at the learning objectives they provide and they’re including that as part of their objectives when they market their events. That means that people are shortening programs. People used to have conferences that ran three days, now they are two days or one day. Even when searching for speakers, they’re being much more diligent with that search. I find that because I do have contact with a lot of speakers. They’re now asked to come in for interviews, they’re checking the number of speakers, they want testimonials, they want speakers to come in and customize their program.
You know, there’s the motivational speakers and they have their message. But they want them to come in and find out a bit more about their organization. Because they want to be sure that they are the right match. So all this stuff takes time and it makes it much more difficult.
On the other hand, too, to get participants or conferences, a lot of companies have cut their training budgets. Staff development is being put on hold, which I personally believe is not the right thing to do during this economy. You know, you need to get people keep them up-to-date. There are so many changes and things happening. So that’s one trend that I see.
Donna Papacosta: Well, that’s interesting and I see this in my own clients when they talk about the events that they’re putting on. But it’s interesting. As you were talking, I’m thinking: “Emphasis on ROI, really vetting the speakers, really thinking about the events that you’re doing and making sure that they’re fluff” – I think in the end, we’re going to wind up with better events with all of this. Do you think so?
Ingrid Norrish: Oh, I totally agree. You know, I think in a lot of cases with things like this happening, we’re rethinking how we do things. And you know what? It was getting into a point with a lot of events. It was more fluff than education. You know, I would go to conferences and I felt if I learned one good thing, that would be, you know, worth the investment. However, there are many conferences or events I went to that I thought, “What did I actually get out of that in spending my time?”
So, yeah, I believe it’s very good and I think what the trend is as a meeting planner is that you have to be much more able to understand adult learning, understand learning objectives so it’s not just planning the event and the logistics. It’s the whole aspect of the program development providing that resource to your supplier or client.
Donna Papacosta: Right, so you really need to work with them to truly understand what the goals are that they’re trying to achieve by putting on this event. It’s not just let’s have a nice dinner and some clowns.
Ingrid Norrish: Yeah, I agree with you totally. So really measuring what that is. And actually after the event, which I find a lot of organizations don’t do is going back to measure if they achieved those objectives and how do they measure that.
So when I meet with clients and I even do my proposals, I say, “If this event happens, what would make it the most successful event? What things are you trying to achieve? And let’s come back and measure that and incorporate it into our evaluation as part of this whole process.”
Donna Papacosta: For sure because especially then you look at that when you’re planning your next one and say, “What can we tweak from the previous event and all that.” But, no, that sounds really smart to me to have that ROI. It means something that we probably should be doing all along.
Now, you did allude to cutting costs and sometimes conferences being shorter. Are you seeing any other trends that are reflected as a result of the economy?
Ingrid Norrish: Well, a lot of people actually who are planning to do something this past year, and I found this even speaking with suppliers in hotels and venues, they postpone their meetings. They wanted to sort of wait until let’s say, 2010, 2011. I think it is going to pick up. Like even golf tournaments, I heard really declined this year because people didn’t want to be offering a tournament when they were letting staff go or doing all these sort of fun things when staff are being let go so they’re waiting. Even though they could have possibly afforded it, they were waiting until we sort of ride this all out.
People are holding things more locally. They’re not going out of town as much due to travel expenses; we’re looking at venues in 100-kilometer radius. Working lunches which cost a bit less, shorter receptions even if they have receptions. I mean a lot of big conferences would have themed events and major décor. I even read recently in an industry publication that for a fundraising gala, they used to always have this big dinner. And they changed it to a luncheon instead, which cost a bit less. There wasn’t as much of a requirement with that. And it worked really well and people loved it.
So, as you said, sometimes when we’re forced through these kinds of circumstances in life, or in the working world, we come up with new and creative ideas. That’s what the beauty of it is.
Donna Papacosta: That’s interesting. Now, what about the marketing of these conferences? Are you seeing changes happening there fitting with these other trends?
Ingrid Norrish: Yeah, you know what? The thing with marketing, and I also do marketing consulting as part of my business, it used to be so easy years ago. You know, you put together this conference brochure or seminar brochure and put it in the mail, and people would sign up and they would do it fairly quickly. You know, they wouldn’t wait. And now there’s direct mail, there’s the electronic medium, like so many people now are using that and I don’t dispute it. I think it’s part of the marketing package.
But sometimes that’s all they use and they expect the same results. It doesn’t always work that way.
There’s viral marketing, then people do telemarketing to see that you get, you know, the information – are you planning to sign up. There’s constant reminders being set up to get people to register because people are taking much longer.
I mean there is so much out there that sometimes, you know, from a planning perspective or for my clients, what do you choose? Luckily with electronic marketing, it doesn’t cost much money but it still does take time. And, you know, people now, I find, more and more. There was a client I was working with who is a vice president of an organization – she was getting 400 emails a day. People are now almost getting numb to emails, unless they know who it is sending it. So you’ve got to look at a combination. You just can’t rely on one thing and look at what fits best with your event.
Donna Papacosta: Yeah, that’s true. And I think I’m receiving a lot of emails about industry events that I could be interested in. I still do get the ones in the mail and sometimes, they do get my attention because it’s the postal mail and there’s a nice brochure. I do understand the cost involved in something like that. And then, of course, we have the un-conferences where there’s nothing in print and it’s all online. And often they’re tapping into social media tools. So are you seeing even with conventional conferences more the use of the social media tools to promote them?
Ingrid Norrish: Absolutely. And, you know, I think a lot of people are just jumping onto this; I mean that’s all you hear about now. And, yes, certain clients are very open to that and looking at new ways of attracting people. You know, especially through LinkedIn, which is more perceived as a business online social media tool or through Twitter, whatever the case may be.
And, yeah, I think it’s working. I don’t know if anyone has done a study of how well that has been working. I find that a lot of people are just now getting nervous about it like, you know, as a meeting planner, I better get on this bandwagon because it’s like when websites were years ago I remember that like websites slowly started creeping in and then you kept hearing about and hearing about it. And all of a sudden then you think, “Gosh, I need a website.” So, yeah, definitely I see a real growth in that. Even in a sense working as an independent planner, I see it as a very good way to market yourself and connect with people.
And, yeah, I think it’s great like it’s exciting but I’m concerned about all the time I’m spending on the computer.
Donna Papacosta: I know exactly what you mean and I say the same thing when I talk to clients. I really compare it to when, you know, I guess it was in the mid-90s when people and organizations started to say, “Gee, I think I need a website or at least I need to understand what it’s all about.”
And the same thing with social media. It might not be the solution but you have to know what it is for your clients’ sake and of course, for your own sake as a business person. From you own experience lately, we’re in October 2009, do you think things are sort of reaching a stable point now? Do you see some growth happening for 2010 as some people maybe put off their 2009 meetings until then? Get out your crystal ball and kind of tell us what you see. No pressure.
Ingrid Norrish: Well, you know, just for my own perspective, I see things are picking up. I went to this conference which is sort of like a huge industry conference at the end of August put together by the Meetings and Incentive Travel organization. And they were even saying that they do perceive that it’s going to be picking up and everything like that. And I feel optimistic. I do see a change out there.
But, you know, I think as we were talking about earlier, we’re looking now at ways to be more effective in what we do. And sometimes, these kinds of circumstances bring that out. I was also going to mention with marketing the biggest problem too that I see is, well, it’s a trend I suppose or a challenge, not a problem, is getting people to register – engaging them ahead of time, engaging them after the event, you know, forming discussions. That’s where the services that you provide with podcasting for conferences offering that support. I think people really need to start looking at that. It’s just a different world out there right now.
Donna Papacosta: I know sometimes organizations will decide to do a pre-conference podcast because their competitors are doing it but, you know, you hope they have a better reason than just because Company A is doing it, but they often find it as a way to engage the audience beforehand, giving them a flavor, a taste of what’s going to be happening. “Oh, there’s the keynote speaker. She sounds really interesting. I just heard a three-minute thing with her. Maybe I will sign up for this,” or maybe use it as a way to justify to your manger that you should be going to this conference.
So I hope you’re right that more companies will be using podcasting because I think the ones that I know – once they do, they really get hooked on it and they see the value. And coming back full circle to what you’re saying about the ROI, if you can tie that in, the use of multi-media and social media with your ROI. Then it just becomes a part of your overall effort.
So any closing thoughts that you’d like to add before we wrap this up?
Ingrid Norrish: Well, I guess, overall, now that we’ve been talking about this, you know, I’m really excited again. It’s during these times that we have to be more creative. We may need to look at other options and explore them. And I think that by doing that, we’re going to create a better product and service to our clients. And the suppliers will be offering us more too. And I feel very optimistic about the future at this point. And I’m excited also to be doing much more with the social media tools that are out there.
You know, not that I’m–you know, it’s taking me a little bit of time to get on board. But, you know, now that I am on board and I’m getting more knowledge in that area. It’s very exciting, it’s very exciting and that’s what business is all about, isn’t it?
Donna Papacosta: That’s right and I can see in your face the excitement, the passion when you’re talking about this and I think that probably happens when you’re speaking with your clients, you convey that. And that’s what they want if they’re going to be working with a meeting planner and events specialist to feel that not only do they have the technical knowledge but they’re excited about working on the event, right? I mean that has to come across.
So that’s great. Well, thanks for taking the time today, Ingrid. And we’ll have to revisit this topic in maybe six months and see if there’s something new. No pressure, again.
Ingrid Norrish: I’ll bring my crystal ball then. Thank you very much, Donna, for having me on this. I appreciate it.
Donna Papacosta: Thanks again to Ingrid for outlining these important trends for us. That was great. Before we close out, I’d like to invite you to a free webinar on October 29 at 2 p.m. That’s a web-based seminar at 2 p.m., Eastern Time on October 29th. It’s just 45 minutes and it’s geared toward people who organize conferences, meetings and events. We’ll talk about how to attract more attendees using social networks to build buzz around your event. Maximizing the value of the presentations, speeches and interviews that take place around your event, creating compelling audio and video content and organizing audio and video from the current event so you can market the next one. Really, it’s all about gaining maximum value from your communications dollar for your event.
If you’re interested in this free webinar, please send an email to me. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will send you the registration instructions. For more information, you can go to http://PodcastYourConference.com/webinars.
Thanks so much for listening to Conference Success. Please let me know what you think. Did you agree with what Ingrid and I were talking about? Maybe you have a suggestion for a future episode. Or perhaps you’d like to be interviewed. I’d love to hear from you. Send me an email at email@example.com. You can also comment on the show blog at PodcastYourConference.com. Just click on blog. That’s where the show notes are too.
Thanks for listening, until next time. This is Donna Papacosta for PodcastYourConference.com.