Caution on Conventional Wisdom about Millennials (482 words)

Just as bald white male baby boomers are not all the same—neither are millennials. One would be wise in considering this in member recruitment and retention. To paint such a broad-brush stroke is to leave many behind. While everyone, every generation, every color wants value from their membership—not all are viewing your membership organization from the same kaleidoscope of value.

For several years now I have been reading the endless fountain of articles on understanding Generation Y. These articles talk about millennials growing up with hovering (helicopter) parents and being immersed in technology. They want among other things:

  • A seat at the C-suit table—NOW
  • Inclusion for all
  • Meaningful work within their jobs
  • Prefer cause related organizations
  • Entrepreneurial opportunity
  • Extreme experiences at corporate, association and society meetings
  • Online supported relationships near and far
  • A sharing economy rather than ownership of stuff
  • Freedom

Well now, who wouldn’t the above? Let’s face it, all generations (painting with my broad brush) desire the above—but do they?

Raising Millennial Children

First up, I have two millennial sons and I’ll categorically state that the above is not their job or association shopping list. Sure each might desire some of the above and yet each has different perspectives and desires. Heck, two millennial men from the same household do not agree on all of the above. With that, how in the world can the “generational gurus” state “millennials want X, Y and Z”?

In raising our Y Generation sons, my wife and I relied on authoritative help in “understanding age-appropriate behavior” which was also a broad-brush perspective. The assumption was that the child was being raised in a nurturing North American home. For the first year or two, the information was helpful but after that “child’s personality and parenteral influence” had a greater influence on behavior thereby leaving the authoritative help—less helpful.

Today’s Millennials Are Diverse

Generation Y, perhaps more than the generations that were before, have had easy opportunity to learn from far more resources that that of traditional education. As such, some embraced the opportunities and others did not. Some became aware without education, some unaware with education and some aware and educated. Each of the three paradigms delivers different perspective to the workforce. Add to that geographical, gender, athletics and other various endeavors and you have quite a diverse generation. To state that “millennials want X, Y or Z” is to speak from a lack of knowledge and understanding. Humans are individuals.

Regardless of whether you are hiring a millennial to work at your association or attempting to influence them to join your organization the core truth is this—not everybody is the same and to paint people with a broad-brush is to make erroneous assumptions. Value means different things to different people. Keep this in mind as you make the decisions that will affect your association, its staff and members.

Adapted from The Membership Strategy-Membership is Everybody’s Business to be published early 2018.

Member Retention through Relationship Bank Deposits (829 words)

Ultimately yours like most associations and societies are looking for net-member growth. Some do a great job keeping members but still lose many to attrition. Some are awesome at recruiting but tend to have a turnstile of members coming and going. Unfortunately, net-growth seems to be illusive to many.

Offense and Defense

To enjoy net-member growth, it’s obvious but frequently forgotten, that an organization has to be excellent at both recruitment and retention–every day. This is a challenge as many find it hard to continually focus on two things (1) how to get them and (2) how to keep them. Many of the features of membership you make available to members can help with both—the hard part is communicating how the features make members’ life better. This is the Achilles Heal of most associations and societies—communication. Specifically, communicating value. Too many of the communication directors want to concisely communicate facts to save their readers time. That’s great, but in doing so there is a massive opportunity loss—opportunity to prove value, remind of value, and subliminally lock in the perception of value among the membership. This ability is excellent offense and defense.

If You Don’t Tell It Didn’t Happen

Early in my career I received a lesson that I have carried for life. Selling consumer goods (sunglasses) to the retail industry (drug stores), I was making my rounds when upon visiting a particular store I found the products of a competitor on my display. Upon asking the owner about his purchase he told me that he was told that the particular style was very trendy. I agreed and told him that that particular style had been on his display (from me) for several months already. He didn’t know because I failed to mention it to him, therefore leaving a competitor to wedge in. If you fail to tell, it didn’t happen and you are leaving an opening for another organization to sell their value.

Value Communication

Communicating value to your members is making relationship bank deposits. Two key places to look to determine the quality of your value communication is at (1) your “Member Benefits” page at your website and (2) your electronic communications. Are you “telling” members how your organization makes their life better or simply mentioning features of membership and expecting them to make the translation for themselves?

  • Member Benefits page. First check and see if the text happens demonstrate features or benefits? Features explain what’s built into the product or service and benefits explain how the features make the user’s life better. You’ll most likely have to admit that what you have listed is features rather than benefits.
  • Electronic Communications. Most likely your communication editor is keeping the copy “tight” in hopes that the reader will review the entire piece. Read through what is written and ask yourself this for everything you read, “Who Cares?” and “So what?” If your two questions are answered clearly, you might have benefit copy.

Every time, you want to communicate in as many methods as possible, “Because of your membership, this is how we are making your life better.” This kind of communication, continually, is how your organization makes regular relationship bank deposits with its members.

Relationship Withdrawals

In order for your organization to make sufficient relationship bank deposits for the time of member renewal…when you do attempt to take a withdrawal, this effort must be CONTINUAL. In the cosmic relationship bank, consider that about a dozen deposits are requited for each withdrawal. This would mean that you would have to make about one deposit a month just to get a member to renew. Deposits come in all sorts of forms: awesome meeting, membership pins stating longevity, HQ staff helping with something, etc. The sky is the limit; you just have to remember that value is in the eye of the beholder. This means that just because you think something is valuable (a deposit) if the member does not think the same—it is not a deposit.

Everything as Separate

Bundling is easy, saves time and makes the life of your staff easier. But, doing so diminishes member-perceived value. Everything your organization does for a member should be delivered, regardless of the conduit, separately. Sending a new member package filled with stuff is one relationship bank deposit. However, sending each included item out separately—while it does take more work—is one relationship bank deposit per item. With a little more work, your organization can create vastly more perceived-value. As we all know, it is about the member’s perception, not yours. Never offer two or more resources at no charge to members in a single email—break it up. If you extrapolate out this paradigm throughout your organization you will, yearly, deliver enormously more perceived-value to your members and they will reward you when renewal time comes and you request a relationship bank withdrawal.

Adapted from Ed Rigsbee’s forthcoming book titled, The Membership Strategy-Membership is Everybody’s Business to be published in early 2018

Improve Your Member Value Proposition for Total Organizational Growth (788 words)

Your organization’s Member Value Proposition is more than the sum-total of its programs, services, products, affinity programs and anything else offered to members.

Your organization’s member value proposition is also determined by the beliefs, perspectives and emotional connection of members to the organization, its staff and volunteer leaders. The other side of that coin is how the industry, in general, perceives your organization. If operatives in your industry thought membership in your organization was a great deal, then they would already be members.

 

Member Communication: inform or influence

This is an area where every organization can improve. The vast majority of stories in your Member Communication fall short of influencing members as the stories mostly inform. The difference is in how a story is written, most of the stories are not written through the window of “what’s in it for the member” and therein we find the rub—this angle is what can cause a member’s perception of value to change for the positive—or the negative.

 

How to Write Benefit Copy

  1. First determine what is being sold. It should be one of 4 things for your Communication: product, event, member recruitment or member retention
  2. Then determine which feature of membership (from your member benefits web page) the thing being sold is.
  3. Next determine which buying motive is at play: profit/gain, fear of loss, avoidance of pain, love/affection, comfort/pleasure or pride/prestige. Many times there can be more than one buying motive but pick one for simplicity.
  4. Now write copy explaining the “what’s in it for the reader,” why they should care and include a call to action statement.
  5. Last, write the title of the story or promotional copy using one of the following perspectives: shocking, ask a question, offer data, create a value statement or reveal a secret.

 

Qualitative Focus Group Research

To find out what your current members believe their member value to be in actual dollar numbers you will want to conduct a series of Member ROI Valuation focus group sessions utilizing qualitative research methodology. This is an excellent starting point for boosting your value proposition.

 

Strategy Mapping Exercise

The strategy mapping exercise is your next step of discovery as you want to compare your organization to competing organizations. This exercise allows leaders to compare with the various competing organizations—those that also compete for membership dollars, mindshare and value perception of people in your industry. Ideally, in contrast to the below example, the lines would not track but rather demonstrate vast differences.

Features Framework Exercise

The third step is to conduct the features of membership framework exercise—first with staff—then with volunteer leaders and overlay the three pieces. This will create visual impact for staff and volunteer leaders. The step-by-step “how to” can be found starting on page 88 of The ROI of Membership.

 

Getting all the Departments in Alignment

Every department at your organization must use new decision filters. The important filter to add is the “decision filter” of how the actions considered will affect positively or negatively the organization’s value to members, return on investment, member retention and recruitment. Each department has to align toward making your organization more member-ROI-centric.

 

The Hard Truth

Accepting change and shifting your organization’s culture is something that will be difficult. Sure, the volunteer leaders and paid staff give the idea lip-service and “embrace” the new but when push comes to shove, they fall back into their “non-productive” comfort zones and eschew the necessary change. This is the fulcrum point where you might be currently failing. This is where all the above work becomes mute, meaningless, and a waste of time as the players in your organization thinks they are changing but in reality is only getting ready to get ready. What most people in this situation are really saying is that they agree that others should change but they themselves want to hold on to control because they know better than the others.

 

Embrace Change Management

If you truly desire to push past the current “failure point” and move into a new era of high-level member value, everyone from the executive director and president to the newest section leader needs to be on-board because membership is everyone’s business. Now here’s the difficult part of the equation, if there are volunteer leaders and or staff pushing back—there is no longer a place for them in the organizational chart. Yes, a staff member that is not willing to play the new game must leave the organization and for the volunteer leaders—they must give up their positions. Are you willing to go to these lengths to grow? Think hard before you answer as you will be held accountable—not by Ed Rigsbee—but by your conscience, integrity and morality.

Power—the Struggle between Paid Staff and Volunteer Leaders (858 words)

For a number of associations, I am convinced that the primary core issue hampering membership growth revolves around volunteer leader control of the organization. While I have worked hard with a number of organizations to help them shore-up symptoms, this pervasive challenge remains. I realize that paid staff could sometimes be the problem, but that is for another post.

I believe it is now the time for many organizations to honestly face this hampering core issue. Too many organizations have held a central belief that any non-(your industry, fill in the blank) person is simply not capable of understanding the industry issues and as such is incapable of effectively managing the organization. Today, such dismissal of professional association management personnel is a mistake. This is not a critical commentary but rather a (frequent) honest observation. Most hampering symptoms seem to emanate from this core issue.

Days Gone Bye

There was a time when your organization’s leadership was composed of the most influential names in the industry. These captains of the industry had legions of secretarial staff to whom they could assign their volunteer leader responsibilities…and things would get done in a timely manner. Questions could be easily answered and decisions made. This capability made it logical that the organization’s volunteer leadership would hold power as they could direct implementation (by their employees).

Today’s Paradigm

Many volunteer leaders today do not have an army of clerical staff at their beck and call. If they have association work, they have to do it themselves. Couple today’s dynamic with yester-year’s idea that volunteer leaders are in charge (of everything) and what transpires is a continual and massive bottleneck.

Too many of today’s volunteer leaders rely on the excuses of “I have a job” or “I’m just a volunteer” for non-performance of their accepted duties. A symptom of this can be the lack of clear and concise volunteer leader job descriptions. And, most are not held accountable for their performance. I have seen it time and again where volunteer leaders will go “underground” for weeks at a time while important organizational business/duties need to be resolved—the bottleneck. It is completely understandable that people have to earn a living, and conversely perhaps your organization is tapping the wrong people on the shoulder to be leaders or needs to accept a new method of operation.

Power

Today’s non-profit volunteer leaders, especially those of baby boomer age, joined and matured within their association/society at the latter days of the bye gone era. They observed earlier leaders hold absolute power over the organization and to some degree, covet the same for themselves. That paradigm would be fine except for the key ingredient—the army of secretarial help that “got the job done” in the old days.  This by the way is not uncommon within mature societies/associations throughout the United States. For a new era, new “power and control” considerations must be adopted.

The Partnership

Volunteer leaders have approved the hiring of paid staff—some staff members are more association-professionally trained than others. Bylaws generally state something like, “The Executive Director shall be the administrative officer of XYZ functioning under the immediate direction of the President and the Executive Committee. The Executive Director shall have charge and direction of XYZ’s office and its employees and shall conduct the business of XYZ. It appears to me that there is a myriad of interpretations of the above within volunteer leadership ranks.

In benchmarking today’s more successful associations and societies, there is a partnership between the chief staff executive and the chief elected officer. Partnership is the key word. Each must understand their duties and execute accordingly—the CSE with his/her staff and the CEO with his/her volunteer leaders and membership at large. I frequently find this missing in organizations. Yet, this is to where many must evolve.

In today’s world of professional association/society management, the role of CSE is frequently given the title of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) because that is truly what the role necessitates.

What I unfortunately see too much of—is volunteer leaders (current and past) considering the paid staff as their minions—much like the clerical staff that the leaders of old once enjoyed. This should not be the case. Today’s association/society staff is more professional than those of years ago. Today’s staff has educational and certification opportunities that were not available to them just a few decades ago.  On the flip side—rarely do non-profit volunteer leaders take advantage of the plethora of association/society leadership and governance education available to them—they are too busy “at their day job” to dedicate the necessary time and energy. Again, this is simply an observation rather than a critical analysis.

However, this is necessary for organizational survival and hopefully success, to develop a respectful and effectively working partnership between volunteer leaders and staff.

Moving the Needle

In many organizations the Staff is positioned to help launch a successful member recruitment campaign, and what is needed is some horsepower behind the launch—which is only available from the volunteer leaders. The choice is in the domain of volunteer leaders, they can encourage or continue to corral.

Build it and They will Come? (440 words)

My work over the last 20+ years has revealed to me that the member perception of value is paramount. What members (or prospective members) believe is all that matters.

Associations frequently do a good job of creating member value, but not such a good job of communicating that value in a way that matters to members. It is a particular skill set to be able to write influencing (sales) copy. Most association marketers write about the features of membership but forget to tell the member or prospect how those features will make their life better. (It is all about me :>) Everyone wants an exceptional return on their investment (ROI) of time and money, but how many association marketing and/or communication pieces clearly demonstrate that. (Not many.)

What many association executives do not understand is that is is a “relationship bank” issue. Making no, or few, deposits throughout the year equals bankruptcy–but at the end of the year association executives try to take a withdrawal (ask for renewal) when there’s nothing in the bank. Crazy, isn’t it? How can you expect to drink from an empty glass? Funny how some think they can.

Qualitative research, specifically the Member ROI Valuation Process reveals member perception of value…helping association staff and volunteer leaders to determine what products and services to sunset and what to keep. If something you do only benefits a very few, why are you spending resources in that area? Invest your organization’s resources (time and money) in things that benefit MOST of your members.

Build it and they will come…but only if you build it correctly (member expectations) and do an excellent job of communicating why it is in their best interest to come (not the association’s best interest). In my book, Developing Strategic Alliances I when into great detail about relationship bank deposits. Key for this discussion is an understanding of what creates value for the other? If you develop something your members and/or prospects do not want–you get frustrated that they do not take advantage and they get frustrated because your are shouting from the rooftops about something in which they have no interest.

To earn my Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential, I had to understand the SPIE model: Scan, Plan, Implement, Evaluate and so do you. Scan what your market offers and what your customers (members) want. Then develop a plan to build it. Now build it. After you build it, review–did they really want it? Did you build it correctly? Did you market it correctly?

Build it correctly and tell your market how it will make their life better…and they will come.

Association Volunteer Leaders-The Will to Perform (539 words)

Oh how things have changed. The association world was once filled with members that pretty much did everything…and if they were lucky, they could afford an executive secretary…mostly to keep the clerical in order. Today, that executive secretary, in many associations enjoys the CEO title. This is because they really do act as the CEO of the association. The chief staff executive runs the HQ office and directs the staff to achieve what members (volunteer leaders) once did themselves.

But, what about the members, are they still doing their share? In too many circles, an observer would have to answer with, no they are not. Today everyone’s world is compressed—we are all trying to do too much in too little time. It is common to hear among the volunteer leaders, “The staff will do it; it’s their job. “ This sentiment is heard across the association-sphere, regardless of how full the staff members’ plates are.

Let’s bring this discussion to membership. While we all “mouth” that membership is important and it is the life-blood of an association…our actions do not always demonstrate this. In too many associations, and let’s be honest, membership is an afterthought or the department gets short shrifted as to resources, attention, and prestige.

While the above can also be said for other departments in associations, membership in my experience is the most egregious.

What can we do? First, we must embrace that in today’s world of associations—there must be a partnership between staff and volunteer leaders in each silo/department of the organization. This is where the Will to Perform is most crucial. If either side of the partnership does not perform, trust is lost and the partnership is ineffective. Staff has to abandon the, “I have a life” as well as volunteer leaders must abandon the, “I’m just a volunteer; I have a job or a company to run.” Neither of these excuses for lack of performance is acceptable.

While this idea can be extrapolated throughout the organization into all silos/departments, specific to membership, we must communicate to our volunteer leaders and staff alike that, Membership is Everybody’s Business. We are all in this together and together we will resolve all issues. Members of today, unfortunately, have been trained by staff to expect everything to be done by staff. Moving forward, this must be changed.

Give your members a precious jewel. All volunteer leaders need a reason to perform before they can muster up within themselves the Will to Perform. What is the core value to them and the organization for them to desire to perform well? In the membership silo/department it is this—membership is a good business, financial, and career decision. If the association’s CEO can broadcast this message in a way that staff and volunteer leaders accept as a precious jewel that membership is a good business decision and held close to the heart—then it can and will be shared with others—the uninitiated.

If you are an association CEO, Executive Director, Executive Vice President—the chief staff executive, your job is to demonstrate in deed, more than in word, that Membership is Everybody’s Business and that membership in your organization is a Good Business, Financial and/or Career Decision. (c) 2017

Showing the Love to New Members with 12 & 12 (835 Words)

Both conventional wisdom and numerous member surveys tell us that first-year members are most at-risk for non-renewal. Fair enough, I couldn’t agree more. The important question is what to do about it?
I suggest to my clients that they create a 12-Month/12-Touch New Member “Showing the Love” Assimilation System. The idea is a combination of my Relationship Bank Deposit recommendations in my second book, Developing Strategic Alliances and an idea from John Gray, Ph.D. who is the author of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.

I’m sure you’ll agree that one must make Relationship Bank Deposits before one attempts to collect a withdrawal. For anyone that disagrees…try getting money from a bank with which you have no prior relationship and you’ll quickly see it is a no-go. In relationships the ratio is generally 10 to 1, meaning 10 deposits for every withdrawal.

A number of years ago I sat in the audience when John Gray addressed the National Speakers Association and I’ll always remember this; it is about the points. He had a bouquet of roses on a pedestal close to his lectern. He made a statement alluding to the point that if one gives the bouquet to their special someone, it is one point. However he stated that if one gives only one rose, it is also one point. He lectured the men in the audience about giving the bouquet once a year and thinking one is done. Not good enough he stated. However, give one rose a month and one has earned 12 points.

Putting the two ideas together we have the 12-Month/12-Touch New Member “Showing the Love” Assimilation System. The idea is simple, in addition to everything else you do for your members, have a special “onboarding” process that consists of one touch each month for the new member’s first year. Then in a year’s time when you request that they renew, sufficient Relationship Bank Deposits have been made to justify a Relationship Bank Withdrawal. This will be equally successful for individual membership organizations and those with company memberships.

The 12 Touches Delivery

Many associations and societies have automated new-member emails that go out at various intervals. This would be great if their open-rate was better than the common 20-40%. What it means though, is that 60-80% of the emails sent are never opened. Some organizations even mail a new member package with lots of stuff. However, wouldn’t it be better if the stuff was dripped out over time?

Your plan should be to mix up the conduit for delivery: USPS, UPS, FedEx, email, phone calls, etc. Each month have a different kind of touch using a different delivery method. This will assure that most of your touches are being received. One of my clients came up with a novel idea; on the new member’s birthday, that first year, they received an email telling them to respond within 48 hours and the organization would send them a cool T-shirt with the organization’s logo. They have been getting excellent results from that single touch.

Various Touches to Consider

Remember to mix it up over the 12 months and be careful of not relying too heavily on email because of open rates. The below are simple to do, you will need an organizing system that might be as simple as an Excel spread sheet or as complex as using your Association Management System (AMS).
• Telephone call from membership director
• Telephone call from chapter leader (urging them to get involved locally)
• Telephone call from executive director
• Telephone call from member of the board of directors
• Mail simplified new member package
• Mail membership pin
• Mail membership card
• Mail membership certificate or plaque
• Mail specialty advertising item (swag, trinket, tchotchke)
• Mail Association logo wear
• Email new member information bundle containing several documents of interest (generally as PDFs)
• Email containing new member video
• Email containing new member survey
• Email discount coupon for your products/services
• Email special new member discount for annual meeting
• Email video message from executive director or president
• Email directions video about how to navigate your organization’s member-only website section

Do not limit yourself to the above. Meet with staff and/or volunteers to determine what kind of touches would be appropriate for your organization. Develop in implement your own 12-Month/12-Touch New Member “Showing the Love” Assimilation System and I can assure you that your first-year member retention will skyrocket.

Videoconferencing—Friend or Foe? (933 Words)

On the Cover of the November 19, 2001 issue of Meeting News, the article stated, “Prior to Sept. 11, meeting by electronic means had already gained momentum among U.S. organizations. But now, with the terrorist attacks having exacerbated an already-weak economy, look for electronic conferencing, also known as virtual meetings, to advance substantially in 2002.”

Is a videoconferencing session in your future? If you are a professional speaker and plan to continue in the speaking and training business, you can be assured the likelihood is strong. I believe videoconferencing is both attendee and speaker friendly.

Some of the advantages videoconferencing offers you, the professional speaker; include timesavings and the ability to be in two places at the same time. Additionally, you can do multiple client dates in a single day and travel less. Some of the advantages video conferencing offers meeting planners are reduced speaker cost (travel & fees), availability of multiple location venues (saving attendees travel) and real time global interaction

To make videoconferencing part of your success plan, master the six main areas to that are to follow. The six areas are: Meeting Industry usage, Profitability, Local Accessibility, Technology Applications, Technology Providers and Presentation Skills. Let’s take the areas individually.

Meeting Industry Usage:

Often, videoconferencing is replacing small meetings. Owens Corning has installed desktop videoconferencing in about one-fourth of the firm’s 80 locations worldwide. This allows team members worldwide to meet and make decisions within hours rather than days or weeks before the technology. Ford Motor Company created their FORDSTAR dealer communications network employing satellite transponders. This allows broadcast quality on several channels. The main purpose has been training. Additionally, executives can inform all manufacturing locations on developments without having to travel. National associations and corporations are including real-time videoconferencing in their annual meetings. Also, multi location meetings save travel and hotel expense. The explosion is close at hand. About one-fifth of the Fortune 1000 companies have corporate networks. I believe we professional speakers must design our future. It is better than flowing with the uncertain wind, wherever it goes.

Profitability:

There is gold in those Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) lines if we know how to dig. Besides the time savings and multiple client days, back-of-the-room products (video) can be the byproduct of a videoconference, just record it, the camera is already there. Clients, who before could not afford you, now might.  Your clients will experience the hard-dollar benefits with multiple locations and reduced travel expenses. Additionally, companies with videoconferencing capability are receiving soft-dollar benefits through improved information sharing and productivity gains.

Local Accessibility:

How much time you save will depend on how close you are to an organization that has a videoconferencing studio for rent. Kinko’s, one of my partners in the bringing the technology to the National Speakers Association (NSA) convention a few years ago in Orlando, has 800 locations worldwide. They might be the first place to check, call 1-800-2-KINKOS for the nearest videoconferencing location. Additionally, universities are a good place to look, as are large corporations with public rooms and other providers. Another possibility is to purchase your own camera, like PictureTel’s Live 50 desktop unit.

Technology Applications:

How can you profit? When you want to interview an important person, have them go to their local Kinko’s. They will get a kick out of it and you saved travel expense and time. The few dollars it cost to set up the videoconferencing network is usually less than the cost of a flight. You can close deals with important clients who have the technology. You can do your consulting using the technology as will as simply making presentations. Not to make it sound like a kinko’s advertisement, but it is half-price on the weekends.

Technology Providers:

My partners at the NSA convention were PictureTel, Kinko’s and Sprint; they paid for everything but the ISDN lines in the hotel. For videoconferencing to work needed are cameras and monitors for all locations (to be interactive) and the network (telephone or private) to carry the sound and picture signal. The telephone line capability is currently the bottleneck. For clean broadcast-qualityvideoconferencing, three ISDN lines are required.  ISDN lines carry up to 128 kilobits per second. Think of your dial-up modem at a maximum 56 kilobits per second and you will understand. Lucent Technologies is currently laying fiber optics cable across the USA (they recently tore up the streets in my neighborhood). Also higher speed cable and DSL are becoming available for your home or office.

It is now time for a warning. The technology usually works if connected properly. If you are going to use the technology in a real-time situation at a conference, have a technician on site. PictureTel hired VideoLinx Communications in Annandale, Virginia to do the connection in Orlando and they were great. Without a qualified technician, you could end up eating crow.

Presentation Skills:

The camera is much different from live. Things you need to consider include: Move slower, make smaller gestures and romance the camera. The camera lens is the portal to your audience. Avoid plaids and prints that may be emphasized on the screen. White clothing creates glare and red bleeds. Videoconferencing etiquette reminds us of the broadcast delay. Remember to give the person on the far side time to answer before you start again. Avoid coughing into microphones, shuffling papers or possible side conversations.

Videoconferencing technology could be your foe (speaker and meeting planner) if you are not willing to learn. But, like getting your first computer, master it and the technology will be your friend in new speaking and meeting possibilities and profits.

Free vs. Fee Speakers (927 words)

As an association executive, you are continually seeking great speakers. And frequently, your board of directors expects you to do this without a budget–or one so small that the task seems impossible. I assure you, it is possible.

When is it cheaper to hire a professional than it is to hire free speakers?

The answer that many meeting planners would instantly offer is, never. The other day, I had an eye-opening conversation with the executive director of an association based in the eastern part of North America. If you answered the opening question the same way, hopefully, this will open your eyes.

The executive director said to me, “Ed, I discovered it was cheaper to hire you to speak for two days at my meeting than pay the travel and lodging expenses of the four free speakers that I was thinking of using.” For a couple years now I have been conducting multi-day for single-fee programs, and still, his comment was truly an eye-opener for me.

In an effort to be accurate, I should share some additional details with you. First, the meeting venue is Maui, Hawaii and some of the free speakers would fly from eastern North America. Second, I offer multi-day programs eliminating the need for additional speakers.

Deliver Value vs. Fill the Void

Do the people responsible for particular meetings want to offer usable take-home value for the meeting attendees or do they simply want to fill a void? In my article titled, The Conference Conundrum (www.rigsbee.com/association-conference-conundrum.htm), I detailed several of the issues that sometimes create a fearful situation for volunteer association leaders in which they just want to both be “safe” and organize a meeting “on the cheap” rather than to address the attendee and member value issue.

Last spring, a meeting planner hired me to present at her national fall meeting. Since I live in the Greater Los Angeles area, she suggested that I might want to attend her coming Western Regional meeting that was to be held in Los Angeles.

I took her up on the offer and arrived early enough to hear the keynote speaker, a local college professor of marketing. Following the keynote, I said to the meeting planner, “I thought your members were in industrial…” She responded, “They are.” And then went into long discussion about how disappointed she was that the professor was so off-target for her group.

The Real Cost of Cheap

What percentage of the attendees from the above mentioned Western Regional meeting will rush to attend that same meeting the next year? What percentage will wonder if they again want to listen to an off-target college professor, who thinks he is addressing retailers but in reality is addressing industrial fabricators? How many potential following-year attendees did the professor lose for that meeting planner? Would this situation make your meeting appear to be shoddy or inferior?

Supplier companies love to send their representatives/salespeople to speak at conventions, as it is free publicity—even if they have to pay their own way. Sometimes the meeting attendees are lucky in that the supplier’s speaker will be motivating while offering usable content. Sometimes they are not so lucky, especially when the supplier’s speaker does not take the time (like the college professor mentioned above) to either understand the needs of the audience or plan an honest presentation. Too often attendees only get a sixty-minute commercial. After a sixty-minute commercial, what percentage of attendees will break down the doors to attend the following year?

What percentage of your other suppliers would also be outraged? How excited will they be the following year to belly up to the table and again pay more than their fair share for the meeting? Fair Share? Yes, suppliers always pay more than regular members. Associations justify the higher charge since they “get business” there.

Could the above combination of situations cost you 10 percent of your attendees the following year? And again cost you another 10% of the reduced number the year after that? And what about the following year? Could this be the reason for the downward spiral many associations are currently facing?

Saving with Professionals

Professional speakers live and die on their reputation. Please do not confuse celebrity speakers with professional speakers. Celebrity speakers get paid gobs of money to speak at a meeting, not because of their eloquence, but because of the average person’s desire to be in the same room with them—to experience them live. Their job is exclusively to attract people to the meeting. When I talk about professional speakers, I’m talking about the people that earn the lion’s share of their income from speaking at meetings or conducting trainings and their related books, tapes, etc. These are the people who generally interview and research the issues and needs of their audiences and tailor or customize their proven material for each unique audience. These people are experts in their field or experienced sorry tellers or humorists.

These are also the people your attendees expect at their meeting. These are the speakers that deliver solid take-home content while also creating a motivating environment. They have to be exciting, motivating and funny—or they don’t eat!

Keeping in mind all that has been mentioned above, why in the world would you settle for a free speaker? Especially, when that choice could be the most expensive. Don’t your meeting attendees deserve the value they expect?

To Get the Best Deal, Understand What Speakers Want (1430 words)

Sure, you want the best possible speaker for whatever your budget might be. A dynamic or informative speaker generally is a stellar investment in the success of your meeting. But, sometimes your budget is not enough for the speaker you want. What’s the solution? Hire a less expensive speaker—squeeze the speaker you want for a better price—think beyond conventional wisdom?

Thinking beyond conventional wisdom might look like, limiting the number of speakers at your meeting. It is always less expensive to have a single speaker do several sessions than to have several speakers present a single session each. Not that every speaker is capable of presenting multiple sessions, however because of the multiple travel and hotel rooms cost, sometimes it is even cheaper to hire a speaker to deliver multiple programs than to have several non-paid speakers participate in your meeting. Even if these unpaid speakers drive in, thereby eliminating their airline travel expense, they will still want a free hotel room for the conference and free registration. Perhaps they were going to come anyway? You would have then received their conference registration dollars. Sometimes the true cost of non-paid speakers is staggeringly hidden.

Let’s explore the difference between a professional speaker presenting the same program multiple times vs. presenting multiple programs. The big difference for the speaker is preparation time—including: research, handout development and PowerPoint preparation. Unfortunately, few meeting planners take this key time issue into consideration. Speakers are selling both their knowledge and their time. The latter is finite, so the more you consume, the more you should expect to pay. In paying for a speaker’s time, you have to consider presentation time, travel time and preparation time. Unless of course you want a canned speech, then the preparation time is not an issue. Before you jump on the cost savings of a canned speech, remember that today, few attendees will tolerate a canned speech.

This idea of a single speaker presenting multiple presentations for a single fee is growing in the world of professional speakers but is counter to standard operating procedures for most speaker bureaus. If you like this idea, you might have to abandon the ease in speaker selection that you have enjoyed when working with bureaus.

The Bureau Conundrum

Speaker Bureaus provide a valuable outsource service for meeting planners that are time squeezed. A planner can contact a bureau, give their budget and the bureau will take it from there. For planners that have to fill a large number of conference session slots and do not have sufficient staff—bureaus can be their solution. Yet, there are many more speakers that are under or non-represented by speakers’ bureaus, than there are speakers that they recommend. Most bureaus only have a small corral of speakers that they can easily sell and therefore will generally recommend them first. Many of the underrepresented speakers are quite good and are a tremendous value.

Another component to consider is that some bureaus serve two masters. What I mean can be illustrated by a recent conversation I had with a planner from a very large biotechnology manufacturer at a meeting industry trends summit. We were chatting at the event’s evening cocktail party and the planner was bemoaning about a request for a speaker that she submitted to a very large East Coast speaker bureau. The planner went on to tell me that the information sheets for the speakers that this particular bureau sent her, had no relationship to her submitted speaker request. The planner was upset that the bureau didn’t pay heed to what she requested. I explained to the planner about that particular bureau specialized in speaker exclusives—meaning that the bureau was the only place through which a particular speaker could be booked. As such, the bureau would recommend their exclusive speakers first, and if none were selected, would then recommend other speakers—even when a non-exclusive speaker would have been a better fit. Unfortunately, this trend is spreading through the speaker bureau industry.

For most speakers, speaker bureaus are but one of the many channels by which they go to market. Speaker bureaus need to be viewed as one would view any distributor or sales agency. If two-step distribution serves your needs, and there are a number of reasons that it might, then by all means select that method.

The conventional marketing message espoused my most bureaus is that for speaker X, you’ll pay the same price through us as you would booking speaker X direct. That is a nice ideal that frequently may be true. Yet, in a supply chain where a distributor or manufacturer’s representative sales agency receives 25 to 30 percent, the reality is generally not quite the ideal. There was a reason behind Sam Walton championing the idea of Wal-Mart working directly with manufacturers, thereby eliminating the distributors. This was a necessary strategy in order for him to continually deliver low prices to his Wal-Mart customers.

Go Direct?

If you should select to work directly with a speaker, the price you will assuredly pay is time. Time both in your search and selection process as will as time working with the speaker on meeting logistics. If this route is best for you, there are a number of advantages that could make your time investment a profitable one. Some of the benefits to you could be, no lost communication through an intermediary, better negotiation possibilities (the Sam Walton dynamic) and the speaker offering programming ideas and insight that most likely would have never been transmitted through a third party.

Searching for a speaker directly has never been easier. To start, there are a number if Internet search engines that will do a magnificent job in searching for a speaker by topic or keyword. Remember to look past the first search page because that is most likely where you are going to find the speaker bargains. A great source to aid your search is the Web Site of the National Speakers Association (NSA).

National Speakers Association

NSA is an alternative method for finding speakers. NSA has an open online search capability that anyone can access atwww.nsaspeaker.org. It is true that only members of NSA are listed, which does limit your possibilities just a bit, but nonetheless you will find that the NSA Web Site a valuable source in your search for the right speaker. NSA offers its members a certification calledCertified Speaking Professional (CSP). While the CSP designation does not guarantee a speaker’s success at your meeting, the process through which a speaker goes to receive a CSP designation is not an easy one. The CSP is a good indicator that the speaker is truly a professional.

Approaching the Speaker

Never approach a speaker, out of the gate, by asking if they negotiate their fees! What the speaker hears is, “I’m calling to ask you for a discount and offer nothing in return.” That’s a turn-off in anybody’s book. Besides, everything in life is a negotiation—just assume that they will. A better approach is to first talk with the speaker about what you want—engage them in conversation. After they have affirmed that they can deliver what you want, then move into the “we have a budget issue” phase. Do this by first suggesting some of the things your organization can do for the speaker to create extra value for them. Also ask the speaker what creates value in their life. Perhaps you have value to offer a speaker that you had never realized? What do you have that costs you very little but delivers high value to professional speakers?

Keynote Vs. Breakout

Believe it or not, more speakers will be willing to talk to you about your budget challenges when you are talking general session (meaning that there is no other session competing at the same time) vs. breakout or concurrent sessions. The reason for this is exposure and product selling capability. If a speaker is going to fly across the country to speak at a meeting, which do you think is more valuable to the speaker—speaking to 40 people, or 400? Naturally, it is the 400. More people that could potentially recommend the speaker for future events and more product will surely be sold to 400 people than to 40—but, rarely do planners think about this.

In making your decision about how to acquire your next speaker, I hope the above has stimulated your thinking beyond conventional wisdom. Additionally, for more ideas on how to save money at your next meeting, please visit www.rigsbee.com/affordablemeetings.htm.