How do you create more engagement? How do you sell out a conference? More importantly, how do you get 100% satisfaction ratings? Sheena and Matt from the Institute of Internal Auditors have figured out the formula that works for them and their audience! Listen to this if you’d like to be challenged on how you approach planning your next event!
You have to tell us how did you get started?
Sheena: I’ve been doing this since 1989. I was meeting with my college recruiter. I said I like people, I like to travel I want to apply my business skills and I want to make a lot of money so doesn’t everyone. She sent me on some journeys to interview and she sent me to this association and I just fell in love. At that point it was in their regulatory affairs department and I was responsible for scheduling the congressional visits and managing that whole process. The rest is history. I’ve been in the association environment ever since.
Matt: I started in the hospitality side. I worked for several resorts and all different facets from operations, front office, sales and that’s where I got exposure to working with associations and corporate groups and really loved the events side of the business. I finished my MBA and an opportunity came up with the medical association in Florida with the endocrinologist. I led their readings and events staff for a couple of years. Went to a couple other associations. Then was led back to Orlando with the IIA. So I lead our conferences, events, and sales teams here.
When I tease at the beginning of an episode, how are you going to get higher satisfaction ratings? Everyone’s ears perk up! What do you guys do?
Matt: Coming from MPI, very different environment with meeting planners, hospitality, resorts, suppliers. Our members are really focused around risk management and adding value to organizations and corporations. It’s very different from what one may think of when they think about auditors. So our members span globally, we’ve got over 200,000 around the world. So major footprints. That’s really one of the big things that drew me to come to the organization. This organization has a stellar lineup of conferences. We’ve five large events, a major international conference, and over the last year we sold out three of those major conferences, it’s pretty unheard of.
Sheena: It’s historical for the organization, so that’s exciting. It is kind of a misnomer that when you come here you think, “I’m getting ready to go and deal with a bunch of accountants, so it’s going to be a boring situation.” It really is not that. So internal auditors, to Matt’s point, they are risk management professionals, responsible for assessing the entire risk universe of an organization. Very diverse set of skills are required, which is exciting. So that gives us a bit of a playground when it comes to developing content. We have the opportunity to bring some exciting information, looking at business trends, looking at business environment, and really being in tune and in touch with your audience. I think that’s one of the main things, you really have to understand what is the pain point of the audience that you’re serving? How are you going to bring value to them as a professional, so that when they leave this event, they’re gonna leave feeling fulfilled, inspired, and empowered to go back into their settings and apply those learnings and make the difference in a positive way. When that’s your baseline, then you’re able to build from there.
What are some of those things that you’ve tweaked, because I’m guessing you haven’t always had 100% and you’ve kind of come up to that and you know, what are those things you’ve changed?
Matt: We’ve put a lot more focus now on event technology and what we’re doing to engage attendees, our learning environments, really looking at all of those elements to make it a more interactive and engaging experience for our attendees. So much so that we’ve dedicated a role to event technology and the attendee engagement at a director level. It’s been really great for us. Sheena can talk about a lot more of the initiatives that we’ve enhanced.
Sheena: Looking at the technology component, and how we have been able to apply some of those elements to enhance the experience, by raising the level of production that we engage in our conference programs. So it’s not just the standard audio visual set up. We really try to include some enhancements as some element that’s going to bring some excitement to the program. We have incorporated things like polling and our social Q and a. That has really elevated and increased the level of interactivity. I would say we’re all adult learners, right? As adult learners, when you go to a program, you sit in that room and you know what is your pain point when you’re sitting in that room. You’re sitting in that room and you have a speaker at a podium reading off slides for 60 minutes, that’s a pain point. I don’t know any adult learners who will say, I paid attention all 60 minutes and I got every single thing that I needed to get from that because that’s just not how adults learn. We were very skill based. We were very diverse in our learning. We know that those come with different formats, different learning modalities that you have to include. We put ourselves in the mind of our conference goer, and what their needs are and how we can create an experience that’s going to be much different than just them sitting behind the computer. Because in this age of technology, you can get content any way anyhow in any time. When you attend, it’s about the overall experience.
How do you walk that line between polling and getting it out of the audience without annoying the crap out of them?
Matt: You just have to give them that. If they want to engage that let them, but you don’t make it an annoyance. You don’t overburden them. It’s another channel for people who want to do that. So it’s just all about understanding all the different needs from all your different segments of your audience and being able to make it available if that’s the way they want to engage versus saying everybody, use this to ask questions. I don’t think that’s the right way to approach it.
Sheena: I think you’re absolutely correct, Matt. It’s a delicate balance. Our audiences are known to be introverts. We take that into consideration when we are incorporating all of these engagement activities, understanding that everybody is not going to want to default to that one thing. So you have to create multiple opportunities for that engagement and make sure that people are comfortable with attaching to whichever element or component that you provide.
How do you sell out an event?
Sheena: It’s the experience. You’re going to hear us say that so much because what we have learned is it’s so very important and the experience is everything combined. So it is not just the content, it is the combination of how was registration, what are the social events? Think through each day, what is this person going to experience today from start to finish that going to create something for them that is almost magical that they leave saying, I can’t wait to come back. Peer to peer engagement is going to be important and valuable. What things are you incorporating in your conference that fosters peer to peer engagement. How are you prepping your speakers so that they are more dynamic? How are you incorporating those different elements so that it’s not, when you come to the conference, you don’t feel like it’s robotic.
Matt: I would add from a marketing perspective, it’s definitely that FOMO effect. You need to take your event beyond just the three days or however long it is and carry all of the traction that you’ve got all the way through.
Matt Pet Peeve: When you’re at an event and there’s not a lot of branding, a lot of good signage on where to go. It starts off the whole thing on a bad foot.
Sheena Pet Peeve: Not starting on time. There’s like this domino effect. It just impacts everything else in the course of that day.
Matt Super Power: Staying calm and cool under pressure.
Sheena Super Power: My superpower is my smile. I think that it calms me down and then ultimately it translates out to I’m able to calm you down.
Matt Advice: You’ve gotta be patient with your career growth. I was very ambitious when I started out, wanting to grow very quickly in the industry and you just have to understand that you need to learn as much as you can about all the different facets about the industry. Find a mentor who can guide you to where you want to go with your career.
Sheena: This is a very stressful industry. So you really have to find that balance for yourself in how you are able to manage that stress because it can console you if you don’t find that.
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