I've been dreadfully delinquent and I know it. I haven't stopped caring--I've just been deciding how to refocus given my new position. What I've decided, generally, is that my posts will focus more and more on continuing legal education, rather than on events in general. After all, it's what I do. And our industry is changing--for the better, for the most part. So there is a lot to talk about.
Which brings me to today. I'm at the ACLEA conference in Salt Lake City with other CLE providers from around the state. Today is day one for me, though the conference officially started Saturday (I had the small matter of an insanely fun wedding in Chicago this weekend). I'm looking forward to learning, sharing and getting to know people from around the country who are doing what I do everyday.
Be sure to stop by Cece's PR blog to take a look at a guest post I wrote about a conference I was running that veered off track. I actually wrote it while still at my last job, but the power of "sorry" transcends time.
Here's an excerpt:
I’m in Sacramento because I organize and run legal conferences around the country–about 24 each year. Usually, things go seamlessly (or almost seamlessly–it’s hard to imagine a completely error-free event). Occasionally, things don’t. Today was one of those days.
Each mistake, on its own, is relatively innocuous. The conference room is moved and is difficult to find. But people find it and life goes on.
We notice the printer left a section out of the materials. Okay. We can get Kinkos to deliver the missing section within hours.
But then the computer dies mid-presentation, forcing a speaker to finish without PowerPoint. Now people are starting to think, “What is going on here?”
Image by James Cridland via Flickr
When I was in college, I worked at Barnes & Noble. The place was busy open to close. I have vivid memories of heated exchanges with women who came to buy Princess Di memorabilia books only to learn we were sold out.
I have even better memories of customers looking for a certain story, but unable to put a title to it.
When I would reply, "You must be talking about Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," the customer acted as if I was a genius, even though it was now sitting on our bestseller shelf thanks to the recent release of a hugely successful Hollywood movie.
There were customers searching for far more obscure titles. One that sticks out was my geology professor. He was searching for a book for his wife called Ham Hocks and Poppycock. I was searching for a way to make up for a recent and embarrassing incident during which I had complimented the rock in my professor's office only to find out it was a "mineral." Thankfully, we both found what we were looking for.
There were the customers who came in multiple times a week to browse and see what was new. There were customers who came in every Sunday at a set time. There were people who came to find a quick gift ten minutes before they were heading to the party. And there were the customers who came to study and [sometimes] drink coffee (often their own from home) at the tables sprinkled throughout the store.
You don't have to be a bookstore executive to get a general idea of the industry's customer base:
I went to college in the nascent stages of grand-scale e-commerce, so the industry probably should have been a little more concerned about this customer line-up than it was (or, preferably, should have seen the great opportunity of the emerging medium). Using Borders as an example, it dabbled in e-commerce, then decided to hand the reigns over to Amazon in 2001, then took it back last year, and, finally, effectively gave up on it this year.
In doing so, it effectively gives up customers 1, 2, 3, which I would guess were a substantial piece of its business. The browsers might love books and the bookstore more, but the people who knew what they were looking for or had searches (all of which can now be performed online) must have been a significant piece of the foundation of the business. While there is definitely a great business that can be built for browsers and booklovers, I doubt it was the kind of business that mega-stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble were envisioning a decade ago.
I haven't even mentioned conferences yet, but I think the analogy that can be drawn is pretty clear. There are all different types of attendees. While I am a big proponent of the live event, not all of our attendees come for the live benefits (networking, community, etc). Many attendees come primarily for the content, most of which can now be effectively delivered online.
So as I see it, you have a few options. You can shun the online medium and focus on creating fantastic live events. This is a great option, as long as you recognize and embrace your market and realize that content-only attendees will stop coming as competitors make online content available. If you're the bookstore that focuses its entire business on booklovers, you happily watch them go.
Of course, you can also do online-only programs, but you do so understanding that you alienate some of the most engaged people in your industry because these are some of the same people who love live events.
Or you can take a hybrid approach, offering both options to reach a larger audience. In some ways, this is the obvious option, but I also think it is the hardest option (which may be why massively successful corporations have struggled with it). You are now dealing with two very different customers and two very different products.
What do you think? Can we learn something from the book industry? Are there other courses we can take? How can we successfully implement the hybrid approach, if that's the path we choose?
ASAE has posted a video recap of a session about online education from its recent Great Ideas Conference. In the recap, Howard Horwitz of the American College of Healthcare Executives talked about things to do when rolling out online education that has been repurposed from live content.
Some of the ideas he mentioned:
Side note: ASAE has come under recent attack about the ways it has chosen to interact (or, more accurately, not interact with its attendees on social media), and while it may have some things to learn from its members about Twitter, I continue to believe it is doing a great job of using tools like YouTube to inform and educate those who can't attend its conferences. This is especially critical in this economy for organizations like ASAE, which are seeing their members' budgets slashed (often to $0). The more people ASAE can reach during this tough time, the more members it will see when budgets start loosening up.
I'll be heading to Pittsburgh tomorrow morning for the Green Meeting Industry Council Conference in Pittsburgh. I'll try to blog, but I'll be without internet connectivity in the conference room, so the best place to get updates will be my Twitter feed (as long as my phone battery holds). You may also want to run a search for #GMIC09, as there may be others twittering, as well. I'm looking forward to learning quite a bit!
I haven't taken a close look yet, but it seems relatively new (I ran into a couple links that weren't up and running yet).
If you have time to browse through it, please let us know what you think!
[Hat tip: @GregRuby]
I've been preparing to moderate a panel on virtual technology for the Green Meeting Industry Council's annual conference at the end of this month, so I've been thinking a lot about virtual events. Watching a couple of conferences online over the last couple of weeks (MeetDifferent and Legal Tech NY) got me thinking about a very basic question: What is a virtual event?
At first glance, the answer is obvious. There are any number of virtual event providers we can look to. Companies like Unisfair and ON24 give us the platforms that house the events we've come to know as virtual events. They give us modern day chat rooms and online exhibit halls in an attempt to replicate the experience of a live conference or tradeshow.
But as more and more individuals begin building their own online communities through blogs, Twitter, and other tools, we're also seeing the creation of informal virtual events. Attendees are tweeting, blogging, and engaging each other and non-attendees in a new way. They're meeting fellow attendees before the conference, spreading the word and talking amongst themselves during the conference, and continuing to share information long after the conference ends. Things they only had time to Twitter during the conference become blog posts. Those blog posts are shared and commented on and act as catalysts for new posts.
This raises challenges for organizers (from what I've seen, people are far more willing to tweet or blog discontent than to voice it in the conference room), but it also opens up a lot of opportunities.
And don't think it's not coming your way. I work in an industry known for its late adopters, but we have an ever-growing group of exceptionally savvy lawyers leading the charge. The recent Legal Tech conference I mentioned above was all over Twitter and has inspired countless blog posts and videos. It's not the norm yet, but I did meet up with a fellow Twitterer at a recent in-house family law conference we did (he sent out a tweet that he was at the conference so I tweeted back that he should stop by my office if he had a moment). It's coming.
What do you think? Are these informal, events-focused online communities that are cropping up around live events becoming "virtual events" in their own right?