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Dana's Meeting Minutes: Three Tips and One Awesome Idea for Innovative Planners

Posted By Dana Saal, CMP, CAE, Saal Meeting Consulting, Friday, April 28, 2017
Updated: Thursday, April 27, 2017

The most difficult part of change can be convincing stakeholders that it’s needed. You’re working with people who see the meeting through their own filters, including long-held beliefs (beef for Thanksgiving, anyone?). This allows for healthy debate, but can be a stumbling block when consensus is the goal.

How can you manage the conversation without tearing out your hair?

Tip #1

Know your audience

  • Know your supporters and detractors.
  • Pre-wire key influencers.
  • Determine how your stakeholders best accept change—managing the scope (not all at once); demonstrating the new practices (see it in action); hearing it from an outside expert (they always know more than you, right?!); etc.

Tip #2

Prep them

  • Identify strategic goals in advance so everyone starts on the same page. The goals are not part of the discussion, they are the basis for it. Support this by listing them on your agenda.
  • Provide examples of:
    • successful use elsewhere
    • measurable benefits
    • potential outcomes if change is not accepted
    • additional material needed to support objections you’re likely to face

Tip #3

Allow for time acceptance

  • Build in time to ponder the proposals. Don’t expect full acceptance at the first meeting.
  • Get feedback, asking for their likes, concerns and suggestions.
  • Consider a phased-in approach by introducing changes over several years instead of all at once.

One Awesome Idea
Make them feel the change, not just think about it
Your stakeholders’ responses are loaded with emotion. To sort that out, assign each stakeholder a role that represents one participant perspective (e.g., young professional, seasoned exhibitor, one discipline, etc.). Coach them to put themselves in that person’s shoes as you verbally walk through your meeting, asking them to think about how they feel as they “attend” the meeting.

You need to be a great storyteller. Stay neutral by focusing on the outcomes. They need to shed pre-conceived notions and to stay in their assigned personas.

When you get to “happily ever after”, discuss their reactions to determine if you’ve built consensus, need to tweak some things, or try a new approach.

Want More?
There are many resources about persuading stakeholders. Check out a few based on the Google search “how to persuade stakeholders.”

Source Credit:
Aimee Gabel, Solar Energy Trade Shows, LLC and David Saef, GES MarketWorks, who presented the awesome session, Win Stakeholder Support for Cutting-Edge Programming at PCMA’s 2016 Convening Leaders.

Dana’s Meeting Minutes is based on the Meeting Planning Triangle©. Click here for a link.

Tags:  association  events  isae  Leadership  marketing  meeting planners  meeting tips  meetings  social media 

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Dana's Meeting Minutes: Three Tips and One Awesome Idea for Innovative Planners

Posted By Dana Saal, CMP, CAE, Saal Meeting Consulting, Friday, March 3, 2017
Updated: Tuesday, February 21, 2017

                        Three Tips and One Awesome Idea for Innovative Planners



Is your meeting audience as diverse as it could be? Have you really thought about who your meeting is designed for and whether you are reaching all potential registrants?

Thinking about this could increase your attendance (and income!) and enhance the level of expertise by broadening your list of participants.

Tip #1

List types of people/positions affiliated with your industry. For example, if you’re planning the Annual Convention of Dark Green Architects, your target audience is Dark Green Architects, but could also include:

·         their co-workers in other departments, e.g. light green architects, designers

·         professionals from affiliate industries, e.g. engineers, mortar specialists

·         academics and students from universities

Tip #2

Your association leadership is one of your target audiences.

You are primarily planning for Dark Green Architects, but your board and committee members may want/need a say in your meeting design, making them a target audience.

Tip #3

Plan only for your target audience.

Don’t toss in a session for non-target audiences in the hopes more people will show up. Be clear who you’re planning for and then plan well for them. That will increase attendance.

One Awesome Idea

Ask members what types of people help make them successful and then pursue them as future participants.

Ask them one or all of these questions:

1.      What types of people do you partner with in your job?

2.      What types of people would you like to connect with at the meeting?

3.      What is one type of person not with your same expertise who has influenced how you do your job?

Want More?

Check out this blog by Jeff Hurt of Velvet Chainsaw. He uses exhibitor satisfaction as the basis for target audience identification, but the concept supports all aspects of meeting planning.


Dana L. Saal, CMP, CAE, has been planning meetings for associations for more than 30 years. She recently decided that coaching meeting planners is now more fun than proofing BEOs, counting coffee cups and writing scripts. If you think a bit of coaching could improve your meeting, send a message via her website! (

Tags:  events  meeting planners  meeting tips 

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My Event is Underperforming Part 3

Posted By Dana Saal, CMP, CAE, Friday, August 5, 2016
Updated: Thursday, June 2, 2016

Resources for Parallel Development, a.k.a. borrowing the best ideas

Last month’s article, Simple and Impactful Changes to Abate Shrinking Attendance, offered ways to stimulate registration. Previously, Shrinking Attendance? challenged you to honestly examine key event areas.

I conclude with resources to inspire and educate. Yes, some are obvious, but as long-time pros, we occasionally forget the obvious.

Industry Publications

There are more publications (paper, digital) than we can each month. However, they are valuable for staying current with trends and technology.

  • Identify your key areas (e.g. exhibit management, corporate meetings) and subscribe to appropriate publications.
  • Read them. 
  • For future reference, bookmark articles by subtopic. Easy to find, easy to delete when outdated.

Others’ Events

  • Attend meetings to observe the attendee experience as an outsider. Choose meetings of similar size, but in different industries. e.g. you plan medical; attend one for educators. Invite the other planner to do the same and exchange constructive criticisms.
  • Attend meeting industry events to remember how it feels to be an attendee. It makes you empathetic toward participants who wait in lines, discover empty coffee pots and eat food they didn’t choose. 
  • It is very easy to become a planner who knows only his/her meeting. That limits you.

Other Planners

  • Stay connected with other planners in person, via social media, and as buddies who toss ideas back and forth.
  • Increase Google search success by using specific search terms. It works; I got 18,200,000 results for “How to create an event marketing plan that excites.”

Connecting and continuing education will always be fruitful sources. 

Dana L. Saal, CMP, CAE, has been a meeting professional since 1986. She is an expert in the design and execution of association meetings, with a record of increased participant satisfaction and registrations. She designs training programs, meetings and conventions for associations, specializing in helping associations rejuvenate underperforming events that target audiences want to attend and are profitable for the stakeholders. 


Tags:  convention  events 

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My Event is Underperforming Part 1

Posted By Dana Saal, CMP, CAE, Friday, June 3, 2016
Updated: Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Shrinking Attendance? Ask Questions; Don’t Appoint a Task Force

It’s like a slow leak. You’ve ignored it, but it’s time to identify its cause. You must determine why attendance shrinks each year.

Instead of appointing a task force, convening focus groups, or analyzing years of data, honestly answer the following questions that are designed to look beyond the obvious (e.g. lack of funds). When you uncover the reason for the decline, you can design the solution.

Note: It will be the most challenging, and the most rewarding, to do this for annual events on the lather-rinse-repeat plan.

Event Objectives

  • Do you have event objectives and regularly critique them?
  • Are they achievable with your current resources?
  • Do they inspire your target audience to participate?

You can plan an event without objectives, but it’s more likely to be underwhelming.

Target Audience

  • Can you identify your target audience? Write a comprehensive list.
  • Are your messages well written? Never, ever again use “a must-attend event.”
  • Do you customize message delivery to ensure they’re read? Snail mail and phone calls still have great R.O.I.

If you don’t target your target audience, they won’t know to attend.

Industry Changes

  • Has your target audience shrunk? Aging, consolidation, etc.
  • Are there more opportunities for them to get what your event offers? Is your competition’s event better?
  • Have any of them changed how they spend money? More research, less education; more online learning, less travel; etc.

Look below the surface and at the people who are not there.


  • Is your programming customized for your target audience? Really? Do they agree?
  • Do you design program delivery to satisfy all types of learners?
  • Do attendees have lots of opportunities to connect? 

If your event is not designed for the needs of your target audience, they have no reason to invest in it.

Next time…Simple and Impactful Changes


Dana L. Saal, CMP, CAE, has been a meeting professional since 1986. She is an expert in the design and execution of association meetings, with a record of increased participant satisfaction and registrations. She designs training programs, meetings and conventions for associations, specializing in helping associations rejuvenate underperforming events that target audiences want to attend and are profitable for the stakeholders.  

Tags:  events  meeting planners  meetings 

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UnCovention Convention

Posted By Kristen Butcher, CMP, Illinois Association of REALTORS®, Friday, October 16, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, October 14, 2015

They say the best things in life are free. When it comes to the UnConvention Convention, we certainly think so! This half-day educational program is no ordinary event—you pay NO registration fee, there are NO paid speakers and there are NO limits on what you can learn! 

Because the UnConvention Convention has no structured program to follow, YOU set the pace and YOU determine the content. It's this simple. Your planning will be 60% marketing - you have to get people to attend; 30% pre-meeting planning to gather supplies and book the facility; and 20% is hands-on activity that day.  

Select a location where you can have one main room with enough break out rooms for 30-50 attendees. When participants register, they get to write down one topic they would like to learn more about that day. An industry leader then categorizes the suggestions and determines what topics will be discussed in each break out, along with the individual to lead the group discussion. Anyone can lead a discussion and everyone is encouraged to participate. 

Did I mention it’s FREE? It's important to find a couple of wonderful sponsors and volunteer members to assist with costs and labor so that this program can be offered free of charge. The UnConvention Convention is a place to share ideas and expand your potential, no matter what your age. 

Takeaways & Benefits: 
Planning: 60% marketing; 30% pre-meeting planning; 20% day of the event
Day of the Event: Volunteers work the registration; topics of interest are submitted by attendees; industry leaders to organize the popular topics and determine group discussion leaders
Benefits: Free to members; minimal staff time; no speaker expenses; sponsorship opportunity and minimal audiovisual
Conclusion - Always conclude with a networking reception/break - people want to share what they have learned or gather more information

Don't be afraid to try this unique, interesting way to look outside the box on offering education. What do you have to lose?

Kristen Butcher, CMP, is the Director of Professional Development at the Illinois Association of REALTORS® and is an ISAE Board of Director and Special Events Committee Co-Chair. 

Tags:  conventions  events  meetings  refresh 

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