This Transcript is From Episode 25 Of The Savvy Event Planner Podcast
To listen to this podcast visit: http://SavvyEventPodcast.com/25
Transcript Of Guest Interview Only
Tom: Today I'd like to welcome Tracy Orpin and Rachel Reynolds to the show. Ladies, thank you so much for being with us.
Tracy: Thank you Tom.
Rachel: Thank you.
Tom: Now, I'd like you to start by introducing yourselves and telling us a little bit about your background and what you do.
Tracy: My name Tracy Orpin and I'm conferences and meetings manager for IAAP which is the International Association of Administrative Professionals. My background is I've been a Meetings and Events Planner for probably the last 20 years or so. Everything from corporate to associations to being independent. So a little bit of everything and here at IAAP, I'm in charge of running all the meetings and events.
Rachel: And I'm Rachael Reynolds. I'm the Professional Development Manager here at IAAP and my background has been mostly as an admin. So it gives me a unique perspective to bring to this job where here at IAAP I coordinate all of the education from the conferences to online to any educational materials that we sell.
Tom: Now Rachael, how long have you been doing this?
Rachel: I have been at IAAP for three years in January.
Tom: And you've been working closely with Tracy on these events that you're holding.
Rachel: I have actually I started as an admin to Tracy here at IAAP and then branched off when the office restructured.
Tom: Tracy could you give us a little bit of background on the IAAP for those who aren't familiar with the organization?
Tracy: Okay. We've been around for about 70 years, a little over 70 years so we've been around for a long time. Something unique about IAAP that a lot people don't know is we actually are the ones that started Secretary's Day back in the day which is now Administrative Professional Day, Administrative Professionals Week so we've been around a long time supporting admins in their positions from admins to the C-suite level admins.
The other thing that we have that's unique is we own the CAP which is the Certified Administrative Professional Certification. So we pride ourselves as being a group. A place for women, admins of all levels to come and get educated by us. To get their certification and to show their worth really and be able to get their education to continue to grow within their position.
Tom: Tracy you mentioned you'd been doing Event Planning for 20 years. Are you members of any other organizations or event planning organizations that you recommend our listeners consider joining?
Tracy: I am a member of PCMA. I'm also a member of KCFAE. I'm more involved with the PCMA because that has more to do with meetings and events.
Tom: Now, how many events would you say you plan in a year for the IAAP?
Tracy: Roughly 46.
Tom: Well, that probably keeps you pretty darn busy. So and I'm familiar with your two big events, but can you tell us about some of the smaller events that you plan for them?
Tracy: Well, we just recently blew up our organization and went from chapters and division to branches. We had over 500 chapters and divisions and each chapter and division ran their own event and it wasn't apples to apples. And we were finding that some had stellar education, some did not. So that's one of our biggest areas of change and one of my biggest groups I guess if meetings is an additional 29 meetings which are the 29 new branches.
We decided to bring that in house so that we could across the board have equal education for all of those events for each of those branches as opposed to again the chapters and divisions while some had stellar education and some did not. So we wanted to make sure that anyone who wanted to join IAAP had the opportunity to have the exact same thing whether their in Kansas City, New York, California, that they'd have the same level of education from the event.
Tom: Now are you traveling around to all of these or are you organizing them with, you know, through I guess your branch division people?
Tracy: Actually I had to hire two new people and I split it up between the two. There's no way I would be physically able to go to all of those 29 events.I do go to the other events that I plan which is obviously the Tech conference and our Annual Summit which is in July and then the rest of the meetings are board meetings and kind of one off type meetings smaller meetings.
Tom: Now, lets talk about your two big events; The IAAP Tech. Technology Education Conference. That's coming up March 13th through 15th in Jacksonville?
Tracy: That's correct.
Tom: …and then you've got the Summit and this year it's being held in Hollywood, Florida July 23rd through 26th. Tell me a little bit about these events.
Tracy: Okay actually what I'm gonna do is…I'm gonna turn it over to Rachel because it's all about the education and Rachael is our expert at the education at those events. When can I give her that? The floor.
Rachel: Thank you. Well the Tech Conference is unique in that we encourage all attendees to bring their own laptop. We have it available for rent as well as for those who don't have it. But it is very hands on so all of the education that we offer at the Tech Conference, you are working right along with the Trainer, you are working with the groups. So that not only are you. You know hearing the information, but you're also working along side. It helps to kind of solidify the information for you a little more and as all of our conferences are it is geared specifically toward administrative professionals.
So some of the education topics that we'll be offering at Tech this year are Adobe Acrobat Pro, Excel, several Microsoft, Power point. Those are the ones that come to mind now but it's a two and half day conference and we have two sessions that are running concurrently but this year we're actually doing the same session at the same time at two different levels. So where ever you find yourself on the spectrum of learning for that particular software program, there is a place for you.
The Summit is unique in that in fact I've got the information right here because I'm still working on it. Is basically a four day conference, we've got a day of pre-conference workshops. It includes keynotes a lot of networking opportunities a lot of active and social learning opportunity whereas the Tech conference is all technology all the time. We don't have any keynotes. We don't have any soft-skill or office skill topics. Summit is different in that it is a wide variety.
We have technology topics. We have soft skill topics. We are planning to offer a very high level education for those EAs that are in the C suite level or similar and they are four sessions that are running concurrently so it's a much much bigger conference.
Tom: You mentioned that you do a lot of networking at the Summit. Give us some ideas of what kind of networking functions you hold to encourage that?
Rachel: Well one of our biggest structured networking events would be our Branched Networking Lunch and outside of that we are offering round table discussions and a learning table where folks can go for a little bit more of informal session. We also have an opening celebration that is all networking. We have a closing celebration at the end of it that is a very nice dinner. While we have a lot of structured networking events there's a lot of opportunities for the informal learning and combining that with education at the same time as networking.
Tom: Okay now Rachel, when your looking at the education side of these events, how do you determine the presentation and the content?
Rachel: That's a very interesting question. I do it in concert with several things. We actually have a working group made up of volunteer members that helps put together the education and then vet the speakers that submit to train on those particular topics. We also pull some information from surveys that are sent out to administrative professionals that we know and executives. They're executives, they're managers, or whatever that we've asked you know what do you feel your admin needs to learn and then taking that and hold that into account as well.
Tom: Now when you're reaching out with these surveys, have you found that there's a certain type of I guess input or survey that works better to generate response from your members?
Rachel: You know we actually are very very fortunate in that we have an amazing response rate. I don't know the, the percentage off the top of my head. It is easily over 30% every time we send out a survey. So we are very very fortunate and honestly our folks just like to have a voice. So when I'm creating a survey obviously I like to keep it short and sweet. People don't want to spend 30 minutes filling it out but on the flip side of that they're very willing and anxious to share their opinion which is appreciated.
Tom: Now, when you're looking at speakers, are you reaching out through Speakers Bureaus or are the speakers coming and submitting to you? How does that function at your events?
Rachel: We open, this year we did it a little bit differently. We did a call for speakers, that's not different. We've done that in the past. So the topics that the working group put together for us we put out and open a call for speakers and the way…We don't necessarily reach out to Speakers Bureaus. I'm contacted as well as Tracy often by speakers.
So they are notified when that opens. We also have various members that have worked with speakers throughout, whether with their Branch event or previous chapters that are made aware and we'll refer those trainers to the call for speakers. The unique thing that we did this year is we also opened up a call for proposals. So you know, sometimes you don't know what you don't know and so getting those ideas submitted outside of what had been previously selected is always kind of nice to give you a new perspective on it.
Tom: Oh, that's very cool. I never thought about that. So have you found anything interesting through those calls for proposal?
Rachel: Absolutely, yes! We have added, actually I reserved space in our schedule for we have three different well four different tracks of education and I actually reserved one two topics for track, one or two. To have space for the call for proposal. A couple of those we're doing travel planning for the administrative professional which was a proposal. We're doing non-verbal communication how to read body language which was also a proposal that was very cool. We've got a googleicious session that was also a proposal. So some really great ideas that came through that would not have necessarily been thought of amongst all of us.
Tom: That's pretty cool. I'm not an administrative professional but I already want to come to these events.
Rachel: I like to plan them so I wish I could attend.
Tom: That's an excellent tip right there. Now you've mentioned you have staff that's in charge of vetting the speakers and presenters. Do you have any tips for an event planner who has a, I guess a large selection of speakers in front of them and they need to pare them down?
Rachel: The tips that I give my working group when they are looking through folks is always, always, always look at a video. In fact we have kind of moved toward the side of requiring a video if they are going to submit. They need to require or they need to submit a video of themselves speaking it doesn't need to be on that topic but just to be able to see the style, the way they handle themselves is really important. The other thing that I tell my working group is to really pay attention to the learner outcomes that they provide.
The course description can often times be marketing and flashy and doesn't always give you a lot of content and so the learner outcomes at least from an education stand point what I look at to see where the rubber meets the road so to speak. And then I always after that's been done. I always reach out to every speaker and have a conversation just to kind of get a feel for how they teach, how interactive they are, how important the active learning is to them, which is something that is very important to our organization.
Tom: Thank you so much for sharing that. Now Tracy you haven't fallen asleep have you?
Tracy: No, I'm not asleep, I'm right here.
Tom: You're kind of quiet in the background. Let's get back to you a little bit. You have these events at different locations. Last year Dierdre, my wife attended the one in Louisville, Kentucky and now you're holding this years' in Jackson no excuse me Hollywood, Florida. How do you determine your location selection?
Tracy: Well, that is a great question. I will tell you that when I came on board which has been a little over three years ago, our context for signs eight years out so Louisville was the last one that was signed by a previous actually two previous planners. So those were already done when I came on. Now when I go on site visits and try to figure it out, we take recommendations from our surveys where our attendee's would like to see our events one. Two, we take recommendations from our Board of Directors of where they feel that we could get the most attendance from. And then lastly, because it is such a large event, we are limited on what hotels or cities we can use of who can fit us.
And it's not like it's citywide so it's unique. It's not a citywide where we need the whole city. It's still small but yet big enough if we want to have it under one roof which is my preferred. There are very few hotels that can house us and all of our education and all of our events at once. So I start by who has the space that I need and then start looking at those locations who has the space, who has the availability and what are desirable locations? We look everywhere at everything because as cities change over time and upgrade, and you know kind of polish themselves up so it's not always what you think might be the most desirable.
But we try to find some place where we feel…obviously we look at the list. How easy it for people to fly in all over the country? And again, the comfort level, the fit, how we like to have a safe city since the majority of our attendees are females, we want a safe city for them. So there's a lot of factors that go into it. But we have to start with the space first, then we go to the locations and then we do the site visits. And we're pretty thorough when we do our site visits. We test if you will.
Our hotels bungle for a wake-up call and simple things like that that people may not think are a big deal, but we want to see if they don't get that accomplished for us then are they gonna take of our attendees. Because that's what's most important is that our attendees feel important and special and safe.
Tom: You mentioned that the previous event planner was planning eight years out. How far out are you planning your events?
Tracy: Right now, we're only as far out as 2017 is been signed and contracted. We are looking at 2018 right now and 2019. Not as far out as you think and what's unique right now obviously 2008 the economy changed drastically for all of us and having those contracts eight years out became burdensome not a plus. Now it is a sellers market but in doing a lot of research and going to a lot of meetings and listening to a lot of hoteliers that is about ready to flip because it's very cyclical and if we can hold out to that flip then we can have more bargaining power for our 2018, 2019.
Tom: Okay now you mentioned the wake-up call when you go out to examine or test a site and visit the site. Are there any other tips that you or things you look for when you go into a venue; you're considering bringing your conference into.
Tracy: Absolutely, when I walk in the door and nobody knows who I am so to speak not that I'm anybody. But I mean just as a common guest walking into the hotel. How am I greeted? Is everyone friendly? Are people ignoring me? All those kind of things.
You just take in the look the feel. If you feel welcomed, you know what are the sleeping rooms like? Is everything functional? Is there everything that anybody could need? Is there a desk? Is there a desk lamp? Are there plugins?
I mean simple things like that make a big difference to the traveler who is doing education events because they might want to go back up to their room and work on something and I need to know that they've got the space to do that. There's all different kind of factors and it's different for every group that you do. But for our group again, I like to make sure that it is a safe city. It's easy fly in fly out. The list is good and they are gonna feel secure and welcome. It's more of a feel I would say than an overall, but it's a little bit of everything.
Tom: People do remember the experience and so that's so important. Now Tracy, if I was to ask you “What was the most difficult part of your job?” “What causes you the most stress?”
Tracy: [inaudible 20:17] Because what I had to do in the past obviously the eight year out contracts. They were very hopeful that it was gonna grow, grow, grow, grow, grow and with the economy the way it is and all of that, some years have been pretty tough to be able to fill those sleeping rooms and I want people to be able to come to our conferences, an excellent conference. Since Rachel and I have come to IAAP we have changed things dramatically. From the level of education on up to the look, the feel, everything has changed dramatically since the two of us have come on and that's how we were hired.
We were tapped with making some great changes and bringing the association and the education up to a different level. And so, one, I think getting the word out that we are here that it is an excellent opportunity for education, for re-cert points, if you have your CAP or to get your CAP. But, that would have to be it is getting the word, letting people know and getting people to our conference. That's what keeps me up at night because I know it's a good conference and it's a different conference than it was before we came on.
Not that it was bad, it's just different than it was then. And we have pushed it to a different level by bringing in an app and being able to push out notifications to all attendees via that app and to dressing up what we use to call a our Book Nook is now a Hub. And that Hub looks like a Barnes and Noble if you walk in. It's very professional. It's a good look feel. You feel welcome, you wanna buy, you wanna shop. It's just an overall that we are with it and technologically savvy and want them to feel like we know what we're doing and we are bringing it them in an excellent conference or conferences.
Tom: You mentioned the attendance for your event. What do you usually average for an attendance?
Tracy: See that's a really hard thing to say because every year it's different. Last year it was down in Louisville. I think we had about 850 somewhere around then. The year before when we were in Milwaukee, it was somewhere around 1100 which is a huge drop. Who knows? Is it location?
Is it all the changes that we've done? Because we've made a lot of changes with our association and we find that are members are kind of wait and see. Let's see what these changes look like and we're gonna wait and let everybody test it out and then we'll join in. This year the location Hollywood, Florida was the first contract that our CEO, President and CEO and I personally did the site visit on and did the tour and signed that contract. And we're very excited about it because it's everything we want and need in a location and feel that the location itself is going to be a big push not to mention that stellar education.
Tom: 850 is still a pretty darn good size crowd you know to do an event for and I know that's got to take a lot of logistics on your part. What do you do to promote the event to your attendees?
Tracy: Well, gosh there's a little bit of everything that we did quite frankly. We do push notifications to those that are currently members. We do a weekly newsletter that gives them all the information of what's coming up and how to get involved and what's happening within our conferences. Obviously we had some history with some people and those people will reach out to us. We do all different kinds of marketing. Rachel can you think of other things that we do?
Rachel: We've added a lot obviously in Social Media marketing as well to reach out to people not only that follow us but that also just would also be interested in Admin conferences in general.
Tom: Thanks so much for sharing that with us. Now ladies I want to change topics for a few minutes. Everybody who plans events has a horror story. Something that just totally went wrong and I'm hoping you will share one with us and Tracy maybe we can start with you. Have you ever had something that went horribly wrong. What did you do about it and what did you learn?
Tracy: Oh well, you know as a planner you're always dealing with so many different people and personalities and things.There is always a shoe that's gonna drop. You just have to be expecting that shoe to drop and what I mean by that is just for myself I make sure that I'm completely prepared, organized, and ready for whatever. All the way from evacuation plans to having packets at each of the different locations; registration, our staff office, the Board office, the different places so that everybody knows what the emergency plans are.
So those things you put in place so that you are prepared for that and everybody knows where those things are. There's always, always, always going to be something that comes up. And you just honestly the number one thing that I would tell a planner is “take a deep, smile, and do not panic” because panic takes up more energy and time than just taking a deep breath and believing that it's going to work out.
For instance, we had a situation one year that I got to the ballroom, met the keynote speaker. The keynote speaker was a one-off if you will so it wasn't required for people to be there and it didn't happen to be on our production crew's radar so when I got to the ballroom it was black and we were starting in 30 minutes. So I called the production crew and said “Hey, we have a speaker in 30 minutes, are you gonna be here?” And it was not on their radar whatsoever. But I started with a “Good morning, this is what's happening.” And they were there.
We were about five minutes late starting which was nothing in comparison to what it could have been. But I work with the same people all the time because they are professionals, because they are so good, and they are like myself roll with the punches keep a smile on your face and keep a very positive attitude and it's amazing how everybody wants to help you and work with you when you're upbeat and positive and happy.
Tom: Excellent, now Rachel. Hey, could you share any experiences you might have had that just kind of made you go oh boy?
Rachel: The one that comes to mind and I guess it's not really a horror story but it certainly felt like one at the time. I had been with the association probably a month and half or so and it was our very first tech conference. We used to have a Spring conference and we switched it to a technology focus and one of my speakers showed up. Tracy's laughing already. One of my speakers showed up in like a tank top and jeans and pink hair and our crowd is more on the conservative side and so there was nothing I could do, she was there, she was ready and it turned out great. She was a great speaker, they really loved her. But in that initial thought I thought “this is not gonna go well.”
Tom: So now you both I'm sure attend a lot of different types and styles of events. What is the coolest event that you've ever attended and what made it so special?
Rachel: I'll go first because I have the fortune of just actually getting back from one a couple of weeks ago and some of it is just me geeking out on the education stuff. So forgive me, but the cool thing about the conference that I just got back from is that it employed a lot of the tactics that I want to see in my own conference and so I came away with a lot of really, really great ideas just education wise. Some different ways that they did active learning, some ways that we got to network with each other, some ways that we go to share our experiences and do some shared and social learning was very very cool and very encouraging.
I didn't just go for the education, well I did. But what I took away from it was that I am not the only one in my position and we got to share some of the same issues that we were facing and you feel a sense of solidarity when you have that opportunity to talk to somebody else. Either commiserate with them or hear them say “share your challenge” and they said “I've had something similar let me tell you how I fixed it” and really take away some practical real life learning.
Tom: Tracy were you able to come up with any thoughts on this?
Tracy: Well, I've got to tell you, being in this business for 20 years, I have been to some pretty phenomenal things and honestly the biggest thing that comes to mind is the experiences that I have had. And what I mean by that is walking away with the thought of “Wow, that was the greatest lunch or the greatest education or whatever.” PCMA is famous for trying new things and one of the things a couple of years ago they started doing is changing the look and feel of the normal if you will education room. So we started doing soft comfortable furniture and the interactive learning that they have and the different things that they try it's definitely succeed at their events because there are new ideas.
But it certainty starts generating some thought provoking “how can I make this work for my meetings?” For instance, one year they ended up doing a lunch where there were four corners of the room and there were four different, completely different styles of food. Down home cooking was one of them. Light fare with salads was another one. You know, heavy Italian was another one.
So it was very interesting, the concepts Unfortunately though they had no idea how many people would go to what. So it to be prepared for something like that is a logistical nightmare. It was a great idea. But to try to figure that out, but it gets the juices flowing and I guess it's very similar to what Rachel saying is that those best conferences are the ones that you do connect with people which are very typical of the mealtimes.
I like to sit with people I don't know so that I can get to know them. And I also love the education sessions where the speaker allows you the opportunity to interact with those at your table because I have met some fabulous people and had some incredible discussions and learned a lot and taken away a lot at things like that. So, overall new ideas and experiences. And experiences all the way down from holding something on a roof top overlooking an amazing city to just learning a lot from other people.
But networking is so key to me and networking within the education sessions is very key to me. Because people don't learn the same and when you can mix it up a little bit I think that makes a big big difference and it gives an opportunity for different types of experiences for that attendee.
Tom: Absolutely, love those answers. Now, I'm gonna throw you off base because I'm ask something that you probably aren't expecting. But, what books are you currently reading?
Tracy: Books, am I currently reading?
Tracy: Oh, I don't know how to tell you this. At the end of the day when I am done. I am done. I currently am not reading any books. I've been traveling extensively this year and I turn the mind off if I'm not working and I am not a big reader. I'm sorry to say but I can't tell you that I'm reading a book right now.
Tom: That's okay. Rachel do you have any that you're reading right now?
Rachel: Well, I, again tied back to the conference I just mentioned, we received a book that I can't say that I'm sitting down and pouring over it. But I do reference it a lot and have gone through it called “Make it Stick” and talking abut how to create learning opportunities and create learning spaces for people to actually learn. Because, you know the culture is shifting and that the best learning does not happen when you sit in a chair facing forward absorbing five percent of whatever this speaker is saying and so kind of [inaudible 34:19] Tracy was saying is well those different active learning and social learning experiences to engage all of the senses for people that learn in different ways and honestly that's all of us.
Even leaving a keynote, the thing that comes to mind, people love our keynotes. They are the highlight of the conference for a lot of folks for Summit. But I guarantee you that other than one or two tips, people really don't remember what they say because they're set. They're not actively engaged but when Tracy thinks of a conversation that she's had with a fellow planner that has, you know learned something or when I had conversations at my conference with a fellow education person and those are what you remember more I guess.
Tom: Great great stuff. I appreciate you sharing that. Now if somebody wants to learn more about the IAAP, how do you they do it?
Rachel: Great question! You know the best place to start is probably going to be our website. That is the one stop shop which is “Iaap-hq.org” and that's the best place to go to find out all the information about our education, our events, our CAP, all of our contact information is on there. So you're welcome to either contact myself, contact Tracy, anybody here. Pick up the phone and call us.
Tracy: Yeah oh, we can share our e-mails.
Rachel: Mine is email@example.com
Tracy: And mine is firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom: Tracy, Rachel I do appreciate so much you taking the time to sit down and chat with us today. I learned a lot. I hope our listeners learned a lot. Thank you ladies so very, very much.
Tracy: Thank you.
Rachel: Thanks Tom.