The Challenge Coin: Creative Currency for Associations

By: Cynthia E. Berry, Esq., Managing Director Civil Justice Reform Group (CJRG)

Challenge Coins

One symbol of the bonding and camaraderie among members of the armed forces is the challenge coin – a medallion or coin that bears the insignia, motto, and/or colors that identify a particular unit or group. Traditionally, these coins are given to demonstrate membership and instill pride in those who carry them.

A familiar story about the “first” challenge coin involves an American fighter pilot who was shot down over enemy territory during World War I. He was captured by the Germans but eventually escaped. French soldiers later found him. Believing him to be a German, they planned to execute him on the spot. The American presented the French officer with the challenge coin he had received from his lieutenant prior to deployment. The officer immediately recognized the American unit’s insignia on the coin and spared the pilot’s life.

Today, challenge coins are routinely traded among military personnel. They also are presented to dignitaries as a sign of respect. If you walk into the office of a Member of Congress who serves on the Armed Services Committee or if you are lucky enough to find yourself in the Oval Office, you likely will see an impressive collection of challenge coins.

Borrowing from this time-honored military tradition, local police and firefighter units now design, present, and trade their own challenge coins. Private sector corporations have begun to embrace the custom as a way to reinforce a common purpose and identity and enhance morale among employees. For trade associations, a challenge coin could accomplish the same and more.

  • Why not distribute your unique coin to your members as a “thank you” for their commitment and participation? (It might be more cherished than a lapel pin that may be worn once, if at all, and tossed in a drawer.)
  • Why not use it to issue a membership recruitment challenge to your members? Ask each of them to give a coin to a prospective member as an invitation to join the association. (The gift will make the recipient feel like they have been asked to join a special group.)
  • Why not present the coin to honored guests and speakers at your association conferences as a “welcome” and a token of appreciation? (Chances are they will be thrilled to add the coin to their collection.)

Whether carried in a pocket or purse or displayed on a desk, the coin will be a tangible and constant reminder of your organization and its mission.

You may be thinking that it is too difficult and expensive to create a custom challenge coin. Not so! There are numerous companies that specialize in producing these coins for civilian as well as military use. They have in-house artists who can turn your general concept into a spectacular design at no charge. There is a wide array of options in terms of size, metal finish, edging, enamel colors, and the like. The cost depends on the features and quantity you select, but they are generally more affordable than you might think. You can even purchase a variety of presentation boxes and pouches. I recently used Challenge Coins Ltd. and could not have been more pleased with their design service, options, quality, and speed of production and delivery.

Take the challenge! I think you and your members will be delighted with the result.


Photo courtesy of Challenge Coins Ltd.

Getting Back to Basics with Everybody Writes | Part II: Social Media Advice

By Emily Francis, Association Administrator, Women in Government Relations (WGR)

Social Media

Emily FrancisEveryone needs to get back to basics every once and awhile, and that’s what I did by reading Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes, where Handley explores just about every way you could be marketing your organization, and how to do it with better writing. I was most interested in what Handley had to say about email marketing, but another thing I really wanted some advice on was social media.

Social media: every organization has it, but we don’t always give it the attention it deserves. Handley goes into  depth about the three heavy hitters of social for organizations: Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin. Below are some of the more applicable pieces of advice for an association.

1. “Don’t pitch slap” – This means try not to make everything you write a pitch or a sale. Be aware of the voice your brand has, and don’t overshadow it with adding your organization’s pitch to the end of every tweet. Because you know what kind of voice you have when everything you say is a pitch? Car salesman voice. Stick with your own – I know you’re better than that.

Sarah P. just completed WGR’s leadership training program “Getting to Know Yourself,” and she’s ready to take herself OUT! #loveyourself

Notice I didn’t end that with a “REGISTER HERE (link)”. That’s because you can give your reader a break and just have personality sprinkled in with your promotions.

Note that this advice means you might have to think through your Twitter plan a little more than five minutes before you post. #thinkbeforeyoutweet

2. Use twitter as a content-idea generator. I love this explanation used in the book by author David Meerman Scott: “I use what I call a ‘writing ladder’. If a tweet resonates – it gets a bunch of RTs and @ replies – then I consider it a good blog post fodder. If a blog resonates, I’ll explore it with a riff in a speech and maybe another blog post or two. If a series of posts on the same topic resonates, that’s my next book.”

Basically, let your twitter-verse do the work for you. Write more about what your audience wants to hear! This is also a good thing to remember for the next time it’s Friday at 4pm and you just remembered that you have to schedule all the tweets for next week by the end of the day.

1. Post when your audience is online. Don’t know when your audience is online? Check your Facebook analytics, but also, FRIDAYS: “Facebook users engage with brands more on Fridays than on other days of the week, according to a recent report from Adobe that looked at 260 billion Facebook ad impressions and 226 billion Facebook post impressions from the first quarter of 2014. Some 15.7 percent of all impressions in the quarter occurred on a Friday – the most of any day. Thursday had the second highest share of impressions (14.5 percent), and Sunday had the lowest share (13.4).”

2. Post with pictures for the highest engagement, and use this size, ideally: 800 x 600 pixels.

3. Even though Facebook has a post-character limit of 63,206 characters, please, PLEASE do not use even close to that. Handley advises that limiting posts to 100-140 characters is actually the ideal length. And if you aren’t convinced, read this.

1. This is where you prove you are a thought leader. Our girl Ann says of Linkedin, “If Twitter is where you go to meet people you don’t know and Facebook is where you got to talk with people you do know, then Linkedin is where all of you can meet up to get stuff done.”

Thought leader is a great buzzword, but what does it mean? It means that you are actively sharing relevant content that is helpful and tied back to what your organization is doing or provides to people. Check out what your members are up to and share their news. If you worked so hard on that salary survey white paper, this is where you should be posting it.

2. As far as your organization’s profile goes: “use active language.”

No: Responsible for conducting program evaluations
Instead: Increased program retention rate by 30% over 2 years

In addition to using the active voice in both of these sentences (as opposed to the passive voice), the difference is also that the generic “responsible for VERB” was traded out for definitive proof. With numbers. Maybe stats isn’t your forte, but for these little bullet points, they are worth it. You want as much of your impact to come across as possible in the fewest words. Numbers help with that. Dig out your annual report if you have to.

All Handley’s tips on social come down to this: social may be easy to consume, but it’s not easy to produce. It takes just as much planning as email marketing, or any other type of marketing campaign. But it’s all worth it when your members are engaging with your content, sharing and creating new ideas!


CLICK HERE | Read Part I

Image: Unsplash / William Iven

Think Check-Ins, Not Performance Reviews

By Laura Ransone, Director of Membership & Events, Women in Government Relations, AMG Associate

 Laura RansoneSay goodbye to formal annual performance evaluations and hello to more informal and regular check-ins. Why the move to more fluid feedback benefits not only managers and employees but also associations.

Have you heard? Annual performance reviews are dead.

But don’t fear! Their replacement comes as a breath of fresh air to all generations in the workforce—not just young professionals.

On September 4, 1998, Google was born and revolutionized the way people access information and do business. Today’s young professionals grew up in an age where they could ask, “What does Google say?” and they could have an answer in seconds. So, it should come as no surprise that the expectation to obtain instant answers is applied to many aspects of life, including performance evaluations.

Organizations are already moving toward a more fluid form of feedback. Timeframes range from quarterly, monthly, weekly, or at-large project checkpoints. The stiff corporate title “performance appraisal” has gone by the wayside and been replaced with the modern term “check-in”.

Check-ins are quick and informal, providing employees the opportunity to constantly get feedback and grow. They provide managers the ability to serve as coaches instead of managers, building a deeper connection. I find weekly coaching to be both helpful when I’m being managed and when I’m managing. A quick check-in on the status of a membership recruitment project has redirected my efforts and saved me hours of unnecessary work. It has also allowed me to grow in my position at a faster rate and helped the organization as a whole.

Last year Harvard Business Review highlighted Deloitte’s efforts to adopt a check-in format, which involved asking team leaders to hold weekly check-ins with employees. The company found that if you want employees to do their best work “in the near future,” they need to know what that entails and if they are on the right path. Most importantly, Deloitte found “a direct and measurable correlation between the frequency of these conversations and the engagement of team members.”

In addition, the Society for Human Resource Management offered up some other options for organizations to modernize their performance-appraisal processes. SHRM’s guidelines advise employers to provide examples of positive and negative behaviors, focusing on strengths more than weaknesses, and centering on the things an employee can work to change. Many organizations are no longer using a rating system, which has proven to be rigid and inaccurate depending on who is filling it out.

Associations are fast-moving vehicles. We don’t have time to slam on the breaks midway through the race to check all the systems in a lengthy review. Quick check-ins are important to make sure projects are on the right track and employees on pace. And while you may think you don’t have time to constantly check-in with employees, in the long run, this new process will be more productive and will take less time. After all, most managers meet with their staff at least once a week to cover updates on projects and tasks.

By incorporating check-ins into these meetings and giving feedback in emails when projects and tasks are completed, you can provide your employees with micro-corrections and the ability to grow at a faster and more efficient pace. Employees on their toes means engagement. A few small changes in your workplace can shift the culture to productive and on-task, creating greater employee retention and overall happiness.


This blog post originally appeared on Associations Now October 4, 2016.

The Benefits of Face to Face Meetings

By Kent Hamaker, Director of Education, Communications, and Benchmarking, Association for Healthcare Foodservice (AHF)


Kent HamakerAssociation staffers do most of their work with clients via long distance methods: conference calls, emails, texts, and websites like Basecamp. These technological wonders are necessities, of course, and make possible the work we are hired to do. But amidst the overwhelming chaos of the information we have to manage we too easily forget the benefits and importance of meeting our clients face to face.

The value of meeting face to face was highlighted for me when I first traveled to a local chapter’s education event. The simple act of smiling and shaking hands with those I had been speaking with on the phone and emailing for months previous was like a homecoming of sorts. There was a feeling of solidarity and mutual support for the journey we were taking together. Since that first visit, I have tried to take every opportunity available to meet with our clients face to face, as the value has proved to be worth the cost and effort. Here are some of the advantages of face to face as opposed to long distance communication:

Face to face interaction gives you the ability to build client relationships. It helps to build camaraderie, credibility, and trust. It helps to generate a collaborative environment and generates a positive emotional environment. In a survey by Forbes that spoke to 760 business executives, 84% preferred face to face communication. Out of those, 85% said their reason was that it builds stronger, more meaningful business relationships. Respondents of the survey also said face to face meetings are best for persuasion (91%), leadership (87%), and engagement (86%).

Body Language
James Borg, author of “Body Language: How to Know What’s REALLY Being Said,” says that human communication consists of 93% body language and paralinguistic cues, while only 7% consists of words. Just like action, body language speaks much louder than words; you can gain a better understanding of how a client is feeling than through your regular means of communication.

We’ve all had the experience of misunderstanding or being misunderstood or misread on an email or online discussion. In-person meetings give us an opportunity to revisit and realign those misunderstandings while laying the groundwork for avoiding or constructively approaching future misconceptions.

For just about all of us, budgets are tight, but traveling to meet your client face to face shows them that they are worth the effort in attempting to provide exceptional service. Crowne Plaza Hotels and Resorts surveyed more than 2,000 men and women in the UK, US, United Arab Emirates, China, and India to dig into how the business world perceives face-to-face meetings, and the findings are positive for all meeting professionals. Here’s a look at two key takeaways:

  • • 81 percent of business professionals believe face-to-face meetings are better for building long-term trust and ensuring strong client relationships.
  • • 47 percent believe they have lost a contract or client because they didn’t make enough in-person time to develop their relationships.

My advice is to make an effort to meet with your associations’ clients face to face. You’ll have each other’s full attention and both sides are guaranteed to be heard and understood more fully. This may mean thoughtfully adjusting your budget to put funds aside for appropriate travel expenses. When doing this, try to remember that even one meeting is better than none, and the return on investment in building trust results in higher morale, productivity, and deeper relationships.


David; “Advantages and Disadvantages of Face to Face Communication;” April 15, 2013
David McMillin; “See Why Face to Face is More Important than Ever Before;” November 18, 2013;

Association Reserves: Key Policy Components

By Denise Turner, Vice President Finance/Operations


Every association leader should periodically consider their organization’s reserves.

Denise Turner

Association financial policies are very similar to your own personal financial policies. Tracking expenditures and income; carefully monitoring the flow in both directions and, hopefully, putting aside funds for a rainy day is important. But, unlike your personal finances (unless you are fortunate enough to employ a team of accountants), AMG’s client-associations benefit from our experienced finance department to stay on top of their revenue and expenditure items. Our finance team, along with each organization’s client leader and board, manage the budget and collaborate on generating ideas to prudently expend association resources on behalf of their members and other stakeholders.

Just like your own, part of an effective non-profit financial strategy includes savings. Association leaders are stewards of the organization’s coffers and are responsible for ensuring that resources are used well. Part of that responsibility must consist of a clearly written reserve policy which will help keep the financial position of the organization healthy. An approved, and regularly reviewed reserves policy not only allows the association’s leaders, board and staff to have clear understandings and directives, but it can also help prevent potential conflicts that may arise over revenue allocation.

There is no specific policy that applies to all nonprofits, but there are some definite components that any boards writing a reserve policy would want to make sure are included.

Here are a few of those components:

  1. Define your reserves. Nonprofits define reserves differently. For example, one association may define reserves as “a discrete subset of its liquid net assets.” Another might define its reserves as unrestricted cash investments; in other words, those funds that aren’t earmarked for any other purpose.
  2. Determine the purpose of your reserves. The purpose of a reserve policy is to elaborate on the definition and give specific goals. A typical policy may include the following:
    1. To provide sufficient assets to help carry out the mission of the association
    2. To provide funds for unforeseen contingencies due to unpredictable economic turns in the association’s financial status
    3. To cushion the association during dips in the cyclical variation of its circumstances
    4. To fund strategic initiatives
  3. -Calculate your reserve fund target. Most nonprofit financial advisors will suggest  that this not a one-size-fits all approach. Industry research says only 23 percent of nonprofits have more than six months of needed cash in reserve. The majority had less than three months in reserve, and 12 percent had less than 30 days, it is important to base your reserve fund target off some association-specific metrics, including a long-term financial forecast and an analysis of potential risks.
  4. -Create criteria for achievement and allocation. Once you’ve calculated your target amount of reserves, you’ll want to determine how it can best be achieved. One way is a commitment to annual reserves, another would be to budget specific net revenue over expense each year. Then determine how the reserve fund can be allocated toward specific projects and or strategic investments on behalf of members.

By creating a policy with these components and getting it approved by the board, everyone benefits and should future conflict arise, the policy can be referred to by current officers.

Getting Back to Basics with Everybody Writes | Part I

By Emily Francis, Association Administrator, Women in Government Relations (WGR)

Everybody Writes

Emily Francis

Most in the association world have sent tens of hundreds of emails to their membership—after you get the hang of writing so many emails, especially if you send them daily, it can be hard to break out of the ordinary and the usual.

I picked up Everybody Writes, by marketing guru Ann Handley, to freshen up my writing habits and make sure I was looking at everything I send out to membership with beginner’s eyes. I found what I was looking for in Everybody Writes, as Handley delivers a very easy read and a go-to guide for anyone looking to refresh their writing, editing, organization or social media game. She makes sure to touch on the basics of each aspect of writing to provide a well-rounded blueprint for any experience level.

As I was reading, I found that most of what she discusses in Parts 1-4 of the book (Tips on how to hate writing less, grammar/usage, story rules and publishing rules) isn’t new or surprising information—but it’s exactly the kind of back-to-basics invigoration everyone should put themselves through to keep their writing new.

Part V is where things really start to get good: 13 Things Marketers Write. This section goes through every possible medium in which you might be marketing to your clients/members, and hits everything from emails and significant social media platforms to blogs and website home pages.

Here are some of my favorite and most applicable tips and rules to abide by in the Emails chapter:

  • Keep email subject lines ASAP (as short as possible). Our members and clients are sifting through sometimes hundreds of emails a day, and they make snap decisions on which to keep and which to trash. As Handley kept reiterating throughout her book, “with any content, brevity rules.” (Image source: Retention Science)

Subject Line Length Open Rates

  • Communicate with a human voice. Handley advises that using you and your repeatedly makes an email clear that it’s not about your organization, it’s about how your org can help them. Focus relentlessly on how you can benefit the people in your audience by making the content feel as if it comes from an actual person speaking to them.
  • Context. Making sure that your emails are timely is what can make or break your open rates. You worked hard on the links that are in those emails, you want people to click them! Get it done by sending your emails early in the day, before inboxes are brimming, and get creative with the timing. For example, what can you offer your members in the DMV now that there is a new administration moving in?

The tips seem simple, but we can always use fewer words, or strategize our email campaigns better by thinking through what your membership or consumer base really needs to know. It’s worth setting aside the time and going through the analytics analysis.

Stay tuned for more tips from Ann Handley and Everybody Writes!

Important Announcement: Interel and AMG Join Forces

Press Release  |  FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE  |  Brussels, Washington DC  |  February 7th, 2017

Interel, the global public affairs consultancy, today announced that Washington DC based firm AMG, has joined its Group. Together both companies will generate  €25 million (EUR) ($27 million (USD)) in annual revenues and employ more than 200 consultants, staff and advisors.

Adding to its own offices and partner firms in over 60 countries, Interel will now benefit from a strong foothold in the United States as AMG’s infrastructure and 90 strong staff provide an instantly scalable growth platform which delivers the following capabilities:

  • Strategic association management, meetings and government affairs services, focused on growth and achievement
  • Sophisticated work with global corporate brands focused on business activation and engagement of target audiences.

Fredrik Lofthagen, Group CEO of Interel and J. Bruce Wardle, CAE, CEO of AMG

Commenting on the acquisition, Fredrik Lofthagen, Group CEO of Interel said: “We already work with a number of the world’s leading associations and societies as well as many of the world’s best known corporate brands but the acquisition of AMG is a further significant step in the successful expansion of Interel as a global player. Besides our historic European basis, AMG gives us a strong presence in the USA, the most advanced and innovative market in our industry.”

“Joining forces with Interel is more than just a geographic or business expansion, it represents a blending of aligned cultures and shared outlooks on the global market”, said AMG’s CEO, J. Bruce Wardle, CAE. “It will be exciting to see the affirmative impact this union will have on our clients and professionals, both presently and in the future. I’m also looking forward to continuing in my role as CEO of AMG to ensure the continuity of services and solutions for those we serve.”

AMG’s clients will feel an immediate impact in the advocacy and government affairs space through Interel’s unsurpassed global network and expertise in strategically engaging government stakeholders.

Interel and AMG will continue to operate under their respective brand names and without any changes in current management for the foreseeable future.

Video Resource: Interel’s and AMG’s CEOs Discuss Joining Forces

About Interel
Interel, founded in Brussels in 1983, is a leading global public affairs and association management consultancy, with own offices and affiliates covering more than 60 markets around the world. We help clients to understand and navigate the political environment and to develop engagement strategies which achieve measurable results. We also provide management solutions to help clients navigate their internal challenges, realise success with their broader mission, connect with stakeholders, raise profile and increase impact. Our award winning team of public affairs and association management experts combine in depth knowledge of the issues in their market with the strategic and tactical skills to deliver impact. To find out more, please visit

About AMG
Association Management Group (AMG), which is dedicated exclusively to staffing and managing nonprofits of all types, provides unsurpassed management expertise to empower organizations to meet their objectives and achieve success. With offices in Tysons Corner and on Capitol Hill, AMG is the leading Washington, DC-based AMC. To find out more, please visit

About AMC accreditation
Interel and AMG are both accredited by the Association Management Company Institute (AMCI) ( This prestigious accreditation indicates highest-quality management practices and procedures, as well as optimal delivery of services to clients.


For press inquiries contact:

Interel: Baudouin Velge
Managing Partner
T: +32 (0)475 30 12 11

Interel: Jason Jarrell
Partner, U.S. and Head of Global Practice
T: +1 202.352.7911

AMG: Chad Quinn
Communications Director
T: +1 703.610.9000

A Print Renaissance: Electronic vs. Print Marketing in 2017

By Teresa Gutsick,Creative Director, Association Management Group (AMG)

Teresa Gutsick

Teresa Gutsick

Remember when email was special?

For those of you whose birth announcements arrived in email, you probably don’t remember the heady days to which I am referring. Let me take you back…

Once upon a time there was real excitement surrounding email. It was quick and cheap, and a great way to drive a marketing message directly to your audience. You could promote your organization’s membership, their next event or annual conference with real style. And email allowed you to squeeze much more out of your marketing budget. This was refreshing considering that printed marketing materials— the old standard— were expensive to produce and mail. Then there was the concern that people received too much printed material (better known as junk mail), and so this could result in your big budget brochure getting lost on their desk, or possibly even trashed, before its beautiful, glossy covers were even opened. [gasp]

Wait. Does this sound familiar? “Trashed before it was even opened.” Yes, we’ve come full circle. Today, we worry obsessively about open rates for our email marketing. And we are not merely guessing that our clever marketing email has been trashed and not opened—thanks to email analytics, we know it has been trashed and not opened.

In a world where we are being bombarded by electronic communication from all sides, print has suddenly become a rather special medium for marketing. I believe this is because it exists in our physical world and not in an increasingly saturated digital landscape. Print can feel like something that has been crafted specifically for us.

The print world has been evolving and now offers many custom options that were previously cost prohibitive for small budgets. These include:

  • Soft Touch Aqueous Coating – This coating, which creates a velvety texture to the printed sheet, can be applied inline on the printing press and is an inexpensive alternative to a soft touch paper stock. Soft Touch® coating is applied in-line as a part of the printing process and assists with a quick drying time. This coating also protects the sheet from scuff marks during finishing operations like binding, folding, or cutting. It is an eco-friendly option.
  • Die-cuts and Other Specialty Finishing Options – Die-cuts are custom trims for brochures, like rounded corners, windows and pockets. Die-cuts and other special finishing options can make a piece unique, but can impact mailability, so check with your mailing services provider if mailing as a self-mailer. Other specialty finishing options include embossing and foil stamping. These methods are an additional step in the production process, requiring additional time and cost for production.
  • Variable Data – Today’s digital presses can customize much more than just names for your printed piece. Whole sections of content and imagery can be customized for different audiences. With variable data (on demand) digital printing, you control versionable, individualized text and graphics that can be targeted to customer and prospect interests.

A print piece takes more prominence than another email in your inbox because it takes up space on the desk that you sit your coffee on and can’t get caught in your IT department’s spam filter. It is time to give print another try. Craft a special marketing experience for your stakeholders with print.


Thank you to Ilene Lerner, AMG’s account representative at HBP, Inc., for her contributions to this blog.

S.U.P. (Short. Uncomplicated. Pleasing.)

Keep your message short. Keep your language uncomplicated. Keep your presentations pleasing to the eye.

By Chad Quinn, Social Media and Communications Director, Association Management Group (AMG)

Chad Quinn

Chad Quinn

My 9-year-old nephew often sends me a simple text message… “sup” – no punctuation and no extra words. While short, the intent is clear. He’s checking-in, saying “hi” and seeing if I am around to respond.

This simple word… well, almost a word – in this usage it is more slang; “sup” is actually a word that means to “take (drink or liquid food) by sips or spoonfuls” – who knew?… Back on track; this simple word illustrates a key message in communication. Attention spans are short. We live in a world where you could easily reveal your age by how you use caps and punctuation in text messages. A world where many people get their “news” from sound-bites tweeted, or retweeted, in 140 character intervals. A world where our attention spans are – on average, less than eight seconds – less than a goldfish’s. (This is where I should be inserting the grimace face emoji.)

So, how does this shortened attention span relate to your marketing initiatives?

A good rule of thumb to remember, inspired by my nephew, is: S.U.P. Short. Uncomplicated. Pleasing.

Keep your message short. Keep your language uncomplicated. Keep your presentation pleasing to the eye.

Of course there are other ways that this same concept is stated, such as K.I.S.S… Keep It Simple Stupid. But, again being inspired by my nephew… “you shouldn’t say ‘stupid’, Uncle Chad.” Not to mention, my new version is shorter. So… there. Shorter is better. (wink emoji)

Keep your message short. Don’t throw everything at your reader. For instance, if you are highlighting your upcoming conference, there is very likely a lot you could include in an email blast to your members. There is the impulse to throw the whole shebang at your audience; for instance: all the speakers and all of the special events. But, this is overkill. Keep it simple. Highlight one speaker and one event at the most, then drive people to your website for more information – that’s why you built it. Use it. (Not to mention it helps drive traffic and analytics!)

Your website is where you can include all of the details packaged in neat and easy-to-read tabs (especially if the website is responsive and optimized for mobile devices). Keep in mind, most people will view your email on their smartphone or tablet, which means if you have too much text, too many details… too many graphics… they will be scrolling. A lot. And lots of scrolling is lots of “work” and that will lead to a higher likelihood of the reader losing interest.

Putting too much into an email is the equivalent of reverse-FOMO (fear of missing out). You’re scared your audience isn’t going to get all of the information you think they need. In reality, your message is a tease… view it as a way to draw people in. Like a movie preview; show them a glimpse and make them want more.

Keep your language uncomplicated. Write the way people speak; simple short sentences. It goes without saying, don’t string a bunch of big words together just to seem high-brow, smart or clever. Marketing messaging is not academic writing. Unusual words or uncommon language requires the reader to think. Avoid stopping the flow at all cost. Write, then read your text out loud. Does it flow? Ideally, ask a couple of colleagues to read the message; ask them to read it out loud. Ask them for honest feedback. Is the message clear? Does it flow? Is it enticing the reader to seek more information (on the website) or take another action (like registering for the conference!)?

Keep your presentations pleasing to the eye. Just like with text, less is more when it comes to graphics. Allow the message to breathe – allow for “white space.” When I worked in advertising, one of the biggest struggles was getting clients to understand that they didn’t have to fill every nook and cranny of an ad. Some felt like, “I’m paying for that space, we need to fill it with as much information as possible… if there’s empty space, add something!” (facepalm emoji)

In reality, you want your ads, emails, brochures, flyers, posters, etc. to feel light and airy. Too much text, too many graphic elements and too much information is sensory overload. The reader won’t know where to look. They won’t know what the important message is or what action you want them to take (and, neither will you).

So… follow SUP. You’re building connections with your audience – your members, vendors, sponsors, etc. Communicate the way they do. Work to build their trust and make them want to open your emails… even look forward to them… because they are short, uncomplicated and pleasing… like the best of relationships. Well, maybe I should rethink that short part as it relates to relationships – relationships should be long… emails should be short. (shock emoji)

XDP: A Highly Collaborative Learning Experience

By Hunter Clemens, CAE, CMP, Vice President Meetings Management Group (MMG)

Hunter Clemens

Imagine being greeted at every turn along the way as you enter the venue hosting an event you are attending and being met with your badge, and then escorted to the coat check, and then to the room in which your meeting is being held. That is exactly what happened when I had the privilege to attend the American Society of Association Executive’s (ASAE) pilot of the Xperience Design Project, or XDP, this past December. This was a much smaller setting than the larger experience being designed for this coming May. Once we entered the main session room there was an immediate sense of energy unlike any event I’ve recently attended. Granted, we were a group of professionals that, for the most part, know one another, but it was the sounds, the smells and the lighting/atmosphere that enhanced the beginning of this event experience. I have written in the past that meeting professionals no longer just plan events; they now design experiences. The XDP was truly a well designed experience.

The main session room was set with a central stage in the round with round tables of eight set around the room. I was escorted to my pre-assigned table (based upon my interests in the topics being discussed from a pre-event survey) and introduced to my tablemates. There were danish and croissants in the center of the table on a lazy-susan with additional food and beverage stations set around the perimeter of the room. As I greeted industry friends along the way, I quickly grabbed a cup of coffee and a healthy breakfast and headed back to my table.

The room or “Lab” was divided into the following areas or “zones”: 1) Marketing & Technology, 2) Experience Design & Event Innovation and 3) Content Strategy & Learning Design. Each zone had a subject matter expert to speak on their topic. There were two tables per zone and each table was assigned a facilitator who served as an ambassador and stayed with us throughout this part of the day. Throughout this portion of the program, each set of tables moved to a different zone where we met with an industry expert. While the industry expert discussed their topic, the facilitator helped keep the conversation on track and made certain that each person was given an opportunity to participate (respecting that some were introverts) in the topic being discussed.

The conversations were lively and we quickly realized that there was a great deal to learn from one another. In some instances, we were given scenarios and/or problems to solve.  At a mid-point in each discussion, two members from each table in a topic area would swap tables. This allowed for a cross-pollination of ideas between the tables. The industry expert would then get a report from each table and summarize our learnings on the topic.

The food selected and served throughout the morning and early afternoon of the learning sessions was healthy, energizing and served in smaller portions with the intent to help avoid the after-lunch slump. The focus was on five small meals throughout the day rather than two large meals.

After all groups had the opportunity to learn in each topic area, the industry experts participated in a “lightening round and close-out” where each gave a recap of what was learned from all of the participants.

After a 30 minute break we went into the business exchange for pre-scheduled appointments and/or brief “accelerator labs”. The appointments were highly productive and the accelerator labs were an opportunity to shake up your thinking about events through the lens of the corporate world.

Next we moved into the “Surprise and Delight Experience” where the participants were divided into two groups. One group was tasked with creating a scent for XDP while the other group met to design a signature cocktail for XDP. Within those two sessions several teams in each group competed to create and market their scent or cocktail. The electricity and creativity were truly flowing in these two sessions as co-creation took place.

Finally the event culminated with a closeout that announced the winning scent and cocktail and summarized key learnings and take-aways from the participants. And, to top it all off, the experience ended on a musical note with a co-created XDP song that the audience learned and sang along to with Jonathan Mann, the song’s creator. As I walked away from the event, I realized that I had just participated in a highly collaborative learning experience that left me feeling like I could not wait until May 23 – 24, 2017 for the first full Xperience Design Project. See you there!