Last night I attended Ignite Raleigh. It’s been described as a technology variety show but that description doesn’t do it justice. Here’s how it works.

Lisa Creech Bledsoe aka twitter/glowbirdThere were 19 speakers. Each one gets five minutes and 20 slides. The slides automatically change every 15 seconds. They can speak about anything they want. They are chosen by the community. We voted for the speakers and topics we wanted to hear. Once we registered on the show’s web site, we received ten votes. We could give all ten votes to one speaker, or spread them out any way we chose. And if we changed our mind, we could take our vote back. The community chose 15 of the speakers and the organizers invited four speakers.

It’s a fast-moving show hosted by an emcee who kept it lively. At the end of five minutes, you are rickrolled off the stage. Some of last night’s topics:

  • A Day in the Life of a Meteorologist
  • NerdGirls Unite! Fact: Women Don’t Have to Be Lame
  • How to Save $100 with a DIY Home Energy Audit
  • 20 Little Know Facts About Sex & Pleasure
  • What Happens to Your Digital Identity After You Die
  • 13 Reasons Women Should Take Up Boxing
  • Everyone Needs a Dumb Guy
  • Mayberry Modernism: Why the Triangle is America’s Hotspot for Way Cool Houses
  • Ignite Night of the Living Dead
  • Why My Cat Can Get a Job Before You

Ryan Boyle aka twitter/therabAs you can see, it’s not a tech geek night, unless you call PowerPoint techy. It was fun and educational. It brought together about 500-600 people for a free night of entertainment.

Why would an association want to do this at a conference?

  • It’s a low cost (or free) night of entertainment for attendees where they can hang out and have fun with others.
  • We get to see another side of fellow members.
  • We also get to see members in the spotlight that might not normally get that exposure, a new set of faces.
  • It will be talked about. Believe me, this type of event gets lots of buzz – tweets, Facebook posts and lots of blog posts, lots.
  • It’s a great way to experiment with crowd-sourcing.
  • You can offer something to those members (perhaps younger, perhaps easily bored) who aren’t interested in your usual evening fare.

emcee Zach Ward aka twitter/zachwardWhat does it take?

  • Organizers – Ignite Raleigh was organized by the three man team of OurHashtag with the help of a volunteer coordinator.
  • A large room with a stage, screen and two mics (one for the emcee, one handheld mic for the speaker). The venue last night had some bridge chair seating in the front and in the balcony, but most of it was standing room only.
  • Voting tool – Ignite uses Uservoice on their web site.
  • Registration tool like Eventbrite – Ignite Raleigh was free and they closed registration when they reached the room’s capacity plus an additional no-show allowance.
  • Technical help to run the automated Powerpoint, sound, lights, video camera, livestream (optional) and photography.
  • Volunteers to check folks in, do crowd control and assistance, act as runners and shuffle speakers on and off stage.
  • An entertaining emcee – red tutu not required.
  • Sponsors to cover expenses – Ignite Raleigh ran short videos at the beginning of the night and at intermission and gave them lots of stage/on site love but not the microphone.
  • Brave speakers.
  • Cash bar for the audience.
  • Marketing in conference materials and through social media.

Instead of going to an association awards dinner, I would much rather attend an Ignite-like evening, and I’m a Boomer/Gen Xer (Generation Jones), imagine what your young members would prefer. This is a great alternative to your regular evening programming for those who frankly aren’t interested in what you’re offering, or can’t afford it.

UPDATE: After posting this I learned from Shelly Alcorn that the California Society of Association Executives will be doing an Ignite night at their annual conference. Can’t wait to hear how it goes!

In how many hours? Yes, 46 hours, according to my calculations. Sounds impossible? It can be done. As a matter of fact, it happened this week after the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) had to cancel its annual Technology Conference.

The conference was to start on Wednesday with exhibitor move-in and pre-conference workshops, but DC was still under nearly two feet of snow from the weekend’s storm and was due to get one foot more in blizzard conditions on Wednesday. Airlines were already canceling flights. Some attendees and exhibitors got to town on Tuesday before everything shut down but many were still stuck at home. Even many of those based in DC were still snowbound due to impassable roads and no Metro or train service above ground.

On Tuesday morning ASAE announced via Twitter that it would make a decision by 3:00 p.m. as to whether the conference would be canceled. That’s when the member community started working on Plan B. Later ASAE announced their decision to cancel, the right thing to do considering the conditions. Immediately after, Maddie Grant and Lindy Dreyer of Socialfish blogged about UnTech10, Plan B, an unconference that a team of members had quickly started organizing.

On Thursday, 75 attended UnTech10 in person and 425 attended virtually via a live stream (live webcast) of the programming. I didn’t have the time or budget to go to ASAE’s Technology Conference, but now I was able to “attend” UnTech10 for several hours on Thursday. It was an intellectually stimulating afternoon, time well spent. On Friday, although there wasn’t an on-site component, a full day of webinars was scheduled for the virtual audience.

What do you need to pull off something like this? Here’s what I learned from Maddie and Lindy’s post about organizing it.

You need word of mouth (or mouse) marketing. Most of the marketing for UnTech10 was done via Twitter. A hashtag for the conference was created (#UnTech10) so members could follow that stream of tweets to keep updated. Keep your tweets short enough so that others can retweet them. Vendors also notified clients via email.

Create a Facebook fan page. Although UnTech10 didn’t do this, I saw several references to UnTech10 in my Facebook News Feed as friends shared the original Socialfish blog post.

Create a buzz-worthy email and ask your members to forward it to those they know in the industry or profession. Give clear instructions on how to register and compelling reasons on why they will want to participate. Don’t scare them off by using only technical lingo. This is user-friendly technology, like watching TV!

Contact affiliated or friendly organizations for help in spreading the word. Provide copy and links that they can use to share the news. If you create a sense of buzz and excitement about something, it will go viral if you make it easy for others to help you.

Create a central hub for handouts, schedule, instructions on how to participate and an archive of webcast segments. Content experts were asked to submit program ideas to a wiki. The organizers created a full day of on-site programming (that was live streamed) for Thursday and a full day of webinars for Friday.

Most importantly, you need a community – good relationships with vendors who can help you pull it all together – vendors that will contribute staff to work with you and free services and/or funding for other expenses. This organizing team will take charge and make it happen. According to Maddie, each company on the UnTech10 team had an area to oversee:

You can do this. You can do this if your event is threatened by weather or other unforeseen circumstances. You can certainly do this if you have more time than the UnTech10 team had. They were able to pull it off because they had relationships based on existing trust. Trust that everyone would work together and do their best for the right reasons. The team stepped up and made something excellent out of an unfortunate situation and provided a meaningful experience for our community — an experience that many of us would not have had otherwise.  Because of the generosity and hard work of my fellow members, now I had a chance to grab several hours of education and online networking with other members. This is what a real community does. Does your association have that kind of community?

We had a lively #assnchat on Twitter yesterday about trade show booth giveaways. I volunteered to write a summary, not realizing it would turn into the longest blog post ever. However, there’s lots of good information here from tweets and suggestions I received from Facebook and Twitter friends.

If this post isn’t enough and you want help choosing the best promotional product for your next trade show, check out Heidi Thorne’s book, SWAG: How to Choose and Use Promotional Products for Marketing Your Business.

Many of us agree on what we like to take home from a trade show. Shelly Alcorn raised an important consideration:  “What about sustainability? Can we give out cool things without just creating more junk?” Jeff Hurt recommended “contacting PPAI, the association for promotional products professionals, for green sustainable and unusual ideas.” Some of the greener ideas mentioned were:

  • Seed packets, but not for expos overseas. We like handmade paper seed packets or coasters that bloom into flowers when buried. Joe Flowers mentioned seeds that grow into “a plant with a one-word slogan on them. Very cool and geeky!”
  • Bamboo cutting boards with the exhibitor’s logo etched in — very nice.
  • Reusable shopping bags – one of the group’s favorites. They give the vendor a branding opportunity and fit the green requirement.

Vendors wants to get their brand out there, but we want good design. This is a chance to associate your brand with utility and style. We don’t want an ugly logo coffee mug, but we will take a nicely designed one, perhaps with a discreet logo on the bottom.

Dan Scheeler likes “how #tech10 posted booth giveaways in advance. I admit that will influence which vendors I visit.” 

Here’s what else we like in the food/beverage department:

  • Nalgene-type water bottles
  • Chip bag clips
  • A buddy from my old job at CBIA suggested cork screws or bottle openers, like the kind you can keep on a keychain. Surprisingly no one during the chat made that suggestion. Makes me wonder if those from the housing industry have a stronger need for this type of swag.
  • Neoprene lunch bags
  • Wine cooler bags
  • Insulated travel coffee mugs
  • Nice-looking coffee mugs
  • Drinks, wine or beer get our attention, especially when combined with comfy seating, or bottles of wine with custom labels. Speakers like them too.
  • Mints, power bars, bottled water and good candy help us get through long days at the show.

If swag can double as a gift for kids, it makes it home — rubber duckies, stuffed animals, even caricatures. Parents like the thoughtfulness of handy souvenirs.

Personal items we like:

  • Lip balm
  • Hand sanitizer in little bottles
  • Eyeglass cleaning cloths
  • For a boomer audience, magnifier eyeglasses to read show floor maps with really tiny print
  • Attractive or cool lanyards to reuse at other shows and conferences
  • One of our trade show sponsors provided lanyards with a business card holder attached. We gave them out in our Newcomers Lounge to first-timers. The buzz about them spread on the floor and thousands of folks stopped by to get one. They didn’t have a year on them, just the show name, so we used them for several years.
  • Headshots — useful for social media profiles
  • Magnetic picture frames
  • Digital photos with friends, adding a frame is even better
  • Retractable headphone/earbuds
  • Golf tees and ball
  • Keychain flashlights
  • Brightly colored luggage tags — however, luggage handle wraps got a thumbs-down. Sandra Giarde saw some particularly ugly ones that said, “I’m going to the (name removed to protect the stupid) Show!” Hmm, do you really want to announce you’re here for a convention and a likely mark for price-gouging and god knows what else?
  • Small travel mouse with retractable cord
  • iPod wraps
  • Sturdy messenger or gym bags without any tacky branding
  • Drawstring backpacks

Pens get mixed reviews. Pens with a thumb drive are okay. Dave Coriale said these bobblehead pens are big movers at his booth. A friend gives out the same logoed pens at his booth, and likes them because they double as gifts for kids. Elizabeth Derrico sent me a photo of robot pens she found today at their conference – kids (and some adults) would love those. Shelly summed up the pen issue, “Nobody wants a pen with your company name on it – I mean NOBODY.” Some people can never have enough pens but if you’re doing pens, try to make them cool.

Thumbdrives are popular with some, but others say they already have too many. Ones that stand out are those shaped like the association logo, or “with fun, informative content on it – not just a white paper or sales docs.”

Other popular office items are:

  • Post-its
  • Tape measure or ruler
  • Notepads
  • Highlighters

“The dreaded stress balls” – some like them, many don’t. I think they’re wasteful and will still be around in 2199 when we’re all in the matrix.

T-shirts get mixed reviews. Ray van Hilst said, “Lame t-shirts are bad. Funny or cool ones generate word of mouth.” Other t-shirt advice:

  • Have a mix of sizes so they actually fit attendees and don’t get relegated to the rag pile
  • Keep logos to a minimum. We don’t want to be your walking advertisements.
  • If you make it funny, we might wear it.
  • Matt Baehr suggested “using the model on a booth giveaway t-shirt. Have members/clients submit designs. Generate word of mouth that way.”

One of my favorite swag gifts ever was a fleece top from a conference host – best to save that for your VIP clients and prospects.

Matt Baehr’s old association gave out “posters of art masterpieces that were redone to incorporate modern AV (think Whistler’s mother with an iPad). Those posters are still talked about and are in many members’ lobbies.” They used to sell them but after a few years started giving the remaining inventory away. How cool is that?

Ray reminded us that sometimes “an experience counts as a giveaway too. Chair massages get people to stop and relax,” or hand “facials.” At ASAE’s Annual Meetings, the St. Louis Build a Bear booth is always a huge hit, combining an experience with a giveaway. An experience/giveaway also happens at CalSAE’s Seasonal Spectacular every December. Marriott takes orders on site for personalized clay Christmas tree ornaments. It’s wildly popular and their booth is always crowded with attendees watching their ornament being made.

Peter Romeo told me about a conference that gave attendees Express Mail postage to ship their conference binders home. It was a sponsored perk.

Experiences, rather than giveaways, might be a more sustainable option too. Toni Rae Brotons told us about vendors at their show who did a ring toss game. The association donated money to a charity based on where the ring landed.

Helen Mosher gave us a heads-up that her colleague Maryann Lawlor was tweeting about swag from their conference. At one booth if you guessed the correct number of M&Ms in a jar, you could win a Snoopy lunchbox. In another you won prizes playing Wheel of Fortune. I’ve seen this at a restaurant in Sacramento – you spin the wheel on your birthday and have a chance at gift cards (best prize) or a bag of rice (worst but practical).


What kind of swag do you like taking home from trade shows? What do you actually use? On the contrary, what do you think is a big waste of money and resources?

If your company plans to send pre-show and post-show emails to conference or trade show attendees, don’t make the mistakes that most exhibitors do. Read these two posts to learn how to send emails that association executives will value:

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(This post includes an Amazon affiliate link. I receive a small commission if you click on the link and purchase the product.)

A Twitter friend of mine, Jeff Bailey, something of a presentation guru himself, told me about a two-day speaking class, Powerful Persuasive Speaking, taught by Alan Hoffler. I don’t think any of us can ever learn enough about the science and art of communicating, so I quickly signed up.

I became more aware in a few hours of my speaking shortcomings and strengths than I ever could have imagined, and then spent the next two days learning how to correct my bad habits (that I didn’t even know existed!) and become a better communicator. Our teacher Alan was a walking talking example of an engaging and effective speaker and he was also a fun, patient and knowledgeable instructor.

We had two rules to bear in mind:

  • It’s not about me, it’s about the audience.
  • Mind the gap — there’s a huge difference between what I’m feeling while speaking and what the audience is experiencing.

I definitely knew the first rule, although there have been a few times when it was hard to get out of my own worrying head and into the audience’s, especially when things out of my control disrupt my carefully prepared plan. I had experienced the second rule (the gap) and never quite believed it, but now I have the film to prove its truth. Sometimes if our mind is in turmoil and we think we are absolutely dying up there, strangely enough we can appear poised and confident to the audience – a huge gap in perception versus reality. Why do we appear so confident? It’s because we have the skills – either learned or innate. We are connecting to and engaging the audience. It seems almost magical at times.

Flickr photo by uwdigitalcollections

We learned about posture, arm placement, gestures, eye contact and movement. Yes, it is hard to walk and talk at the same time! It actually takes practice to do it in an effective way. Thankfully, we learned that much of this is similar to muscle memory. If we practice the skills, soon they become natural to us and we can build our presentation on top of them. I thought back to when I learned to figure skate and the hours I practiced school figures using different edges. Boring! But those skills became part of my muscle memory. Without having them as a base I couldn’t have done the pretty spins and jumps.

Another thing happened in class, something that wasn’t included in the program description. We started as a group of eleven strangers who were feeling a bit nervous, anxious and vulnerable about speaking, totally unprepared as to content (improvising in fact) in front of each other, and being filmed while doing it. By the end of the second day, we had bonded as a group that went through a discovery and learning process together. We felt comfortable pointing out each other’s mistakes and strengths. We became interested in each other’s professional paths. Some of us spoke of meeting regularly as a group to continue practicing our burgeoning skills.

Learning and growing is always more rewarding when doing it with others – whether it’s a class, study group, discussion group, workshop or retreat. Seeing the excited spark in someone’s eyes or noticing how their body moves to the edge of their seat leaning into a conversation – that can be infectious in the best way possible. I’ve always been motivated by opportunities to learn and find ways to make it a regular part of my life. How do you find ways to learn and grow with others?

I’ve made my to-do list to prepare for the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Annual Meeting & Exposition in Toronto starting this weekend, and decided to share it with all of you. I did many of these things long ago, but wanted to give you some ideas about what to do before leaving for ASAE09.

Laptop – Download Tweetdeck. Create search column for #asae09 (official Twitter hashtag). Follow association tweeps who are also attending.

Blackberry – Download UberTwitter. Create bookmark for ASAE’s Hub and authorize my Twitter account on the My Contributions page.

ASAE resources

  • Add myself to the Twitter and Bloggers page in the Engage section. Add the ASAE badge to my blog.
  • Send my blog feed URL to Scott Briscoe at ASAE. I’ll be tagging any conference blog posts with ASAE09 so they’ll show up in the Hub’s Newsfeed.
  • Save the attendee list to my laptop. Search for those attending from North Carolina as I’m new to the state and want to meet my fellow NC attendees. Upload to Gmail and then Twitter so I can follow them.
  • Review handouts for sessions – this helps me make some decisions on which to attend. Save and print the ones that interest me. What do I want to learn about or explore?


  • Enter my “must do” events into my Blackberry Calendar.
  • Create a Word doc of “must do” and possible events for my binder.
  • Think about issues and questions related to sessions I might attend.
  • Create list of booths that I definitely want to visit.

LinkedIn – Add travel dates using TripIt app. Update status while I’m there.

Research and find a few nearby brewpubs (or places with local beer), coffee shops and moderately-priced restaurants.

Call Verizon to activate my SIMS card, Global Data Feature and Nationwide+Canada for the time I’m in Canada – will cost less than $10 for this temporary addition to my regular plan. Will call *228 (option 2) before leaving the US on Saturday morning.

Call my bank and credit card company to notify them that I’ll be in Toronto so they won’t deny any debit or credit card transactions originating there. Stop my mail using the USPS web site.

Back up my laptop C drive to my external hard drive.

Items on my packing list

  • Laptop and cable, extension cord, power strip, Ethernet cable (just in case)
  • Blackberry and charger
  • Business cards
  • Binder with program guide, conference badge/express check-in doc, travel docs (itinerary, flight boarding pass and coach e-ticket, Southwest schedule between Buffalo and Raleigh/phone number, Coach Canada schedule between Toronto and Buffalo/phone number), miscellaneous docs, my schedule
  • Passport

Figure out my transportation options from Coach Canada terminal to hotel. Print out my Southwest boarding pass 24 hours ahead. Weigh my bag so I avoid any fees for excess weight.

This short period of time will bring many opportunities to connect with old friends, meet online friends in real life and make new friends. It’s a time to learn together and share crazy ideas, thoughts and challenges. It’s a time to be a sponge and absorb as much as you can from both the sessions and social gatherings. Get into conference mode as soon as you start traveling there – you may meet some fellow attendees on the way!

And remember, wear comfortable shoes, try to eat somewhat healthy, talk to strangers, don’t drink too much and get a decent amount of sleep each night. Oh, and have fun!

What did I miss? Please let me know in the comments. What are you doing this week to prepare for ASAE09? Let’s help each other make this the best experience possible.