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Strategies for Engaging Younger Members

Youth may be wasted on the young but associations aren’t. Unfortunately, many associations struggle with how to engage younger members. The solution is more intuitive than you think – engage them on their terms. Here are three suggestions to help you get started:

1. Use current technology to meet young members where they live

Generation Y doesn’t know life without the internet.  Everything electronic is second nature to them, and they expect hyper-speed information. Move quarterly print publications to the back seat. Make your website your flagship communication vehicle. Digital publications, online event registration, membership sign-up and renewal – it should all happen here. Use your website to link to an expanded social media presence (but remember to target your specific audience – older and younger Millenials, for example, have different social networking site preferences). Show younger members your value by making things easy for them, and by being the first to provide information that affects them.

2. Tap into younger members’ preferences for interactive learning and meaningful networking

You don’t have to reinvent your education program – just create value for all generations. Make learning relevant to the interests and needs of younger members, for example in a junior counsel or new practitioner track , and deliver it in a way that allows them to contribute, for example in small discussion groups or sharing forums. When it comes to networking, avoid creating purely social events with their peers – they can do this themselves. Instead, use the old to draw the young, and focus on creating opportunities for connecting with more experienced members so young members can enhance core competencies, ask real-world mentoring questions, and develop their careers. Millenials change firms more frequently than their predecessors – meeting someone who can offer you a job some day is always of interest.

3. Demonstrate personal impact and reward

Millenials are like the Geminis of generational astrology – narcissistic and entitled on one hand, but collaborative and cause-driven on the other. They are the fundraiser who raises the most money, so others will know they raised the most money. Yes, they’re complicated but they’re also good for associations. They want to know their work matters, and they are interested in giving back. Not all Millenials are the same, and if you believe the literature, no Millenial is the same every day, so flexible and fluid are the new rules of engagement. Co-create the value of membership with them – ask them what they want, and be responsive with a multi-faceted approach. Provide opportunities to volunteer through one-time events and ad hoc committees, and also offer official status within the larger organization. Give them as much responsibility as they want, let them self-organize and communicate how they want, and then let them run with it.

The median age of association members is on the rise. As yesteryear’s supporters retire and disappear, the question is not “should associations engage Millenials?” but rather “how should associations engage Millenials?” Allowing your young members to give and take on their own terms says you value them for who they are now. Play your cards right and you’ll find value in who they are later too.

Are Live Conferences Dead?

Today’s CPD providers are working harder than ever to make live conferences relevant to lawyers. But working harder doesn’t always mean working smarter. As more and more content becomes available online, some providers worry that the reasons lawyers attend live conferences are disappearing. This is silly. In-person programs will always have an audience. Lawyers attend in-person conferences for the same reasons they always have – to make connections and receive relevant information in context.

Live conferences are actually much better positioned to provide these two outcomes than are alternative delivery models. Unfortunately some providers aren’t very good at creating and promoting meaningful onsite interactions, so lawyers aren’t always prepared to pay for them. So how can you produce more interactive conferences? Here are three easy to implement suggestions:

1. Leverage surveying, voting, and social media before, during and after the conference to find out what your audience wants to learn, track learning as it happens, discover what is and isn’t working, and make improvements.

2. Add facilitators (versus same-old, same-old lecturers) as presenters. Conference attendees want to share as well as learn, from and with legal and other subject-matter experts, and from and with each other. Bring hallway learning into your education sessions.

3. Use education and networking sessions to create meaningful connections and help attendees build relationships. Create smaller, more intimate opportunities for knowledge transfer and just plain having fun. Think first time attendees meet-and-greet, or solo and small firm issues break-out.

Advances in technology and affordability have left some face-to-face conferences fighting for relevance. This has more to do with what those conferences offer than it does with the health of the conference market. The future of live conferences will belong to those who see the value of these events through the lens of attendees: meaningful content that invites interactivity, and creates opportunities for networking and relationship building. Providers who ignore these motivators will be pushed out.

Three Legal Conference Trends for 2013

Legal conferences have come of age in the last few years, offering more attendee-driven experiences. Three trends will continue to shape this transformation in 2013:

Democratization of content. The days of providers pushing content out to lawyers are numbered. Lawyers are sophisticated, discerning producers (as well as consumers) of professional development – they know what they want and how they want it delivered. Subject matter experts may still be leading the front of room discussion, but the content experts are in the audience. Social media tools provide countless ways for attendees to define content – from making topic suggestions to choosing speakers to communicating satisfaction levels. Transparency is critical.

How lawyers learn is as important as what they learn. Relevant content is only part of the reason lawyers attend conferences. As information becomes more and more available via the internet, the value of content is decreasing. How content is communicated and received is equally if not more important than the content itself. Today’s lawyers expect conferences to create meaningful face-to-face and digital shared learning and knowledge transfer opportunities, and to keep the learning going long after the face-to-face event ends. A successful conference is the beginning, not the end.

Creating personal, memorable experiences. Smart providers are ditching the tired plenary sessions, rubber chicken dinners, and stale networking breaks. A lot of players are competing for lawyers’ face time, and the ones who get it will be those creating memorable learning and social events that engage attendees in personal and emotionally intense ways. Whether it’s unscripted TED-like presenters or facilitating altruistic achievement, watch for novel ways for attendees to come together, share common interests, and grow. Providers who dare to wow will win lawyers’ affections as the enabler of those life experiences.

Want to keep lawyers coming back to your annual conference?  Work harder to give them meaningful connections  – with knowledge, people, places and emotions. If you don’t, your competitors will.

Lessons from the Blackout Bowl

I was among the 130 million plus people watching last Sunday’s Super Bowl. In some ways, I found the power outage as interesting as the game.  As someone who has delivered conferences where fire alarms rang, elevators stopped working, and air conditioners failed (in 85+ degrees), I was interested to watch things play out. The Blackout Bowl, as people are calling it, offers some great lessons for event professionals.

1. Things happen. No matter how much you plan, you can never predict or prepare for every crisis. Significant electrical supply improvements were made to the Superdome in advance of the Super Bowl to avoid the very type of power interruption that happened.

2. Leverage the unexpected. Some people found a way to benefit from the blackout. The 49ers used the power outage to shift the momentum of the game, and enterprising brands like Oreo, Tide and Audi took advantage of the power interruption to launch fast-thinking, inexpensive twitter campaigns that attracted thousands of followers.

3. Don’t let a set-back control the dynamic. The Ravens didn’t give up as the 49ers fought to regain control of the scoreboard following the blackout. San Francisco piled on a lot of points but Baltimore never gave up, and in the end the 49ers didn’t have enough.

4. Hedge your bets. The bigger the show, the bigger the risk. Whether you’re planning a high octane AV-intensive half time show or a less glamorous rain cover option for an outdoor event, plan for contingencies. It may add a little to the budget but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

5. Be the reaction you want from attendees (or, as the old saying goes, never let them see you sweat). Remain composed. If you’re confident in your ability to resolve the situation, attendees will feel more confident. Let attendees know you’re on it, offer instructions and – if possible – distractions, fix the problem, and then get on with the event.

6. Communicate quickly and frequently. Some people felt misled about the downtime during the blackout – 15 minutes, then 15 minutes more, etc. Whether you use social media or something else, be honest with attendees. Tell them what the problem is as soon as you can, and then update them as often as possible.

7. Don’t burn bridges. Venues have unexpected developments too. There are lots of ways to react to disappointments, and just as many ways for venues to make them right. After this year’s mishap, NFL Commissioner Goodell reassured locals that New Orleans would continue to be a destination for future Super Bowls. The convention services industry in Canada isn’t that big; you may want to be back in the same venue someday. Think about how you want to go back.

Stay nimble out there.