I am typing this blog post after just boarding my flight from Orlando back to Indianapolis as the Avectra National User Group Conference concludes.
After 30 years in this sector with multiple nonprofit CRM companies, my list of conferences for customers has averaged about one per year. In a few of those years, I actually attended more than one (I am also counting the old fashion fundraising software conferences before it was cool to be a CRM).
There is sameness to most of them, but sometime a few unique twists come into play. However, I was blown away in 2013 by Bloomerang’s largest reseller partner – who just happens to be the leader in the association CRM world and soon to be top player in the nonprofit CRM world – Avectra.
Avectra has held their National User Conference for a decade or more of consecutive years and it shows. The sign of a top leader in any field is the desire to improve and to never rest on their laurels. Based upon what I heard from the conference attendees, many of whom have been there 10 or more years, they echoed this continuous improvement mantra being exhibited.
I cannot think of a better way to explain my comments then to jump into the 20 reasons which instantly popped into my head when my laptop booted up. Here they are:
- Education sessions people cannot wait to attend – the education sessions are literally the backbone of any conference. Maybe I am slightly bias since I presented at AUDC, but every session was packed and the questions fired out in rapid fire order. During the breaks people were actually sad they could only attend four sessions each day.
- Everyone at the same location – sounds so simple, however it is often violated if a large enough venue is not found. This enables much more and longer networking.
- Mobile App – how many conferences have you been at where you need information not in the program at a glance sheet? Avectra provided everyone a mobile app with more information than an inch thick program including a large variety of videos and even daily conference updates! This should be standard for any conference of any size in the future!
- A Philanthropy activity every conference attendee could participate in – through a partnership with Project Night Night hundreds of children who are homeless and scared for one reason or another will now have a brand new children’s book, stuffed animal and a warm blanket. Any conference in the nonprofit sector is also a chance for large group volunteering if the planning is done properly. Here it was and it made me proud.
- Awards for innovation – every conference drawing people in once a year should provide a chance for recognition and for leadership to be exhibited by the attendees. The awards luncheon on the last day also recognized a key ingredient “innovation.”
- Purple Patch – I was remiss in not taking a smartphone photo of this area of the conference. It was like a bee hive of activity. Think of the “Apple Genius Bar” with everyone dressed in purple! Any person could come and ask any question day or night and not only have it answered, but see it live on computer monitors and make a new friend to boot! Nice combination, Avectra!
- Keynote Speakers who topics are relevant and current – ever been to a conference where they try to make some popular person in the news or world of entertainment try to fit in as a keynote? I have listened to Hollywood or TV stars who knew nothing about the day to day world of the attendees and it showed. Worse yet, ever been to a large user group meeting where they trot out the CEO as the keynote? It’s unlikey he or she is going to take a bold chance and challenge the thinking of the attendees. At AUDC, both of the keynotes were superb.
- Excellent meals with tables marked for networking – Perhaps it is harder than we know to pick a location who can feed more than a thousand people with excellent food. Add the networking part and you have a valuable asset to any conference.
- Avoid being a commercial – just do not do it. Be informative and widen horizons both with and without your products.
- Well formulated product road maps presented with honesty first – I wish I had a nickel for every time I have seen this simple rule violated. In some cases I witnessed even large industry leading software firms totally mislead their most loyal customers year after year as they stated this new version or that new function would be added in the coming year. The rule is simple, folks: “Only discuss what you know you can absolutely deliver in the next 12 months!”
- Company leaders available for everyone to mingle with and talk to – I loved watching this one happen in real time. Every single top executive of Avectra even the CFO was there throughout to answer any and all questions. Seem like an easy one to implement, but so often it is violated.
- Holding in a place where other members of the family have something fun to do – I only have to say one word: “Disney.” Being in the heart of Disneyworld, which is in Orlando, which has air service from every major city in the North America and for most of the key cities of the world is outstanding. The icing on the cake is how economical the flights are!
- Involving partners and having them in the same room with all the food, keynotes, and breaks – At AUDC, the partners felt special and were treated with all the respect due to a trusted third party who makes Avectra’s solutions even better. I have been one of those vendors at other conferences where we truly felt like second or third class citizens.
- Super prizes for visiting all the vendors – Avectra made it fun for each attendee to visit each and every vendor there. Awarding prizes everyone desired did not hurt!
- Audio/visual that adds to rather than detracts from – nobody could say they could not see or hear every single moment of the jam packed schedule.
- Live feeds from the site with free wifi for all – For three days we know every customer of a company’s product pretty much consider this the center of the universe. Sharing makes these concepts come to life. Add in the plentiful Wi-Fi and you bring social media and networking to even higher levels. Add all of the presentations, videos and a recording to a site all attendees can access and everyone is happy.
- A truly active user group – the Avectra user group is active, busy and involved in helping in road map formation as well as other key functions. What an asset to both them and Avectra!
- Video testimonials and sharing – When everyone is in one place it is a perfect time for sharing idea and thoughts on camera. With the web, social media and a smartphone app, these become priceless content.
- Continuing education credit – If your educational content is top notch then you can qualify for these. Your attendees will certainly appreciate it.
- Make it FUN – nobody wants to spend three days anywhere and not have a good time. Fun keeps those attendees coming back year after year by wanting more. If you are a conference planner don’t take yourself too seriously. Loosen up and add in the fun!
Whew, twenty is a bunch to recall and elaborate on. Honestly, I could probably come up with twenty more, but that would be too long of a blog post.
Hopefully, I have conveyed how special the Avectra AUDC was and if you are a present or future Avectra customer or partner you will not want to miss it!