Listen in to an insider look at planning the URMIA Annual Conference planned for Seattle next week (Oct. 16-20, 2021). Executive Director Jenny Whittington talks with guest Michelle Smith of the URMIA staff to review all the intricacies of a hybrid conference. Of all the takeaways, it’s clear that there is still time to register and take part, in-person or virtually, in the first every hybrid annual conference for URMIA.
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Michelle Smith, CAE
Senior Director of Meetings, URMIA
Jenny Whittington, CAE
URMIA's Executive Director
Jenny: Hello everyone. This is Jenny Whittington. Welcome to URMIA matters today. I have an extraordinarily special guest it's Michelle. Our senior director of meetings and events here at URMIA. And we're here to talk about our favorite subject, the annual conference, which is hybrid this year. So please help me welcome Michelle to the podcast.
And Michelle, give us a little background about yourself for everybody who hasn't had the pleasure of meeting you yet.
Michelle: Hey, Jenny. Well, that's quite the introduction. Thank you very much. And yes, conference is, my favorite subject too. This will be in all my years of experience in meetings, association management and hotel world -this will be my first hybrid experience. And we're, we're looking forward to it. It's something that's not new to the meetings world, but new for URMIA
We've had a good time uh, learning about hybrid and tips and tricks and best practices. Very thankful that some of our higher ed association peers have done this already. And so we've been meeting with them on a regular basis to plan and learn and explore and take risks together uh, calculated, educated, informed risks.
So, we're very excited. In, in all my career in hospitality and in higher ed association work formerly with ACUI -our college union peers on campus. And now with, with URMIA It's been quite the journey and a lot to explore, and I've learned a lot and worn many hats. And so I'm looking forward to being together in Seattle in both virtual and in-person
Jenny: excellent. Yes. Um, So this time of year in, in the conference planning world, I always count down the number of days I have left in the office. So today, I believe we have seven days left in the office. So we've been super busy here, you know, supporting the technical demands of a hybrid conference.
Michelle loves technology. So that has really helped us get from here to there and a very pretty tumultuous couple of years. But we are thrilled. We are thrilled that we are going to see so many of our In person in Seattle and a great number of our members also online. So today we're going to talk about a few of the specific differences between uh, kind of a traditional in-person conference and what our members should expect at this year's conference.
So, why don't we just start with the, the app? I think that's a great, great place to start. Michelle. Talk about Socio a little bit.
Michelle: Sure. Sure. So those folks who are registered for conference may have already experienced or learned about the socio app. So we've traditionally been using an app called Sched. It's very affordable and it did what we needed to do, but we wanted a little bit more. And so in, in our search for a new app which is we've been doing actually since Boston in 2019, we have been looking for an app that created all the things we already had, but also took a step further and gave us some one-on-one ability to connect with each other. So, the socio app allows us to do that. And we made a very strategic partnership with our friends over at the Forum for Study Abroad and they are actually powering the app for us and supplying us with some additional labor to produce the virtual side of the conference. And so socio is going to look and feel very familiar to the way that Sched acted except for a couple of additional features focused on network. And so you can connect with an individual - all of the attendees are in there. Our presenters are in the app as well. And you can connect with someone. In one of two ways you can look up their name and then add the plus button so they are part of your network. When we're in person, you can actually shake your mobile device next to the other person's mobile device and it'll connect to you as well.
So that's pretty cool. And then the other piece of the puzzle, I think that is going to be really different for us is you'll be able to go into the app and click on virtual networking and you'll be able to connect with another person via your phone, video, your phone camera, and that is available for both those folks who are virtual and those folks who are in-person.
Maybe they want to connect and talk about The international committee, which is one of the video networking rooms that we already have set up. There are some times specifically that folks from the international committee will be available to discuss what happens in that group. And you'll be able to join in and do just like you would on Zoom or with maybe you do with your family on FaceTime or something like that. So that's another cool feature of the socio.
Uh, one other pro tip about the app. And this is obviously uh, occurs both on the desktop and in the mobile app. And that is that you can filter your educational sessions, anything on the schedule. If you wanted to just look at say core competency three, inclusive leadership um, you could do that.
You go over to the schedule and tap on the little filter button in the upper right hand corner and click which items you want. Scroll down to the bottom and apply those. And then your schedule will be filtered for you to see specifically what you're looking for. So the good news is that that's available for everyone, specifically for the virtual audience.
We have the opportunity for them to see everything. We've made some notes in the titles and apply to video or virtual only filter. And so they'll want to definitely filter by virtual. So they're not seeing maybe the whole schedule. Once we get to the conference next week, but they'll want to see just the items that are available for the virtual audience.
And that will be very important difference between the two groups.
Jenny: And if you haven't started yet um, you can find instructions for how to find both the app and the web app under schedule on our conference page. I know in the last 24 hours, Befriended, lots of people that have already logged into associates. So I would encourage everybody to log in. Um, You can definitely friend, Jenny and Michelle, we will definitely accept your invitation.
Cause it does connect, connect us to each other and then to the app and makes things a little bit easier. I've been actually thinking about how I'm going to use. Socio through the conference I, well, I'm, I'm thinking that, yeah, I'll be like in the sessions where I'm logged into the virtual sessions.
I think I'll be at my laptop and then it'll also have my phone. So I will be able to maybe watch the PowerPoint and things from, and the camera of the speakers on my laptop screen. But then I'll use my phone to chat back and forth with, with other folks.
Michelle: Yeah, that's absolutely one of the really cool ways to experience the conference, whether you're in person or virtual, is that the app is really where it's at. You want to have as big a screen as possible for the actual presentation of the session, but we are going to be using polling and Q and A and chat within the app itself.
So definitely have your devices charged. And a backup battery if you're in Seattle. Because we'll be using the app a lot more regularly than we have before because of all the extra features.
Jenny: Yeah. And I know something I've had a little bit of a hard time getting my arms around are the three distinct kind of sessions we're offering. I know you just alluded to it, but let's try to step through those one at a time.
Michelle: Yeah, you and me both. Jenny, it's been rewriting the playbook for sure. Not only with the presenters and the sessions and how it's laid out within the app and on the website, but more importantly with our volunteers and, and writing the moderator request for volunteers was really the first time I was like, ah, this is pretty, this is pretty complex.
And so we have three different types of presentations that will appear. Two different types of presentations. So let me, let me walk through that. So as you've said, hybrid is the way that the type of conference that we're producing this year hybrid really means both asynchronous and synchronous learning happening at the same time.
And some of our peers are doing something a little bit differently. They're doing live and then two weeks later doing a virtual. And I really felt like that was going to be a heavy lift for our small staff. And, and to ask our presenters to do things twice during this busy time of year is just not something that we felt comfortable with so, we all jumped on board, the hybrid train here at URMIA.
So we will be producing a virtual conference and an in-person conference at the same time. So it's one conference, two experiences and the crossover is called hybrid. So we will have sessions breakout sessions, educational breakout sessions that are in-person only. So some of the participants in Seattle. We'll be able to do um, an all day session all day breakouts morning and afternoon where they're just in-person. We will have a second type of breakout session that is just virtual. So we have some presenters that aren't able to make it to Seattle and so they will be presenting just in our virtual environment On24 webinar platform that we've been using since July of 2020. they will have the regular features of, of the On24. So chat and Q and A, and all of those things, your presentation screen, your slides, all those things that we've been using that will feel just like a webinar, but it's just embedded in the timeline of the conference.
And then our third type of educational breakout session will be hybrid and those sessions are going to be presented in person in Seattle, but we'll be broadcasting them out to the virtual audience and those sessions take place in the morning in Seattle and Pacific time. And if you look on the URMIA website, one way to really get your arms around, sort of the bigger picture schedule is to go to the URMIA.org/ac 2021 and drop down under the schedule and look at the the schedule at a glance. That's the really, really the most helpful place to get a big picture visual, depending on where you are in the process. And the in-person experience or the virtual experience.
So, those hybrid sessions we'll have two moderators. This is where it got complex. They'll have an in-person moderator standing at the front of the room, just like the in-person session. And then there'll be a second hybrid moderator. Who's at the back of the room that will be logged in on their computer, to the virtual space, with the virtual attendees in the, On24 platform.
And they'll be. Conveying the questions that appear in Q and A, from the virtual audience up to the in-person moderator uh, so that they can have a discussion and then the virtual audience can be as engaged and participate just like as if they were in person. And so that was a really an add on that we, that we've learned from folks that is really important to be able to include the virtual audience in the face-to-face discussion as well.
And so those are our three types in person, completely virtual, completely in person, or a hybrid of those.
Jenny: Awesome. Thanks so much. So as I, as you were saying that I was looking over the schedule and so like every morning at the conference, we're going to start with a general session. So those sessions are going to be open. Um, And in the schedule, it has a nice little green explanation says general session and virtual.
So that means it's open to everyone. Correct.
Michelle: Yes. All of the general sessions in the morning, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday morning will be morning Pacific. Um, 8:00 AM ish. we'll be hybrid. So there'll be available to the virtual audience as well. We do have a bonus. Uh, We have asked our incoming president. Julie Groves to hang out after the sessions and talk with our presenters as well. So when they leave the stage formally for our in-person audience, there'll be a little sidebar chat and Julie will pop over and talk to those folks. So if we have questions, additional questions that didn't get answered. They'll be able to have a further discussion at each of those general sessions.
So that's, that's an exciting add on for us. And thanks to Julie, who's been a guest host for us on this podcast many times. She's refined that role and we're elevating her to the next one.
Jenny: we're so excited to have Julie in this role. We know she's going to do a super job interviewing our general session speakers and we're looking forward.
Okay. So I think I got my arms around the three different types of sessions. And we talked about Socio and we gave a shout out to our friends at the Forum for Study Abroad.
Um, It's always wonderful to partner with other higher education association. So, hats off to the Forum and they will be serving as our help desk right throughout the conference. So people have issues can they reach out to that.
Michelle: Yeah, right there on the welcome page, the overview page there is some additional help not only helpful PDF, but also a link directly to Cynthia, over at the Forum who can answer questions about the app? Not, not necessarily about the conference and ed sessions and those sorts of things, but about the app.
Jenny: Excellent. Okay. Let's switch the focus and talk a little bit about health and safety. Obviously top of mind to a lot of people this year, what are, what are some different things that we can expect? As we reemerge from the storm together.
Michelle: Sure. Well, that has been another interesting part of this last planning process as we, as we get to Seattle, you know, we've been very thankful that Becky Bullock from UW has joined the conference committee and we meet we're meeting pretty regularly every Friday now with updates from the state of Washington king county or Seattle, and they're coming along nicely.
Their vaccination rate is very high, so their infection rate is very low. And we feel like we have been on the more proactive edge of the things that we've been planning for the conference. So we started out with the mask requirement. We, we figured, we thought it was coming. We followed U W process and indoor masking is, is now a requirement for our conference.
We do have masks with a clear panel um, to help with conversations as part of each of our attendee goodie bags, as well as the boxes that are being mailed out. Just so folks in our virtual audience have that experience as well.
But that is going to be the minimum level of participation. And that will be a nice add on, of course the hotel is continuing with their COVID cleanliness standards in all the public areas and the meeting space and then the guest rooms. And then you know, most recently the new uh, king county Mandates uh, have been that they uh, vaccination requirement. And uh, we're very happy that we were on the leading edge with that when we set up registration and asked that question and that that's been very helpful as we gathered together in-person folks. And we only have a few that we'll be taking our extra protocols with in testing on a daily basis.
And again, that mask requirement will really help.
Jenny: So just to make sure that everybody understands that there is a vaccination requirement that's going into place, but it's after we leave Seattle, can you confirm that.
Michelle: Yeah. Yeah. So they, they, the information came out a press conference, press releases, but then they put an October 25th date, which was very interesting, however, along our way on our travel on a plane and, and many other establishments restaurants included shopping areas Uh, Local drug stores they have independently put on the vaccination mandate. And so, because those places already require it, we wanted to just be on the forefront of that and make sure that our folks were prepared. So, um, we are recommending that you um, have your Vaccination status card updated in one of the many, many apps that are out there, I'm already using a few, including clear, which is something that TSA has used for a long time.
And or having your, a copy of your card and your favorite photos file on your phone. Just so You can participate if you, if you're brave enough to carry it in person that's great too. Ironically it fits in one of our old conference lanyards and a name tag badges. It's a four by three. So that fit nicely as a little protective case. So thanks URMIA.
Jenny: Yeah, we were thinking ahead. We totally plan that. Of course. No, that's great. So plan to definitely have proof of your vaccination status with you as you travel and how about just other things, other things that'll be different this year about when people get to the.
Michelle: Yeah. As we've reopened many places in, in Bloomington and along the way, and people have started traveling again, I've, I've joked with friends and family and said, I, I need a re-entry coach. I need to understand how to do this again. So, this one will be sort of reintroduction to conferencing. And, and there are a number of things along the way that I think will feel and look differently. So, it's a new year, it's a new conference and if you haven't traveled yet uh, that's a whole new experience too.
So, for example, starting at the airport um, masks are required and that goes all the way through to being on the plane and uh, yeah, and that includes being at the airport and all the way from the front doors or a TSA requires you to have a mask on all the way through to being on the plane. And only being able to have your mass down, if you're sipping from your complimentary beverage,
Jenny: And I wouldn't get your hopes up about those complimentary beverages. I think, I think I've flown three times. Post pandemic and just the service of the airlines has changed. Um, You know, I think that COVID gives them a good reason to do that. Um, But they, they have been passing out water and, and keeping it simple, but yeah, and then they have really nice little graphics on the napkins.
Now that say, as soon as you're done, you know, put your mask back on. it's all good.
Michelle: Yeah. I mean, it's, it's all in the name of safety, which is awesome, but we've heard some terrible, terrible stories, not only in the news, but also experienced them personally with flight delays for people who wouldn't put their masks on. So, it's a small price to pay to get from here to there. And I'm, I'm definitely willing to do that.
So, when, once you get to the hotel another pro tip is to. Go ahead and join Marriott Bonvoy, which is their membership and rewards points program. If you do that uh, you are more likely to be able to bypass the front desk and just check in on your app on their phone and use your phone as your doorkey so to do that, you have to have your bonvoy membership to that membership number needs to be on your reservation with the hotel. And then there just needs to be one name associated with your room. So those folks who are sharing and need that second name, won't be able to take advantage of the program. But for the mass, majority of our hotel stays, they are a single name on the reservation. And so, I've used it before and then gotten to my room very quickly, which is awesome. And then gone down later when the desk is a little bit slower or later at night and picked up a physical key. So that's definitely one of those tips that you can minimize contact as well as reenter the new travel and conferencing experience. So, the other thing that I would say, you know, once you reach the hotel those, those services are a little bit different as well. Jenny and Sue and I were lucky enough to travel to Seattle to the conference hotel in late July.
And they had some of these standards in place already. Uh, One of which is. Room service, your room service availability may vary. You may need to go down to the front desk and pick up your order rather than having it delivered. some hotels are dropping room service at the door that might be in place as well. Just expect that to be a little bit different as well as um, maybe the hours and the availability of the food and beverage outlets in the hotel. And then finally the housekeeping again Has been on the forefront and the hospitality industry with cleanliness standards and have published that from the beginning.
But one of the major differences is that as a standard now, I believe it's every third day housekeeping will come in and Clean up your room and do a little fluff, but if you want it more frequently, it is available. You can call down and request that. But for the safety of their staff they are certainly taken precautions as well. So they're minimizing, minimizing that.
Jenny: And I, you know, I thought, I think that's so innovative because I've met a number of URMIAns over the years who don't like housekeeping service for one way or the other, but I'm the exact opposite. If somebody is going to clean my room, I want it cleaned every day.
Michelle: It is one of the perks. It definitely is one of the perks of traveling. And definitely they've been responsive in understanding that there may be um, some folks just like you, Jenny you'd would like it every day. So no worries.
So then you know, once I'm just sort of walking through the conference experience here, once you reach your room, come down to the second floor and we'll get you checked in for registration. And that experience will be a little bit different as well. You will have received your name tag via email, and we'd like you to print that out and bring it with you so that you can fold it up and put it into your lanyard. That's really important to minimize the number of interactions that we have at the desk.
And as well as really easy to put together. Those attendee bags, they will be all the same. So we won't have to once we won't have to individualize that experience, we love you all. And we love to talk to you, but this is not the year to continue as normal that one's going to be a little bit different as well.
So they'll print their name, badge, bring it with them. And then there'll be welcomed in a physically distanced away and the second floor of the Sheraton grand Seattle. And we're certainly there to answer any questions and be available for additional assistance if needed. But that is one of the other changes.
And then once they pick up their badge there'll be able to add ribbons just like normal. And have some, we have some fun ribbons that they can add on to their name badge, but we also have a little flag that will be available for attendees to identify sort of their comfort level with physical distancing.
So we have a red, yellow, and green. Ribbon indicating whether they are up for a hug whether they're up for a close conversation or a high five. And then finally, whether they rather remain more physically distanced. So we are intentionally using that phrase rather than social distancing, because we, we are all about the networking. We just want to do it safely. So physically distance name badge indicators will be available right after they pick up their bag.
Jenny: That's awesome. And I, I don't think that we've mentioned it yet, but one thing I know that we've put into place is that all the meals for the in-person experience um, if folks aren't, because while we're eating meals and that will be the time that people will take their masks off we will we will be providing options.
Michelle: Yeah. We will have very traditional meals at URMIA. Um, Our in-person attendees are definitely going to eat well. It's going to be a fun program, but if they are in that red tag zone and decide that they won't don't want to eat with the group, that's certainly fine. They, they can request takeout box and, and have a meal taken back to their room.
Again, one of the great things about being a hybrid is that if that general session, where we would be eating the meals and, and listening to our keynote addresses they can watch that have their meal and watch that program from their room if they want, if they want to eat and then come back down, they can certainly do that as well. So we're really thankful to the hotel partnership in making that available for folks to have the availability, to get their food to go.
Jenny: And Michelle's not kidding about that. I've seen some of the menus for the conference and it's going to be amazing for all the folks that are with us in person. So we're really excited to see everybody, both everybody who's with us in Seattle and the other large group of folks that are going to be with us online.
Of course we'd like to thank all of our wonderful, wonderful volunteers. Our team has been led by Sam Florio of Santa Clara university and Sue Leiden of Pacific Lutheran university. We really want to thank salmon to, for all their time and effort. And Michelle, who would you like to.
Michelle: Well, Jenny Sam & Sue have been great to work with, um, over the past couple of years, um, it's been, uh, not what they signed up for, but we, we really, yeah. We really appreciate that. And then we have had a tremendous amount of volunteers. And volunteer workforce behind getting where we are, including the programming committee, which, um, they are the group that helps select the educational sessions. Gary Lansdale here on the URMIA staff and, uh, Lou Drapeau are also very, uh, critical parts of that committee. Um, and then we have folks who are working on all of the social events, the opening event and the closing event, which is going to be Octoberfest theme this year. And then, uh, we have folks working on golf outings and, uh, we have folks working on, um, what it looks like to, uh, take in the city through our 5k experience and our URMIAcares, uh, volunteer and charity connection.
Um, the it's just been an incredible group of people to work with and, um, all those folks and their connection information is in the website.
Jenny: Any, any closing comments, anything we forgot to touch on?
Michelle: I think those are the highlights. Jenny it's, it's been a whirlwind. And I'm really excited that we're able to do this for our members. Um, We are likely going to reach a large number of members, a good majority of the membership, the total membership. And there's still time to register. I would say that's, that's the other piece of the puzzle.
There'll be still time to register your virtual registration and invite other colleagues from campus. If you have registered virtually, remember you can use nine free codes to invite others. We do have several core competency areas that are Bundled together on a certain day so there's a research day-so if you have research colleagues from across campus, invite them in on Monday and you can watch it together or you can uh, watch the, a couple of sessions together and then In your individual offices and then debrief later. Um, But that shared content could really go a long way. It was a, it was a great idea to, to bring those together. The other sub competencies that we have are ERM international risk and...
Michelle: Compliance. Yeah, compliance is the fourth one. So we have those bundled together so that there are two sessions back to back that are available for our virtual audience to participate. So come join the conference.
That's my, my, my parting words. Come join the conference.
Jenny: Michelle's pro tip, come join the conference. And it is there. I mean, will people be able to register up to the deadline or what's our advice on timing? I mean, I know it's better for us the earlier they register the better any guidance on that.
Michelle: Yeah. Certainly the earlier the better it gives you the opportunity to set up your profile in the socio app. It gives you an opportunity to start connecting. It gives you an opportunity to set up your personal schedule in the app, which I don't think we mentioned earlier. I would say the earlier the better, so do it now.
However, I've been at URMIA for just a few years now, and I know that this staff will bend over backwards to make any late comer accommodated and welcome. So we, we understand life happens and it's a busy time on campus. And if you I can't make that decision until the last minute and can join us we'll do our best to get you registered and access to all the different areas, but there are multiple steps on our side administratively to make that happen. So help us help you and register early.
Jenny: Yes. Okay. Well, this has been great. I really appreciate you being my super special guests today, Michelle, and explaining all the nuances of our hybrid 52nd annual conference. We're super excited to see everyone and I think this'll be it for URMIA.
Michelle: Yeah. Thanks Jenny. Looking forward to it.