There's Always Room for Improvement - #NAA10

If you haven't had a chance to check out my Top 10 Awesome Things about this year's NAA, click over to Appflio's Property Manager E-zine and take a look.  Go ahead, I'll wait.

Back?  Okay good.

I made you go look because I want you to know that the positivity that I'm feeling about this year's NAA Conference in New Orleans is bursting through my chest like a baby alien in an 80s movie.  I had a phenomenal time, and wouldn't trade the experience for anything.  That being said, there is always room for improvement, and here are a few groups/areas that I'd love to see improvement from for next year:

Manufacturers of Cute Dress Shoes -

What is up with the 1/4 inch of padding in my cute shoes?  I walked like a madwoman for 4 days in NOLA and had to come home and anesthetize my feet.  The last two days I just gave up on the professional pretense and wore Nike flip-flops, and I know I wasn't the only one.  I'm still continuing my search for the uber conference shoe and the price I'm willing to pay for it is steadily rising year to year.

Conference Attendees-

 I don't know how much you paid to be there, I only know that my admission tab alone was around 600 bucks.  If your companies foot the bill for you to haul it to NOLA and get educated, the least you could do is show up to the education sessions in the morning.  I know - Bourbon Street is entrancing, but if you're wanting to party with the big dogs at night, then get up in the morning.  I got some of the most amazing ideas this year from those early morning sessions, and I was really blown away at how empty some of those rooms were on the second day.  Conference isn't an all expenses paid vacation - it's a blast and I promise anyone who goes will have more fun than they're expecting, but don't forget that you're here to work.  You're here to learn.  You're here to network.  I cannot tell you how sad it made me to sit in that last session of the conference, which by the by had an AMAZING speaker, and see only 1/4 of the room filled.  You missed the meat and potatoes, people - Stop filling up on bread!

Vendors, you know I love you but..

I mentioned it last year, and I'm going to say it again - come out from behind your booth!  Some of you were inventive and had inspired ideas (Which I will share a post of tomorrow), but too many of you, again, were standing there waiting for people to come to you.  I know even the smallest booth paid a lot to be there, so why are you not doing everything to get the most out of your investment?  Again, I know the days are high energy and it's a lot of time on your feet, but you guys are skilled sales people and relationship builders - this is no time to take a coffee break!  There were several of you that I had to walk up to and actively engage, and there were rows of vendor booths that I would walk down where no one would even talk to me.  I'm not scary, and neither are the other thousand prospective clients who you let walk past you.  Reach out, and about 75% of people are going to engage with you. 

Planners of the NAA Expo Floor -

I fully understand that there is value in being put in front of the main doors, on the main artery, and on the front row of vendor booths.  People pay big bucks for these spots.  I get it.  Now, let's look at the other 250 vendors who didn't have access to the traffic.  Do you think they will be back? Some will, some won't.  Don't think that I'm just a complainer here - I actually have a some solutions that I'm willing to offer up!  Granted, many of these are in the moment brainstorming kinds of answers that need refinement, but I'm still hopeful to inspire a genuine solution for next year.

  • Attach the prize drawing canister to the back of a golf cart and drive it to different parts of the trade show floor to do the drawings.  One of the big complaints that I heard on the first day was that the vendors on the back end of the conference floor would just finally start to get people to their booths and then a prize drawing would happen and all the people would scamper off again.  At least if we varied where the prizes were drawn then vendors on all corners of the floor would have access to the mass traffic at least once.  Also, it would look cool to have the drawing canister in tow behind the golf cart. 
  • Human Directional companies like the one that the Apartment All Stars showcased in their Idea Factory Session could be exceptionally useful since people love to watch others who posses skills they can only dream of having.  Having human directional shows in the less traveled areas of the trade show floor would be a good way to generate traffic to the back corners.
  • The Platinum sponsors probably aren't going to like this one, but why not spread out the massive booths throughout the trade show floor.  Here's the deal - they're still going to get the traffic because everyone wants a shot at that 10K, so most people are going to go get the cards and travel to each place to get them stamped.  The further apart these main booths are, the more of the conference floor is traversed by attendees.  And if you want to tell me that they won't get as much traffic to their own booths by spreading them out, I retort by just asking you to observe the line at Ellipse Inc,. who were not at the front of the expo, and still had massive traffic.  Granted, the Cowbears help, but they also knew how to draw in the crowd with a fun game and a good looking booth.
  • Bistro/lounge set ups at the back corners of the trade show floor would allow for meeting spaces, resting, and most importantly, a reason for people to go to the back corners of the trade show floor!  We already put out food tables back there, why not just take the plunge and drop a coffee bar in there?  The longer you keep people in the show, the more time they're going to spend at the booths, and if they have to go outside the show to find a good place to sit down, then you're going to lose them and they might not wander back in. 

Those are just the first 4 ideas out of my mind, and they might not work, but not knowing the constraints that the Expo team faces also gives me a chance to break the rules and play the what-if game, which as we all know, usually leads to some pretty interesting solutions. 

The other prickly item I found this year is that if you're hosting a national conference in a city, it would be polite to make the expo floor affordable for local property management professionals to explore.  $200 for a ticket to the expo floor blew me away.  I've attended the American Librarians Association conference more times than I care to count and to walk that expo floor is $25 - AND you come out with a ton of free books.  I would have understood $50 or even $100 for the expo floor, but $200 seemed a bit high.  I could even groove to a $200 ticket price for a local vendor and then a reduced price to onsite personnel.  Just something cheaper to inspire those local people to come in and get hooked so that they beg to be sent to the conference next year!

Conference Structure-

I loved the class structure this year and the schedule, but I was really sad to see the attendance on the third day.  There were some incredible sessions that day, and it was sad that there was hardly anyone in the closing keynote.  It felt like there wasn't a lot of commitment to that last day of the conference.   There was an elimination of the "Apartment Prom," and then the trade show was also closed, and the last day fell on a Saturday. Saturday is my weekend.  If we want people come to conference in a work frame of mind, we're going to have to respect that Saturday is their day off.  Again, I'm not just complaining.  I have some potential solutions!

  • Make the conference two days long.  If you're not going to have the trade show on the third day, going to nix the Apartment Prom and then put day three on a Saturday, you're much better off just going with a two day show.
  • Leave the conference at three days, but start the thing on a WEDNESDAY instead of Thursday.  Again, mad respect for the sacred Saturday, but also, it's just as easy to fly in on Tuesday night as it is to fly in on Wednesday night.  If the last day was on Friday, people might be more willing to stick around for the trade show, keynotes, and educational sessions.  Plus going a full day on Friday as the last day allows for NAA to add in additional speakers so that conference attendees have a chance to get more out of their fees.

Non Attendees-

Here's what I want to know: Why didn't you go?  Is it the location, the price tag, or the time away?  I know it's been a rough couple of years out there, but that's all the more reason that you should have been here.  This was a meeting of thought leaders and a Mecca of million dollar ideas for people who knew how to make the most out of their time in New Orleans.   How could you afford NOT to go?  Mad props this year to the group from Dolben, who sent over 50 of their amazing associates to the conference.  The big companies should have at very LEAST this kind of presence at these conferences.  Professional development goes a long way in retaining top talent.

So those are the areas and groups where I see a bit of room for improvement.  There wasn't much that needed improvement overall.  This year's conference was an incredible experience for me and for many of my property management friends who attended.  Will I see you next year in Vegas?  I hope so!  It's well worth the trip!

Talking about "Top It Tuesday"

"Thank You, Heather!"