Monday, August 12, 2013

Staying Fit on a 3000 Calorie Per Day Conference Diet....REALLY????

After returning from ASAE 2013 in Atlanta, I did a lot of self-analyzing about what I experienced with
regards to calorie consumption for 5 consecutive days.  Atlanta and its sponsors rolled out the red carpet for attendees, as any city does for ASAE, and we greatly appreciated it.  Alone, it wasn't a big deal at ASAE 2013 or at any other event, however, when you look over the course of a year at how many conferences, seminars, meet & greets, lunch & learns, and site visits we experience, it's a wonder we haven't exploded (no pun intended) under the pressure we put on our bodies from the excessive calorie intake.

It took me back to my late 30's at my first association.  Over a 12-week period I gained 30 pounds quickly, as a result of participating in numerous networking/legislative all-you-can-eat and drink functions.  I didn't even realize it until I went to the grocery store, and stood on the scale, that something was seriously going on with my weight.  After 12-weeks, I had gained 30 pounds, and the ONLY thing that was different in my life was the all-you-could-eat and drink calorie in-take at my association functions.

Studies show upwards of 80% of healthcare costs come from behavior lifestyle choices that people make.  These choices include (but are not limited to):   poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, lack of sleep, and/or excessive drinking.   These behaviors can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, heart attack, and metabolic syndrome, just to name a few.  Now, I'm not trying to throw fear around lightly, but rather, trying to be real about the consequences of our habits and choices when it comes to the serious over consumption of calories in the association "lifestyle".

It really hit me when my wife, DeAnna, Owner and Creator of Fit in Your Pants, LLC, and shared with me the fact that over two-thirds of American adults are considered obese.  It made me think: "How healthy is the association and hospitality industry, given how many calories we consume over the course of a year?"  ...and I don't see very many execs in the workout room when I'm walking past it, so we aren't burning the calories off.

Over my 18 year career, I have found it amazing the amount of calories, we as association professionals, and even the hospitality professionals, consume in the course of our conference/meeting.  ...and one of the biggest reasons is, it comes so easy to our fingertips, and in unlimited fashion.  This is how a typical day can be for many at conference:
  • Full breakfast (or worse, just pastries and bagels)
  • Morning break (with sodas and cookies)
  • Lunch (with bread and dessert)
  • Afternoon break (with more sodas and cookies or ice cream)
  • Sponsored evening receptions
  • Hors d'oeuvres before dinner
  • 4-course dinner
  • Desserts to die for
  • More post dinner networking receptions 
  • After hour hospitality suites
Don't get me wrong...this kind of a day, in and of itself, is not a bad deal for one or two  conferences a year.  BUT in the association and hospitality industry, this is a constant...we live this schedule day in, and day out.  Again, it's not bad, but we need to consider how we manage it so it's not damaging to our health over the long haul.

The reason I decided to write on this topic is my concern for the physical health of our industry, and the people I know and care about in it.  I personally live a very active and fun lifestyle at any conference I attend.  I love the networking, and come with lots of energy, do lots of crazy stuff that many say they can't do, and typically dance til late into the night with my friends.  

Many ask, "Tom, how do you do it?"

Well, in my early 30's, I didn't need to have a plan because the calories just ran off my body, and weight just stayed away.  Now, in my late 40's, those same calories hang on for dear life, and the weight is like a magnet to my body.  I knew that if I kept up the "conference lifestyle" in my 40's like I did in my 30's, I was sure to drive my health into the ground, and not be able to maximize my enjoyment of the people and experiences that are so important to us all.
When my association friends are wanting to go out dancing, kayaking, mountain biking, zip-lining, skiing, white water rafting, or run a 5K, I don't want my body to say "no".  I came to the conclusion that I needed to think and act differently throughout the year at any association function.  

So over the last year, with the help of my wife, who is a Personal Trainer and Health/Wellness Coach, I've developed a balance of disciplined eating, moderation, and fitness that keeps my body feeling young, energetic, and fit.  Three things you need to know about keeping your body at a weight you feel good at are:

  1. 80% of weight loss comes from the kitchen (what you eat)
  2. You can NEVER workout more than the calories you consume
  3. To get to the weight, and have the toned body you desire, you MUST do both:  disciplined eating and fitness
For those of you who say, "Tom, I travel too much or don't have the time", your excuses can disappear.  Now with companies like Fit In Your Pants, you can have access to mobile personal training that you can do anytime, anywhere.   I consistently do my workouts in my hotel room, with no weights, and I feel great for meetings...more energetic during the day because I'm burning the calories I'm consuming at conference, and I'm mentally more fit as well. 

Now I don't want any of you to be thinking, "Wow, I can't enjoy my conference experience nearly as
much now."  You can, but with some slight shifts in conference consumption habits, and moderate fitness training.

To help you walk away with some serious take-aways that will transform your life, I've put together a list of "10 do's" and "10 don'ts" to help you be more proactive in managing your conference experience.  These 20 small action steps will help you work towards a more healthy and long-lasting life in the association profession.  My wife/Personal Trainer, and has provided these tips to me from her experience attending association conferences:

10 Things You SHOULD Do At A Conference
  1. Eat…don’t skip meals, BUT chose wisely (think vegi’s, and lean proteins)
  2. Pack your own healthy snacks to carry in your bag.  This will help you to avoid making bad choices because of low blood sugar.
  3. Chose vegi’s and fruit over other less healthy choices (bread, pasta, dessert)
  4.  Eat dessert, BUT only have a bite or two.
  5. Drink like a fish…WATER.
  6. When drinking mixed drinks, let the mixer be water.
  7. Take your vitamins (especially your B12)
  8. Try to get 8 hrs. of sleep.
  9. Make time to sweat everyday (even 15-20 minutes of exercise is better than nothing)
  10. Have a glass of water in between each “adult” beverage

10 Things You Should NOT Do At A Conference
  1. Avoid the high calories/high carb breakfasts (bagels, doughnuts, pastries)
  2.  Say “No” to the bread and butter on the table.
  3. Skip the high calorie/high fat snacks.
  4. Don’t do soda…not even diet.
  5. Avoid the temptations at the booths (candy, cookies, and other junk food)
  6. Don’t do “seconds”…only one pass through the buffet.
  7. Say “No” to the floating appetizer trays (or at least only have one)
  8. Avoid the sweet, “fluffy” mixed drinks (there can be as many as several hundred calories in EACH drink)
  9. Don’t sit for long periods of time (you burn more calories standing and walking)
  10. Don’t go with the attitude that you’ll eat, drink, and be merry with reckless abandon for several days…it WILL be waiting for you when you get home and step on the scale.
...and remember, along with these 20 shifts in thinking, find a good mobile workout program you can do in your hotel room every other day.  With disciplined diet, moderation, and a fitness program, you can maintain a healthy lifestyle that will keep your waistline slim, healthcare costs down, and maximize your life and conference experiences.

Make a personal commitment to change your habits for your spouse, kids, family, friends, and co-workers who depend on you.  Years down the road, you will say it was the best decision you ever made, and you'll be adding years to your life, and life to your years!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Online Education: How It Can Print Money For Associations

In today's association environment, it is imperative associations look outside their dues structure to add value to members and much needed revenue to their funding sources.  When looking at new or current programs, there are always three types of programs associations offer:
  1. Ones the members can get for free anywhere
  2. Ones the association is going to do whether they are members or not
  3. Ones the association does better together than the members can do themselves
I'm here to tell you that if most of your value to your members is based on #1 and/or #2, your value proposition is at serious risk.  It is crucial you dig into your members daily lives as professionals and businesses and understand what are their big challenges.  Members are spending big money on outside consultants to fix problems in their business that the association could be spending.

Engaging members in programs "together", where they can leverage their budgets and maximize their performance, is the perfect type programs and services associations should be pursuing.  Effective non-dues revenue programs that are meaningful to members can have a dramatic impact on an association's budget.

Once our association began to dig into meaningful programs for our members, our non-dues revenue began to grow like crazy through member engagement.  The following graph illustrates the impact the programs have had on our associations "per member revenue."

At one time, we took in about $1,550 per member on an annual basis.  Now our association generates over $2,200 per member.  That is an extra $227,000 a year in revenue.  We would have to recruit 126 new members to equal that same revenue.  As we all know, it is a much cheaper investment by the association to get current members to spend more money with the association than it is to recruit new members.

The impact of raising our per member revenue through more effective non-dues programs has been amazing.  The following graph illustrates our growth in annual non-dues revenue:

As you can see, our non-dues revenue has grown from less than $30,000 a year, to now almost $140,000.

One of the biggest drivers of that new non-dues revenue is online education and training.  Here's how online education fits the criteria for the perfect non-dues revenue program:

  • The association can do it more effectively than the members
  • It has high profit margins
  • It takes minimal staff effort with the right learning management system

As of this year, our association has an online learning academy that:

  • Generates almost $100,000 in annual revenue
  • Has over 350 course enrollments a month (over 32,000 in 7 years)
  • Has saved members over $2,000,000 in training costs over 7 years
  • Takes less than one man hour a week by staff to administer

Since its inception, our online academy has been able to deliver high quality content, in a user friendly environment, at a significant savings to our members, while driving extra revenue to the association annual budget.

I highly encourage all associations that do not have an online training strategy to seek one out.  If you have content in any format, or an industry professional you can partner with in a revenue sharing arrangement, you are sitting on the same opportunity to drive new revenue to  your association.

From my experience, the keys to a successful online learning strategy that engages your members in the program are as follows:

Need to Establish a Culture of Training Within Your Membership
It is proven by studies that companies that train their employees have higher morale, more confident employees, less error rates, higher gross profits, embrace change and accept technology easier.
Associations need to brand that thinking in order for members to take training serious.  They need to see the positive impact training will have on their career or business profits/productivity.

A User Friendly Learning Management System (LMS)
Whichever LMS you choose, you must have the following three items for you to maximize net revenue and minimize staff involvement:
  • Content creation, of courses, is point, click, upload environment
  • User friendly to the member in navigation
  • Cost structure to your association that allows your association to maximize your revenue
Content That is Relevant to Your Members Needs
Associations typically have content without even knowing it.  If you have written content, videos, power points, or past conference sessions, you have content to consider for your online learning center.  If you don't have that, you may have an industry professional, who for a 2-year revenue sharing opportunity, would create content for your association.  We gave an industry professional 20% of course revenues for two-years and he created 43-hours of videos, power points, and tests for us.  The point is, every association has content.  You just need to find it with yours, get it online, and sell it.

Certificate Specialist Program to Keep Members in the Program Long Term
We have found, employees love to accomplish training goals, and employers love to post those certificates of those who reach their goals.  It looks good to customers and motivates the other employees.  Certificate programs are easy to create.  You don't need to certify that someone is qualified at a certain level of performance...that comes with liability.  What you can easily create is a certificate program that certifies a person has taken at least so many hours of training and worked for at least a certain period of time in the industry.  The certificate demonstrates they have had some minimum level of knowledge based, and on-the job training.

Unlimited Subscription Model Availability
99% of our training engagement comes from members who purchase an annual subscription for unlimited use of our online learning academy.   With the financial cost structure we had with our LMS, it made it possible for us to take the video rental model of purchase courses one at a time for a certain price, or pay a higher price and get unlimited usage of our over 200 hours of training for your company.  Members jump all over the unlimited subscription model given it was highly competitive, provided them a group account to track all their employee's progress, and everything was tracked online, so it fixed their training budget each year.

In closing, I would encourage anyone reading this post to research and explore an online education strategy.