By Patricia Montague, CAE 2017-06-15 10:30:07
There are no hot-headed decisions when planning the COOLEST event of the year. Veterans of SNA’s Annual National Conference (ANC) are fervent, faithful fans, with thousands attending multiple times over the course of their school nutrition career. Ask about their first or favorite ANC, and they will cite details about the year, location, General Session speakers, entertainment and more. My first—and still one of my favorites—was Boston in 1993. I had only started working at the Association a month earlier, so ANC was invaluable in helping me to quickly learn about the organization and begin to meet our wonderful members. This year in Atlanta, I will mark my 23rd ANC; I have missed just two (1994 and 1997) only because I was on leave welcoming my two sons into the world. Even after two decades of involvement in planning numerous aspects of this four-day conference—typically with more than 6,500 attendees; highly produced General Sessions; 120+ education sessions; and a 200,000+-sq.-ft. Exhibit Hall with 900+ booths—I am still amazed at how all the moving parts of this event come together so successfully year after year. It takes a great team of both volunteer leaders and staff. The effort begins with the ANC Planning Committee, which is comprised of a member Chair and Co-chair; the SNA President, President-Elect and Industry Representative; and the SNA CEO, Staff Vice President of Membership, Marketing and Professional Development, Staff Vice President of Business Development & Meetings and Director of Meetings. Most of the other 48 members of the Headquarters staff team also play significant roles. We rely on the expertise of several conference vendors, including our long-time show “decorator” (Global Experience Services), as well as our audio/video company (PSAV), housing company (Conference Direct), convention center staff, hotel teams and the local convention and visitors bureau. Last, but most certainly not least, we are grateful for the assistance of 100 volunteers from the host SNA state association, who work tirelessly onsite to ensure a great attendee experience. Although some conference details are set even before the current ANC begins (such as the next year’s theme and look), planning begins in earnest after we analyze attendee evaluations. At the close of each ANC, SNA sends a survey via email to all registrants, requesting feedback on numerous aspects of their meeting experience. Approximately 1,000 members make time to share their reflections, which often include detailed comments and suggestions for improvement. The results are shared with staff and leaders as we dive into the planning for the following year. Attendees evaluating ANC 2016 in San Antonio were overwhelmingly (97%) positive about their conference experience. This is consistent with the overall satisfaction rate for prior ANCs. The satisfaction ratings for the education sessions earned the highest numbers in five years, with 93% of attendees saying they were “very satisfied/satisfied.” Registrants also consistently rate the Exhibit Hall very highly year after year, with 98% “very satisfied/satisfied” in 2016. The pressure is on to continue this trend! Last August, when I was reviewing the many pages of comments from ANC 2016 in San Antonio, I realized it might be helpful to write a School Nutrition article that takes readers behind the scenes. As we complete the final touches on ANC 2017 in Atlanta, this is a terrific opportunity to explain certain ANC activities, policies, processes, traditions and decisions—and how and why some may change over time. I’m looking forward to ANC 2017 in Atlanta this summer, how about you? The articles in this issue of School Nutrition identify many of the highlights that you can expect onsite. And when it’s all over, and you receive that email asking for your feedback, please tell us what you thought and how we can continue to make sure ANC meets your needs in Las Vegas and beyond. EVALUATIONS WHAT’S AN EXAMPLE OF HOW EVALUATIONS ARE USED TO MAKE CHANGES? We take all attendee feedback seriously. On last year’s evaluations, a comment that was repeated numerous times was dissatisfaction with the registration badge holder, which featured a metal clasp. Attendees complained that “it jingled while walking, sitting, dancing, etc.” We heard you! This year we are introducing a new badge holder that is not so noisy. SITES HOW DOES SNA GO ABOUT SELECTING THE ANC HOST CITIES? There is an official policy for ANC Site Selection which states that primary consideration be attendee acceptance and overall meeting profitability. Secondary consideration is a regional rotation through the eastern, western and central parts of the country. It costs SNA approximately $2 million to produce ANC each year—and expenses increase annually. We track attendance numbers by location, and we also collect any location-related feedback made on the post-conference evaluations. We review attendance by member segment and by each individual state. All of this data helps us to make informed decisions about the likely popularity of future sites. This is a standard best practice for any large national association. Given the number of education sessions we provide and the room sizes required to meet our attendance needs, plus the square-footage of the Exhibit Hall, the size of a city’s convention center is another factor in site selection. Some cities simply don’t have a convention center big enough to accommodate our needs. We also must ensure whether there are sufficient hotel rooms available within a relatively short distance of the convention center. These two factors alone can eliminate certain cities from consideration. SCHEDULE WHEN STATE CONFERENCES ARE TYPICALLY SHORTER, WHY IS ANC SO LONG? ANC has been a four-day conference, Sunday through Wednesday (five days, if you count pre-conference workshops and travel time), for more than 30 years. There are many activities to schedule, so accommodating these over a longer duration has been a priority for providing top value for the registration fee. But this trend is changing for many national associations, including SNA, as members report that four-to-five days is simply too long—and too expensive—to be away from home. Beginning in 2019, in St. Louis, ANC will eliminate one day from the schedule; it will officially be held Sunday through Tuesday. This will be in line with the average annual meeting for most associations of our size and it will help control costs for members and SNA, while the reduced time away from school districts and offices should find favor with attendees and those who approve their travel. SPEAKERS HOW DO YOU DECIDE THE KEYNOTE SPEAKERS AND THE ENTERTAINMENT FOR THE CONCERT? General Session speakers are those who offer inspirational, humorous and/or business management-related messages. SNA has long focused on kicking off ANC with a keynote speaker who has some public renown or recognition, often a celebrity from the entertainment, sports or news worlds. The cost of this caliber of speaker continues to increase every year, so the selection is also tied to the overall ANC budget. Input is gathered from the ANC Planning Committee, Board of Directors and staff team. This year, in response to participant feedback for more time to attend valuable education sessions, SNA has reduced its ANC General Sessions to two: an opening session on Sunday and a closing one on Wednesday. Concert entertainment selection is also based on input from leaders and staff. Rotation among different musical genres is taken into account, but the most significant factors are overall costs and the availability of talent in early July, which is a very busy time, when many groups are on tour. TOPICS HOW DO YOU DETERMINE THE NUMBER, TOPICS AND SPEAKERS FOR THE EDUCATION SESSIONS? The number of education sessions is based on the overall conference schedule. This year in Atlanta, we’ve been able to add sessions concurrent with the Star Club Breakfast on Monday (since only a small percentage of registrants attend this event) and on Tuesday in place of a General Session. The topics of individual sessions are determined based on the four Key Areas of USDA’s Professional Standards requirement and SNA’s educational programming: Nutrition, Operations, Administration and Communications & Marketing. A Call for Proposals is issued each July. A volunteer committee representing SNA’s various member segments works with staff to review and rate all proposals. This helps to ensure program content that is relevant. The committee and a panel of experts also review training priorities identified through member surveys and discuss other emerging trends in school nutrition, and they may invite additional speakers to present on specific topics. The final line-up of sessions is intended to provide a balance among the four key areas, as well as among the many job levels and areas represented by ANC attendees. Popular presenters who regularly earn high marks from attendee evaluations are usually invited back year after year. But program planners are always on the lookout for new stars, too! If you have an innovative approach for a presentation on a timely topic, be sure to submit a proposal before September 30, 2017, to be considered for ANC 2018 in Las Vegas. CONTINUING EDUCATION UNITS HOW ARE PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT CREDITS AWARDED FOR ANC ATTENDANCE? Attendees can earn 12+ CEUs or training hours for Professional Standards in the four Key Areas for education sessions covering relevant topics, from the nuts and bolts of K-12 school foodservice to the hottest topics in school nutrition. The only sessions where credits are not awarded is the First-Timers Session and the Legislative Sessions. Two additional credits are available for time in the Exhibit Hall for most attendees; contact your individual State Agency to determine if these are accepted in your state. Credits are not available for attending the General Sessions. AGENDA WHY AREN’T EDUCATION SESSIONS SCHEDULED DURING EXHIBIT HALL HOURS? This is a best practice in the association industry. Research shows that members attend conferences such as ANC for several reasons. Education sessions are important, but so is networking time, as well as the opportunity to identify new product solutions. Vendors make a considerable investment to exhibit at ANC and deserve to have the undivided attention of attendees. FAMILY WHY CAN’T I BRING FAMILY—IN PARTICULAR, CHILDREN UNDER AGE 16—INTO THE EXHIBIT HALL? The convention center limits the number of people who can be on the floor of the Exhibit Hall. In addition, the Hall is a place of business among vendors and school nutrition professionals. This is why it’s open only to those who are committed to paying a full or daily registration fee. In addition, children under 16 are prohibited for safety and liability reasons. HOTEL WHY MUST I REGISTER FOR ANC BEFORE BOOKING MY HOTEL? This hotel reservation policy was approved by the SNA Board of Directors for all SNA meetings and is another best practice of most large national associations. It was established to eliminate a habit of individuals booking large blocks of hotel rooms and then taking advantage of the opportunity to cancel and release unused rooms just before the start of the conference. With the new policy, more hotel rooms are available to members in some of the more sought-after hotel locations. In addition, it minimizes SNA’s hotel attrition risk (when the organization’s assets must be used to cover the cost of cancelled rooms released at the last minute). SPECIAL NEEDS WHAT IF I NEED SPECIAL ACCOMMODATIONS AT ANC? SNA is committed to ensuring that all meeting activities are accessible. To discuss your needs, email email@example.com. Staff can help you with your questions about convention center accessibility, privacy for nursing mothers, accommodating hearing impairments, food allergies and so on. SPECIAL EVENTS HOW DO I GET AN INVITATION TO SPECIAL INDUSTRY EVENTS? SNA is not involved in coordinating the various parties or events that are hosted by industry during ANC. Contact a representative of the sponsoring vendor with any queries. MARK YOUR CALENDAR FOR FUTURE ANCs! July 9-12, 2018, Las Vegas, Nevada July 14-16, 2019, St. Louis, Missouri July 12-14, 2020, Nashville, Tennessee July 11-13, 2021, Chicago, Illinois July 10-12, 2022, Orlando, Florida Patricia Montague is SNA’s Chief Executive Officer.
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