The future can be a scary place. Nobody knows what it will entail, if there will be another global pandemic or what the next big industry disruption will be. All we can do as business event planners is become best prepared as humanly possible for whatever life decides to throw at us. The Digital Event Strategist (DES) certification is your insurance policy for future disrupters.
Alaina Faiello, Vice President, Professional Development, NAIFA, spent time completing the DES course. This is her story.
Tell us a little bit about what you do and what made you pursue DES in the first place.
My name is Alaina Faiello. I’m the vice president of professional development for the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA). We are a 130-year-old association, and we’ve been in the business for quite some time representing the agents and advisors in both the financial services and insurance industries.
I started in this position in January 2020, managing all of the national professional development events for the organization. I dove in with grand visions of where we thought we were heading as an organization, and then this little thing called COVID hit. We had to make some quick pivots over into the digital space to continue to engage our members educationally. We had tiptoed into digital learning with webinars previously, but this really pushed us with a lot of forward momentum not only into webinars and digital town halls, but also transitioning our in-person conferences into virtual conferences — something that the association had never done before.
2020 was a very reactionary year with a lot of adjustments for our organization. When the opportunity presented itself, we wanted to spend some time making sure that what we are doing is meeting the needs of our members from an experiential level but is also still giving them the opportunity to learn, engage and grow within their profession.
We were seeing information about the DES program shared so frequently through PCMA. For us, it came down to, “Why would we NOT do this?” The rise of digital programming is not going away. We are in a different era when it comes to learning and development and we want to ensure that what we are providing educationally for our membership base and for our industry is the best that we can be doing.
What key learnings from the DES course have you implemented in the event(s) you’ve worked on / are working on?
There are three areas that I wanted to point out because the content was fantastic.
First, the course provided affirmation in some ways for things that we had already implemented; at the same time, it provided guidance on developing a more well-rounded approach to our processes. On topics like the KPIs and the ROI, that entire portion was so beneficial to me on how we can better analyze the programs we deliver. I think it is so important to make sure everyone that has a stake in the game understands what those key performance indicators are and is in agreement with that. That sets the expectations for what we consider success. Same thing with the ROI is tying it back to what the long-term value of our programs is.
Speaker management process. It’s one thing to do speaker management for in-person events when things can happen organically; it’s a completely different process when it’s a digital event. You have to ask yourself: are these speakers comfortable in a virtual space? Do they know how to make the transition to virtual successful? Do they know how to set up their workstation and look/sound their best? It really gave us a chance to fine tune what our speaker management process has been historically.
Attendee experience. What is the experience? What are the behaviors we want to see coming out as part of this event? In my mind, attendee experience is where all planning should start. It’s about putting ourselves in the attendees’ shoes. As planners, we may know the ins and outs of the event, but we have to take that lens and shift it over to somebody who hasn’t seen any of this and really focus in on what we want their experience to be.
Also, we are instituting a learning management system at NAIFA. Just from sitting through the DES course, being a student and seeing how things were run and pulled together has helped us pull together our learning management system. That was probably a side benefit, but it was such a great way for us to see how a multi-week event is structured that gave us some tips and advice on how we should do things on our own.
If a friend or colleague is on the fence about taking DES, what would you say to nudge them?
This past year was very eye-opening and digital is not going to go away. We all are hoping and looking forward to getting back to in-person, but I think you’re going to see a lot more of the hybrid in the digital space, much more than ever before. It’s better to grasp on to that environment shift now and get on board with where learning and development is going to be so that you can be sure you are doing the best for your organization and your members, that you are meeting them where they are.
If anyone would ask me about taking the DES course, I’d say this program provided affirmation on the things that we’ve been doing well, and it gave us an opportunity to think through how we can even be more well-rounded in our approach to digital events. NAIFA has always been looking forward to how we can continue to grow, advance and do more for our membership base and for the industry. By upskilling ourselves and our team through programs like the DES certification, we can continue to provide our attendees with the best experiences, the best opportunities and the best educational events possible.