The Emamo Show: Event Planner Conversations

Event Chair Teagan Eastman of ULA - Streamline Your Programming By Aligning Your Team & Goals

Episode Summary

We chat with Teagan Eastman, Chair of the Utah Library Association's 2020 annual conference. We talked about the importance of assembling the right team, how even small changes can improve your event experience, and what tools they used to make it happen.

Episode Notes

We chat with Teagan Eastman, Chair of the Utah Library Association's 2020 annual conference. We talked about the importance of assembling the right team, how even small changes can improve your event experience, and what tools they used to make it happen.

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Intro & Outro music:
"Funk Game Loop" by Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

Episode Transcription

ULA Interview w/ Teagan Eastman

Michelle Lee: Hey guys, this is Michelle from Emamo. Today, we're talking with Teagan Eastman, Chair of the Utah Library Association's 2020 Annual Conference. We talk about the importance of assembling the right team, how even small changes can improve your event experience, and what tools they used to make it happen. Welcome to The Emamo Show.

Michelle Lee: Thanks Teagan for hopping on a call. To get us started, can you describe the event to somebody who's never attended before?

Teagan Eastman: Yeah! So, ULA, it's the Utah Library Association. It's our annual conference. It's a pretty broad conference. It's meant for librarians across the state.

That could be public librarians, academic librarians. Librarians that work for an archive or just for the state. It's got a pretty broad focus. Whereas other conferences, for example, that I might go to, that have just a specific academic or instruction focus -- this one's pretty broad. So it might be the only conference that somebody attends in the year if they're a public librarian that doesn't get a lot of funding. So we try to keep that in mind when we're planning it, that we have a really broad audience. Something we keep in mind when we plan our programming or the speakers that we invite, so we try to keep that at kind of the heart of our planning.

Michelle Lee: You went over this a little bit. But what is kind of the goal of the conference? Is it to provide education or what does that look like?

Teagan Eastman: I think it's kind of two-prong. I think it's a networking opportunity, so a chance for everybody to get together. It's a three-day event, pre-conferences and then two days of a general conference. It's an opportunity for people to come and learn on those days. But it's also just a chance for everybody to kind of just get together once a year. Utah's a really big state and it might be the only time for us to get together and kind of talk about the issues that we're facing as a profession or as a state, and talk about how we handle those challenges or learning strategies or anything like that. So networking and learning, and just coming together as a group of individuals in the state.

Michelle Lee: How long has the -- I know ULA has been around for many, many, many years, but how long has the conference been happening?

Teagan Eastman: Sorry that I don't know that. Yeah, I don't

Michelle Lee: Oh, no no --

Teagan Eastman: I wish I knew... I don't know.

Michelle Lee: How long have you been working with the conference?

Teagan Eastman: Well, I would assume that it's been around as probably as long as the organization that's a pretty standard, like hand in hand. It might not have been on the scale as as it is right now. But yeah, I assume in some way they've been gathering, in a learning, networking manner.

Michelle Lee: Oh for sure whether it's kind of official or unofficial people come together to learn from each other. You mentioned like kind of the scale like how -- I do you know how many attendees you usually get, or participants?

Teagan Eastman: Yeah about 500 or 600 depends on the location.

Michelle Lee: Very cool. Kind of going into the process of planning the conference -- as your gear up for the new year, what is the first step you guys take when you're starting to plan for the upcoming conference?

Teagan Eastman: Yeah first steps, I guess... I don't feel like we ever take a first step. It's like always like a continuous step, I don't think I like it ever stops. I guess the first step for me as a chair was just filling all the positions; making sure that I have manpower. That's a good step. ULA's pretty lucky. We have an Event Planner, so somebody that's logistically responsible for coordinating with the event center and maintaining those contracts with the location and handling all of that. So I feel like her job's probably the most critical and she takes those first steps probably before the old conference even ends or the last conference.

Michelle Lee: Wow. So you're right. There's no break really, you just kind of keep going.

Teagan Eastman: We already have the next locations already lined up for the next couple of conferences. And contracts for those signed. So yeah, I don't feel like it ever really ends or begins.

Michelle Lee: It's just the process continuing.

Teagan Eastman: It's a continuum of things.

Michelle Lee: It sounds like, just to touch back on something you mentioned, I know you were the chair. So do you bring together like a team? Is that a new team every year to help manage the conference?

Teagan Eastman: Yeah, so I was vice chair last year, so I had like my training year. And then there's a whole bunch of positions. We have a list, I don't even know how many there are, maybe like 12. Publicity, Programming, Vice-Programming, Hospitality. There's a person kind of in charge of each one of those and then the chair is...

Michelle Lee: In charge of all of those folks.

Teagan Eastman: Yeah, like I have my hands in all of them because of who I am as a person, but..

Michelle Lee: [Laughs]

Teagan Eastman: Last year, I was just kind of watching the old chair making sure that I was aware of everything. It's definitely a team process with the chair just kind of making sure everything's running smoothly. And then we also worked very closely with the ULA Executive Team. So we have a conference call once a month with the planning team. That's me and then all of my people, and that the ULA President, President-Elect, and then the past president joins to kind of give you that institutional knowledge to make sure that we're representing goals of what ULA's mission is for that year.

So every year they have kind of, like a message kind of like what the cabinet has. Like these are the things we want to achieve for this year.

Michelle Lee: And focus on.

Teagan Eastman: And let's make sure that we're aligning our programming and the people that we bring in. Make sure that our conference represents that message and that mission that ULA's trying to achieve for that year.

The conference sets up the mission that they're going to announce for the next year. So we just want to make sure that we're all on the same page for that. It's really helpful to have the ULA Executive Team on that call. And they bring that institutional knowledge because a lot of them have been around for a really long time. Whereas I've only been around for like two years.

Michelle Lee: And it kind of brings some consistency I imagine, to the attendees and having that kind of continual contact with leadership, things like that.

Teagan Eastman: Exactly. And so this year we made the decision where the past chair also stays on the committee. So we get that institutional knowledge there too. So we don't every year have to like learn.

Michelle Lee: Yeah. I can imagine that's part of a struggle of having a new team managing the conference itself. Is that there's, you know, there's all these things of, "Last year, oh this is how we did it.". And, having to start from scratch versus having that passed on.

Teagan Eastman: I feel like the Chair always emails the old chair anyways, and now that person gets the credit of actually being on it. And you just get a lot more momentum of having a person there.

Michelle Lee: Oh for sure.

Teagan Eastman: I think we have a pretty smooth ship sailing with how we're doing stuff for sure.

Michelle Lee: That's awesome! What are some of the tools you guys use whether it's reaching out to the potential audience, you know. What are some of the solutions you guys use.

Teagan Eastman: Yeah! Okay, so we use Zoom a lot for our conference calls. I don't know if that's relevant to you, but...

Michelle Lee: Oh no yeah, I mean, we're using Zoom now.

Teagan Eastman: So because we are all across the state it's hard for us to meet like that. We use Wild Apricot to send out email blasts to submit proposals and calls for things like that. Or if we need things like or raising awareness about scholarships or sponsorships or things like that, sending out blasts through Wild Apricot is really an easy way to do that. We're pretty low tech and we use Google Drive for a lot of our internal communication -- not communication but like I have all of my budget forms are in Google Drive.

Michelle Lee: Resources and things like that.

Teagan Eastman: Yeah, or like all of the past letters of advice from presidents are in there and like our planning documents, that's all Google Drive. Our agendas. We use Survey Monkey a lot for conference surveys. Our submissions are gathered for Survey Monkey. We use Sched for our conference online schedule. We use that, it's kind of a secondary -- we have a print program. But my preference would be to use Sched primarily and save some trees.

Michelle Lee: Yeah, I imagine that's a slow process

Teagan Eastman: It is a fight that you gotta fight, you know. And you know pick what hill to die on but Sched is something that we do use. We have print program. Zoom. Wild Apricot. We used to use RegOnline which was our software, err registration company. So when they were bought out we decided to stick within Wild Apricot and try that out for a year because they have a registration company. It's kind of simultaneous with our membership, kind of makes that process a little bit more seamless.

Michelle Lee: Totally.

Teagan Eastman: I think that's pretty much all the solutions I can think of. We're pretty low tech.

Michelle Lee: No, I mean that's pretty high tech because you're using Zoom, Google Drive, like that's definitely [high tech], and I also didn't realize that your team is kind of spread across the state for ULA. I mean, I work on a remote team as well. So having those tools available -- we also use Google Drive and Zoom and things like that.

Teagan Eastman: Yeah.

Michelle Lee: Are the attendees of the annual conference - is it only ULA members? Or who's the audience? And then how do you handle that registration aspect of it?

Teagan Eastman: Yeah. So this will be the first year that we've used Wild Apricot for registration. So that'll be a good follow-up question to see how it goes. We give a discount for people that are members. A lot of organizations tend to register a lot of their members [with ULA]. Like everybody that works for Salt Lake County Libraries is a member of ULA. So a lot of people just kind of have a membership already, I'd say probably like 80% of the people that come to ULA are members. If you're going to be a part of anything and you can't afford to be a part of anything else, ULA's that conference you go to in the state. Especially if you're at a small really regional library, this is probably the only conference you can go to right, you can't afford to go to the American Library Association because your library's not going to pay for that. But they probably pay for you to go to ULA.

Michelle Lee: But you don't have to be a member to attend.

Teagan Eastman: You don't have to be, but the membership fee is like $20. It's not that bad.

Michelle Lee: Yeah, it's like you might as well be part of that community.

Teagan Eastman: Yeah, and there's a few perks that you get. It's just that there's not a lot of barriers to [ULA membership]. We try to keep that really low and then you get the lower admission to it. So...

Michelle Lee: Kinda worth it for sure.

Teagan Eastman: I'm not one that joins things a lot.

Michelle Lee: Yeah, but this one's definitely worth it! Cool, so you guys are this coming year, for 2020, using Wild Apricot for registration?

Teagan Eastman: Yeah, and that's the first time.

Michelle Lee: Cool. Okay. Well, I will definitely follow up in the summer to see how it goes. It's always exciting and kind of scary to try something new, you know, it has to integrate.

Teagan Eastman: Especially when you're in charge.

Michelle Lee: Yeah when you're in charge. you got to manage that for sure. Well, I'm looking forward to following up and checking on to see how it goes. You know, we talked about registration. As far as the actual content itself, I know just like looking at this past year's conference, there's a mix of what looks like keynotes and workshops or you how do you guys determine that schedule and programming?

Teagan Eastman: Yeah, so we solicit proposals in October. So we're doing that right now and then in November and December, we have our conference team and then our ULA Board look it over. Our board is made up of a bunch of roundtable individuals. So that would be people -- we have a bunch of, how do I describe round tables -- so they're different sects of areas of librarianship. Like Youth Services, Diversity Services, Academic Librarians or Special Collections. They all have a roundtable and they're all a part of the Utah Library Board. So all of those roundtable leaders come to this big meeting in December and we all vote on the programs that we would like to see. We take all of the submissions that we received, we rank them, and then we take the final 60 or so and turn that into our program. So it's a little bit about what we receive but then ultimately those roundtables and then the conference board, kind of craft that together. So we rank things. And then obviously, right now we're kind of looking at those and seeing ,"Hey, we're not getting a lot of X and we're trying to solicit more of those." I just emailed our Diversity roundtable and it's like, "Hey, you should send out the message to your people. We're not getting a lot of topics on this and that's something we'd really like to see." So we can kind of craft that as we go, but obviously we're only as good as what we get. We try to make sure that the roundtables have a say in the final thing that we get.

Michelle Lee: Oh got it. Right, so you have a big pool of content and then hopefully, you know, you guys kind of determine, "Oh, we have some representation across the board."

Teagan Eastman: Yeah.

Michelle Lee: Very cool.

Teagan Eastman: And then the roundtables can go back to their people and say, "Hey we had a say in this. This is what we had to work with, and we voted on this." So it's kind of like a democracy in a way.

Michelle Lee: That's really awesome. So let's say, kind of digging into that a little more, let's say you got this pool, you've spoken with the roundtables, you know, maybe it's January of this coming year. A t what point, and what does it look like when you start having to nail down the final program of, "Hey, this is the keynote at 8 a.m." And that kind of thing.

Teagan Eastman: So keynotes are a little bit different. Keynotes are people, so I guess keynotes are in a separate pool so that the thing that we do with the roundtables and the conference people -- those are our 20-minute and our 50-minute sessions, and our pre-conferences. The keynotes we solicit. The President of ULA gets to pick those. So we pick an author speaker for lunch, that's usually a Utah author. Usually a Young Adult author because that seems to be who lives in Utah. Then we pick two other keynote speakers for Thursday and Friday. And then the President of ULA picks those kind of based on that mission for the year.

Michelle Lee: Right. That makes sense, the keynotes are more selected rather than self-submitted.

Teagan Eastman: Yeah.

Michelle Lee: But also that's fairly common, I expect. Kind of those high profile, you know, flagship events for that.

Teagan Eastman: Right, and you have to pay those people, so you kind of have to work with like who you can get within your budget. So if they asked for like, Barack Obama, we would have to be like, "Well, that's a great but we can't afford Barack."

Michelle Lee: Like absolutely not. How does your team like actually put together the schedule of, "Oh, we're going to throw this workshop in at this time" you know.

Teagan Eastman: Good question.

Michelle Lee: Is it a fish bowl and fingers crossed, or...

Teagan Eastman: Yeah, so we have a Programming Chair and Vice Chair and they are magical at that. I have no idea. I once saw the spreadsheet that they had to work with. And there was magical formulas and there were a lot of colors and there were like 16,000 different sheets at the bottom. And I immediately closed it because it gave me anxiety. So I think that the people that are in charge of that are like a different breed of human that are superhuman, like they are up here on the scale of awesome, and I'm a normal human.

Michelle Lee: It's different kinds of awesome, different kinds of awesome.

Teagan Eastman: Yeah. I just trust that they figure it out. Obviously when we solicit proposals we ask people, you know, can you only present on Thursday or Friday and that would help us kind of determine it. Like do you have a preference for morning or afternoon? Like sometimes people can only come to that. Our proposals, we have 20 minutes and 50 minutes. So we only have so many acts that we can do so that kind of helps it fill it in there. The most like high priority things for ULA are public librarianship topics because this tends to be like the only thing that public librarians can go to during the year because they don't get as much funding. I work for an academic librarian, and our University, just because of the nature of our jobs, we get a lot more funding to go to conferences. But public librarians don't get that. So we try to make sure that we have at least one really good [public librarianship] program every slot so that kind of helps us fill in that program

Michelle Lee: I didn't realize it was a whole Programming Chair that's part of the team that you had mentioned earlier; that that's their thing.

Teagan Eastman: And he was like me, he trained last year and then watched how it works. I think it fills in like if everything goes perfectly. I think it fills in like, as long as there's enough public librarianship to fill in those slots everybody's happy, we're good.

Michelle Lee: I mean, it's teamwork. It's what helps you guys get through it. That's always you know, "that person is great at this [thing] and has these skills"

Teagan Eastman: I just trust they got it all down.

Michelle Lee: That's yeah, that's a number one part of being in charge of other individuals. How far in advance do you make that first announcement of the upcoming, the new conference? And what's that first thing you do announce?

Teagan Eastman: That's a good question. I guess I have to think about that. We always talk about it at the conference, like that last day, "Next year, look forward to ULA in Sandy, Utah."

Michelle Lee: Oh right, because you have you have location already.

Teagan Eastman: Yeah, we already have it booked.

Michelle Lee: The location and dates, I mean.

Teagan Eastman: Yup, locations and dates and we have that for like five years in advance. I know we're super Type A.

Michelle Lee: So that's definitely the first thing you guys know!

Teagan Eastman: So we announce that at the conference, and then we send out a post-conference survey that says -- we try to get like an idea of how many people are going to use the conference hotel. So in a survey it says, you know, "Look forward to ULA 2021 in Sandy, Utah. Would you be interested in the conference hotel?" That's like an announcement there, and then we have it up on the website. So it's kind of like a soft launch and then in, starting in like August to September we start pushing out on social media a little bit more saying "Look forward to" "Save the date," kind of like a wedding announcement.

Michelle Lee: Right, because if you guys already know the date and location you can -- even like, you're saying it's kind of this continual process you can share that right away and get it on folks' calendars.

Teagan Eastman: I like that we have it. Well we, like we said, we have that event planner. So she it is really -- I can't take credit for her, we can't take credit for -- she's great at it.

Michelle Lee: What does Day One of the conference look like for your team? You know that people are here and all that.

Teagan Eastman: Yeah, so that's pre-conferences. That's pretty logistically easy. You're making sure that everything is working smoothly in the center, that all the signs up that say where the rooms are, and all the ULA signage is up. You make sure that the conference Wi-Fi is working, you get the registration booth up and going. Make sure about you have all the stuff that you need there. And our event manager is really good at that, she prints off all of our names and tags and everything. You make sure that that is good, because that's most important. Then you make sure that your keynotes are getting into town okay. That's important.

Michelle Lee: Right, managing talent.

Teagan Eastman: I guess you make sure you have thank you notes for everybody. I remember that was a really big deal, thank you notes.

Michelle Lee: Is it thank you notes for speakers or for your own team?

Teagan Eastman: Speakers, the team, sponsors -- we have a lot of sponsors for stuff. And then on the first day of the conference, we have exhibitors come and set up so we gotta make sure that they're doing okay. They always have like a lot of questions.

That's pretty much it. Pretty much at that point like things are... it's a fine, really tuned ship. You just make sure everything is where it needs to be.

Michelle Lee: Right you kind of already have done all the planning and preparation, so day one is more checking off a list.

Teagan Eastman: Yeah, you just make, "Okay print programs: they need to be here. This needs to be there." So if something isn't done, there's nothing you can do about it, right? Like...

Michelle Lee: This is it, people are walking through the door.

Teagan Eastman: Yeah.

Michelle Lee: Okay. That's actually much calmer than I had imagined day one would be.

Teagan Eastman: I went there expecting to like have to do a whole lot and they were like, "No, it's fine."

Michelle Lee: Things are going.

Teagan Eastman: And day two's little bit busier because there's more people. Again make sure like lunches go okay. But yeah, like I feel like at the thing, because you have the event planner there. That's her like, that is like her church, like things are like. You don't mess with her zone, she's got it.

Michelle Lee: That's amazing.

Teagan Eastman: Yes.

Michelle Lee: So that's awesome to hear that you have teams with such specific roles and they all kind of come in to, "This is their time to shine, they work on this," and it kind of just, back into the whole process.

Teagan Eastman: Yeah. I hope it goes on smoothly again this year like don't jinx me.

Michelle Lee: Oh no, knock on wood, it's going to be good. And it definitely sounds like you have a very well thought-out process you guys have been, you know following for a while.

Teagan Eastman: Yeah.

Michelle Lee: This maybe you can better speak to this past event which had just happened. But you know, once the event is done and your team gets a chance to like gather together like -- how do you guys determine after it's done like whether it's a success or not? Or is it everything went off? That's a success? What does that look like to you?

Teagan Eastman: Yeah, so before the conference happens, out of the last kind of the planning meeting we go over our survey that we're going to send out after the conference. So we developed those questions together and a lot of them are pretty standard survey questions that they would send out for conference, but we develop those together and make sure we know: what are we assessing? What do we want to learn from this and what do we want to look at? So target for improvements. We talk about that together, which I really like, and then after the conference, after we get that data we meet as a group and go over that and talk about that, which is amazing. And then the new committee meets and then we all go over that old data and then come up with goals for the new year. So we say, "Okay, this didn't work. This did work. Here's why this didn't work. Here's what we can do a little bit differently for next year." So it kind of helps you look at -- looks at the past and like helps you formulate goals for the future. The conference doesn't really change a whole lot year-to-year -- it's not a group that really loves big changes.

It's just they like what has been going on for a while and that's okay like consistency, okay. So we look for areas to make small changes.

Michelle Lee: And I know you mentioned you definitely do follow-up with Survey Monkey to the folks who attended. Do you also do follow up with other participants like sponsors or speakers?

Teagan Eastman: We haven't with sponsors. So, speakers, I think we have with speakers in the past. We've gotten a lot of feedback from attendees on speakers.

Michelle Lee: Oh interesting.

Teagan Eastman: That we're trying to act on this year. So doing some kind of, rules for speakers beforehand, which is something that we've been asked to do a couple years in a row, that I'm finally being like, "Okay, we're doing it." We've gotten feedback from speakers like within the survey that we've sent out, right? But we've never solicited specifically towards speakers.

Michelle Lee: Got it.

Teagan Eastman: Which would be really interesting, I think, like to specifically ask them. You know, what what can we do better about soliciting programs or about the rooms or anything like that? That would be interesting.

Michelle Lee: Is there a new process or solution that your team implemented this year or will implement? And if you did, how did it go?

Teagan Eastman: Yeah something new. That's a good question.

Michelle Lee: Well, I know you'll be using Wild Apricot for registration for the first time, which is very new.

Teagan Eastman: Yeah.

Michelle Lee: You know, and I know kind of, you guys will determine that over the next year, but I didn't know if there was [something else].

Teagan Eastman: Yeah there was just a little thing that we did that was kind of new and it's like super small. I'm really big on going green and, kind of like, recycling. So we started with putting out bins for recycling lanyards and the print programs and that was a huge hit for people

Michelle Lee: Oh that's awesome!

Teagan Eastman: People loved it. And in the survey they were asking for more opportunities for going green in the conference, which is -- I've been kind of using it as ammunition for less print programs in general. So I thought that was kind of cool that they saw that as like an opportunity to comment on more areas for that; especially in Utah in a state where we have so much nature and really bad air quality. So that was just a small thing. Like I said, we do really small changes.

Michelle Lee: But that still is still a change in something that you guys. I mean maybe small on the scale of the event, but also that's a big deal! Otherwise all of those things would go in the trash. That's huge. That's really cool.

Teagan Eastman: So much plastic!

Michelle Lee: That's really exciting that people received it really well too, attendees. It was quite cool. Even little things I think is really, you know, you just add in little things see how you can improve the experience. Is there anything maybe key to your, the process for you guys, that I'm just totally missing because I'm not familiar with library associations?

Teagan Eastman: No you're good. I think you hit on everything.

Michelle Lee: Okay. Awesome , so thanks for chatting with me there.

Sorry folks for that abrupt cut but thanks again for tuning in to our first episode. And we want to hear from you: what's a detail you've noticed at an event that helped improve your experience? Let us know by tweeting us at @Emamo. You can also follow us on Instagram at hello underscore emamo or visit us at

That's E-M-A-M-O dot com. See you next time!