In the spirit of ASAE 2010 Annual Meeting marketing campaign, “Re-tain, Re-Connect, Re-Convene, etc.” here are my three Rs, of this year’s conference.
Three Things So Re-warding
The people, the people, the people! Ultimately, this conference is all about those that attend, participate and get involved. I don’t know of another national or international conference where such high quality, likeminded association individuals gather to share successes, commiserate, ponder the future and exchange war stories.
For me, it was a chance to meet face-to-face some of the association professionals that I met over the past 18 months. It reminded me of a family reunion where relatives have not seen each other in years. We picked right up where our last digital conversations ended and never missed a beat.
And I can’t talk about the people and relationships without talking about the ASAE staff. There are some amazing people that work for ASAE and they take some hard hits from some of us vocal bloggers. It was a fantastic opportunity to meet these people one-on-one and tell them how much I appreciate their hard work.
ASAE sponsors know how to throw festive receptions and parties. Make no mistake, they are top-notch, often over-the-top, fun-filled celebrations. From the opening reception at LA Live! with Melissa Etheridge to the YAP Party to the closing party with Cyndi Lauper, ASAE and its sponsors know how to plan some extraordinary celebrations.
ASAE offers a plethora of opportunities for people to engage in furthering the industry, the profession and their personal lives. From serving on councils and task forces to connecting with exhibitors to growing professionally to giving back to the community during the conference, the chance to connect and re-engage at various levels of commitment is amazing. Yes, affecting positive change is sometimes like changing the course of the Titanic, it takes time and patience. Yet, it is worth our investment.
Three Things So In Need Of Re-Thinking
1. Re-vise General Sessions
The ASAE general sessions were some of the worst I’ve ever seen or attended in my life. Boring, dreary, monotonous, predictable and unimpressive. Some will disagree with me and say they were good or ok. I say that if you’ve always experienced coal, you don’t know you can have diamonds.
When many know not to show up for the first thirty-minutes of a general session because it will be stacked with self-promotions, there is a problem. If 80%-90% of the general session audience was not wowed, they were failures in my opinion. Lukewarm, mediocre general sessions don’t cut it today. We don’t invest our time, money and energy to attend average education and general sessions. We want and expect the best.
As a meeting professional that has planned general sessions and luncheons for conferences of a variety of sizes from 200 to 25,000 folks, I expect more. Where was the opening general session with energy and excitement that got the crowd pumped for being involved in our noble professions? Where was the closing session to get us ready to return to our association board rooms with renewed vision, revitalization and ideas? Where was the relevant and bleeding edge information about where associations are going? Where were the association leaders thanking us for our countless hours of offering hope to our members?
It appears that ASAE can’t plan decent general sessions. They should probably give those general sessions to others to plan like they do their receptions and parties. They would be a lot better for sure. And, they should NOT take just any general session speaker that a bureau is willing to provide for free as a sponsorship! There is way too much at risk. The opening general session sets the tone, drumbeat and rhythm for the entire conference. The closing general session sets the course for the remainder of the year until we meet again. Both sessions failed and left people shaking their heads in disappointment.
2. Re-Visit The Current Education Evaluation Process
You improve what you measure. If ASAE really wants to improve the association conference experience for its paid registrants, then they must start driving the process differently with a more detailed evaluation. They must ask better and more questions than just a three-question smile sheet.
Here’s what they ask about each education and general session:
How do the results from these three questions let ASAE know what they need to do to improve? How do these three questions provide ASAE with adequate information to make informed decisions for next year’s conference?
When I was in charge of conference education and general sessions for a large association, my salary, raises and any bonuses were directly related to the overall average of all the speakers I secured. I would secure between 250-350 speakers a year. Think about the pressure on me to ensure that my attendees heard outstanding speakers that blew them away. If I didn’t provide it, my paycheck, or lack thereof, showed it! Perhaps ASAE should think about this strategy for whoever picks the general session and education session speakers.
To improve the quality of education sessions, we started by setting an 80% overall average based on 8 criteria and three open ended questions for every speaker. We let every speaker know our goal. We invested in presenter training for our industry speakers. We wrote financial incentives into our professional speaker contracts. We coached our speakers. We published all speaker ratings on the association website. And at the end of year one, we moved the bar up for the next year to an 85% overall average speaker rating. We continued each year until we reached an overall 95% overall average speaker rating. It worked and it worked well. It’s time for ASAE to raise the bar and think about something similar to this for their education programming.
3. Re-lentless Re-quests For More Money
I bet you are like me. I can’t wait to renew my association membership each year because I know it will lead to a lot more opportunities for…wait for it…wait for it…more emails, snail mail, phone calls and stage pitches to give the association more money. Every year when I punch my credit card numbers into the membership renewal form my heart races with excitement for all the new products, services and donation requests I’m going to receive. That’s what it is all about, right? NOT!
Like bad spam from Nigeria, the conference requests to donate to the ASAE Education Foundation just kept coming and coming. As did the requests to buy ASAE’s products, services and books. It all started in the Saturday volunteer luncheon and continued every time ASAE got a crowd together.
And then, as if that was not enough, John Graham makes a major faux pas talking about money and compensation during a general session? It was in such poor taste and inappropriate. I’m surprised we didn’t have a 1990s faith preacher come on stage, make a holy pitch for money and take up an offering! Actually, that might have added some levity to the situation…don’t you think? Throw in a top-notch gospel choir to walk down the aisles with offering baskets and we just might have…I digress.
Two Bonus Items To Re-Examine
1. Re-Vert To Wireless Lavaliere Microphones In Education Sessions
As a speaker at this year’s conference, I was surprised that ASAE used wired lavalieres and wired handheld microphones. In today’s AV world, there are plenty of providers that can provide wireless lavs and handhelds to create the ultimate education session. Tethering ASAE’s speakers to the front of the room reduces the attendee engagement level and the speaker’s ability to interact with people. Come on ASAE! If it was due to costs, get a different provider that charges the same for wired or wireless. If the AV provider didn’t have enough wireless lavs, don’t use them! This is basic 101 meeting planning stuff. Get it right.
2. Re-Assess The Time John Graham Spends On Stage
I don’t know why associations think that an Executive Directors, Presidents or CEOs make good presenters and speakers. Most don’t. And they don’t deserve to be on stage because of their title at the expense of the attendee’s experience. Which is more important? Their stage time or the paying attendee’s experience? If attendees were allowed to evaluate them like they do other speakers, organizations would see the hard data.
John Graham should seriously consider hiring a professional coach to help his stage presence come across as more sincere, authentic and engaging. As I said on another blog about this, the message received, is the message sent. And the message received about Graham was not positive. Time to invest in a coach.
What Rs or “Re-” would you add to the list? Because of my first three R’s, ASAE 2011 in St. Louis can’t come soon enough!