An A+ for this Leadership Development Workshop

The Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) hosted the 2010 Regional Association Council’s 11th annual Leadership Development Workshop (LDW) last month in Grapevine, Texas. And while it was focused on its 175 executive directors and volunteer leaders from all 28 regional associations, it offered lessons – and lots of ideas – for associations which are planning leadership conferences.

I had an inside view and the opportunity to give the keynote Back to the Future for Associations and a break-out session The Secrets to Creating an Exceptional Volunteer Experience.  I took away so many great ideas on logistics, on involving the members and leaders in the planning and the event, on managing volunteers and more. And I relished the opportunity to be at a volunteer and staff event that had an abundance of energy.

There were so many reasons for that energy. According to PPAI’s Senior Manager of Regional Relations, Laura McKinney, CAE, the huge hit this year were “the First Timers Buttons … and we will build on that success with a First Timers Orientation in 2011. I would suggest this small but powerful piece to anyone putting on an event. It engaged our first timers very quickly with each other, the RAC Board, the not-so-first timers and the presenters.”

Laura was an instrumental force in the event and is someone any components relations person should chat with if you are interested in building a great program and relationship with regional organizations.

Here are some of things I picked up from the event and Laura:

  • It starts with the speaker prep. As a speaker I received timely updates as the event was planned, gentle reminders, useful background on the audience, and an easy to use customized intro slide
  • Then to help us create better presentations, we received two links: Jeffrey Cufaude’s article on how to “Make your handouts suitable for framing” and Seth Godin’s post on avoiding creating Really Bad Powerpoints.
  • Awaiting attendees in the opening session room were paperboard coasters with the message “Effective Boards Focus on What” Not “How”. Great “opening” thought!
  • They began with event with a full-day program focused on ED’s – The Executive Directors Learning Forum. Too often we don’t focus on the EDs but they are often the glue that holds a local group together and can be the national office’s BF.
  •  The program offered 33 sessions of which 15 were on brand new topics chosen based on attendees’ needs and input. This made the event a true leadership conference. Some of the new topics included “Budget Puzzlers” (on non-dues revenue), “Board Building Blocks” and “Why Y? Generations of Volunteers & Now You’ll Know Y”.
  • One new feature were a series of Learning Labs at the end of day 1 where you gathered by domain (membership, professional development, tradeshow, leadership) to being pulling together a master calendar for each association. The Master Calendars are a great tool – provided by PPAI – that helps leaders plot out their year in a way that supports good planning, decision-making and priority-setting. Its rally becomes a masterpiece. Attendees were introduced to in the general session so they could actually use it throughout all the sessions.
  • One-on-one consulting sessions with PPAI staff in professional development and marketing were a popular feature.
  • RAC Bucks were a fun element that let us speakers get into the game. RAC Bucks are monopoly-type money that we got to distribute to attendees as a “reward” during our session to highlight attendee participation. I gave out RAC bucks for great questions, sparking an idea, offering a solution, being enthusiastic, and in one case for simply disagreeing with me. Why? Well, if we don’t challenge each other we don’t really learn. At the closing session, these bucks bought attendees cool prizes.
  • SOBs (Speakers Out of the Box) Lego people were also given out throughout the conference. These built into a district dinner creations another teambuilding activity (check out the photos!).
  • Encouragement for first-time attendees! PPAI covers the registration costs for up to five members from each Regional Affiliate and two of the five must be first-time attendees. That’s how they got 40% of attendees as first-timers.
  • Discourage multi-tasking by requiring cell phones be silenced in a friendly way. If you’re cell phone went off you had to make a $5 donation to the foundation.
  • Flip the cocktail hour. The opening dinner was in fact dinner followed by open bar social hour. This allowed people to eat at a reasonable hour and then socialize as long as they wanted.
  • Great giveaways including a tee shirt, bag and handy binder (see the photos).
  • Robust event website with a full resource section with all the handouts which reduced paper!
  • Of course they also actively used Facebook – both an event page and RAC page – and Twitter hashtag #ldw2010. While there wasn’t a lot of activity there, these efforts tied into the sessions on social media and gave attendees that hands-on learning opportunity.

The entire event earned an A+.