#ASAE13 Marks 10 Years of Learning

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This was my 10th ASAE annual meeting in a row. Mostly my driver has been my involvement as a volunteer for ASAE either as council volunteer or presenter. My goals though are (1) meeting people, (2) learning, and (3) discovering how to do the business of member events better. After 10 years, I think I’ve done more of #3 than the other two but have certainly enjoyed meeting lots of people. Here’s what I’ve really learned …

1 – I get energized by being around the association community – and this works a lot better when you can attend a major portion of the event.

2 – It’s a lot easier to navigate a meeting as a seasoned attendee. That’s not good news but ASAE does have a first-timer mentor match (I was a mentor this year) which is a bit of an antidote. This year’s big bonus was home-town team MemberClicks staff which took “greeter” to a new high.

3 – The large-conference format is stale. It didn’t really work in 2003 and in 2013 my favorite hashtag was #roomsetupfail. Here’s the rub. ASAE has made an effort in the past number of years to tweak the overall format by adding new session types, including this year’s Snap Learning Spot, Ignite, Master Classes, and Mobile Playground, and outside learning like the Flash Learning Room. While good to see, they are too limited to have an overall impact on the learning. You are still largely in a 75-minute learning lab schedule.

Add to that, the rooms are unforgiving. They don’t lend themselves to newer formats. This was particularly a problem in Atlanta where the rooms were too often set in theatre (to allow more people but really doesn’t) which did not allow for small group conversation or interactivity leaving presenters to lecture.

So the solution may be to dissemble the traditional schedule and set the rooms for conversation. Maybe it’s half the day traditional learning labs and half the day new formats nudging all to try the formats.

4 – No-one really wants a huge 4000+ person party. I know most trudge to it. But it’s ineffective for networking and it is tiring. I don’t remember the names of the sponsors afterwards. What about spot parties instead?

5 – The biggest error we make in meeting planning is insufficient support of presenters. ASAE has improved its speaker prep over the years. But like volunteer prep, it is still not hitting the mark. This means that too many of the presenters, most of whom have great content to share, do a less than stellar job. I make it a point to attend any lab that Jeff Hurt leads. Why? He gets adult learning and he knows how to facilitate a session. Attending a session like that should be a prerequisite for presenting at a national conference. If that seems too harsh a requirement, then newbies should be required to use a “forgiving” session format such as an interview with a seasoned presenter or shorter time slot. Let’s ditch the paid keynoter and put the money into session facilitators who assist our less-trained presenters be better.

6 – I am the driver of my own experience. At the end of the day, I am responsible for being present (yes, my Yogi would be very pleased to hear me repeat this) which means being in the moment. Seeking knowledge, not being a bucket expecting unseasoned presenters to dazzle me. I can walk out of room. I can choose not to attend the huge party, opting instead for a smaller event. I can be a well-prepared presenter.

So what will I do my “learning” over the 10 years and more specifically my time in Atlanta? Apply many of these elements to my own meetings (rooms, schedule, speaker prep). Do a better job before I hit the show to look over handouts and contact some of the presenters in advance. A quick call or email exchange can give me insight into what I may expect in the session and therefore help me avoid some poorer sessions. Take one day (tomorrow) to review all the sessions I attended and create an action from each that will go on my task list.

Anything else I can do?

Mariner Management & Marketing provides association management, volunteer coordinator and leadership development information for associations and non-profit organizations.