The New Conference Attendee

ASAE10, ASAE’s annual conference in Los Angeles this past month, was notable for a number of reasons and one of them is a learning experience in and of itself. This year’s meeting really highlighted the new conference attendee. Who is the new conference attendee? One who embraces new learning concepts, one who embraces technology, one who creates their own learning opportunities, one who votes on a session with their feet, one who creates an experience with the formal meeting at the backdrop.

This past month I delighted in watching – and participating – in scenarios where this new conference attendee was at the helm. In some ways, I could even have been called the new conference attendee. Here are some examples:

Maddie Grant liveblogging sessions to create vibrant, running notes from five difference sessions. Imagine peering over the shoulder of an attendee to read their notes and see their interpretation of the content. Liveblogging provided just that.

KiKi L’Italien carved out a space in the Engagement Lounge to livecast her popular DelCor Social Media SweetSpot, her weekly ustream-cast event where she highlights news, activities and examples of association’s finding their sweet spot. This became a highly interactive unsession within the conference.

Ben Martin and Sterling Raphael brought a third panelist into their session “Connecting Industry Associations through Collaboration and Sharing” with the help of Skype video. This third person added a neat dimension to the conversation (along with a great example of using technology).

There were several “powerpoint free” sessions where the focus was on an open dialog with equal parts participation by attendees and the “facilitators” or subject matter experts. In the session I did with Marjorie Bynum, SOCAP International, and Mary Ghikas, American Libraries Association entitled The Benefits of a Strategically Balanced Community … we began by telling our stories and then opening the conversation. Our room was filled at the start and stayed filled throughout – a measure we think suggested that the dialog was in fact engaging.

By the time the Monday general session had reached the final third, more than half of the attendees had left. While on one hand you would focus on problems with that, on the other, it’s refreshing to see that attendees can and will “vote with their feet.” We are not waiting for you to feed us – we’re finding the meat of the meeting and going there.

One of the most popular parties is the YAP Party – a self-organized dance party that – despite its reference to Young Association Professionals – draws all ages and boasts a growing attendance. There’s no cost to attend (its BYOB) and it’s not exclusive in any way.

While ASAE didn’t do everything perfectly (on my what association does!), they did create a conference that had room for the new attendee. I hope my associations will do the same.