What Applause Means

When a roomful of volunteers stands and applauds the staff, the meaning is clear. Pure appreciation.

When this happens at the end of 2-day leadership conference, the message is the conference rocked.

When this happens as the association reaches a turning point in a major initiative that rocked the volunteers’ world, it signals success.

As a partner in the change process and a co-presenter at the Leadership Conference, I was able to witness the enthusiasm of the volunteers at the 2014 American Association of Diabetes Educators leadership conference in Chicago. I have been at every leadership conference since AADE embarked on journey to re-image its chapters in 2009. This one was different. It signaled a shift. The volunteers had embraced the changes. The result:

  • The questions and comments to staff shifted from “why” and “I don’t understand” to “how” and “look what I tried.”
  • More of the sessions featured volunteer presenters, sharing their successes and teaching skills they’ve gained. Yes, there was a paid keynoter and staff presenters, but more than 50% of the content was driven by volunteers teaching and sharing – showing how the new model was working.
  • The audience contributed more ideas than concerns. When a speaker for example talked about how to engage new volunteers, two other volunteers in the room chipped in with more ideas.(AADE’s Get Involved portal was part of the success.)

What got AADE to this standing ovation? Three things:

  1. A staunch belief that change is necessary and good. (read Alice Meadow’s interview with Harrison Coerver on why change now.)
  2. An acceptance that the path to change is a not straight and by being flexible we facilitate change.
  3. A dedication to its volunteers which translated to involving volunteers throughout the change process, continuing to create resources to support volunteers, and patience as volunteers needed time to embrace change.

My applause to AADE staff Nadine Merker, Pati Mangano, John Tyler and Kathleen Schroeder.