I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a good conference attendee! Since college I’ve planned and produced over 80 events and conferences, so attending the ASAE Annual Meeting in Chicago last week – as an attendee – was really fun. Planning and producing events requires a unique perspective, so I forgot what that first time experience felt like. Going by myself ended up being exactly what I needed to get out of my comfort zone, learn something new, and make great connections. Today I’m sharing my top five takeaways from my first time at the meeting.
Seeing 6,000 association professionals come together for a few days in my own backyard was spectacular. I’ve been a member of ASAE (American Society of Association Executives: The Center for Association Leadership) for four years and I never took the time to step away into this environment. If that sounds like you, I want to encourage you to take a pause, show up! I promise you’ll get more out of it than you think.
Do you ever feel completely overwhelmed by all the new learnings and new friends at a conference? There is so much information to process. I’ve spent the last week sorting through my notes, connecting with colleagues on social media, and deciding how and when I will implement what I learned. I’m so excited to share my top five takeaways with you.
Value > Financial Maximization
Let’s start our countdown with takeaway number five from the Opening General Session with Yancey Strickler, former CEO and Cofounder of Kickstarter and Cofounder of The Creative Independent. His session, Making a Difference While Making a Profit, highlighted other values as being greater than financial maximization. Yancey began by sharing a picture of the childhood home where he grew up in the Appalachian Mountains in Southwest Virginia and what he experienced throughout his young life until Kickstarter was formed. If you haven’t heard of Kickstarter, it’s a really cool platform that has helped filmmakers, musicians, writers, designers, and other creative people raise more than $3 billion to bring more than 100,000 creative projects to life. I enjoyed hearing about their early wins when word had just started to spread so people could raise money for causes and activities they care about. The data he showed regarding the impact of Kickstarter on the world was inspiring. Kickstarter has helped people fund projects that have had a $7 billion economic impact. $7 billion. The benefit on society has been immense. With their rapid growth, the founders came to a crossroad and had to decide if they were going to go public or keep it a private company. They decided they will never go public because the point for them was to make an impact. They chose altruism over profits.
Yancey then went on to talk about entrepreneurship and small business. He highlighted Manhattan and the current commerce make-up. Did you know there are 1,800 bank branches in Manhattan and 30% of all retail shops are chains? He posed the question – What companies were located where the banks are now? Small businesses! Let that sink it – bank branches in Manhattan moved in where small local businesses used to thrive. Another thing he noted is how there are the same number of Subway restaurants as there are subway stations in Manhattan.
Why is the world now producing more and more of the same? Sometimes it is hard to see what is happening around us. In business, he argues that we lean towards financial maximization. We default to wanting to make money. As much as possible! But how much is enough? Do we even know what enough is anymore?
Here are the questions he posed afterward for organizations:
We need to understand new forms of value. Is it community, family, tradition, future orientation, knowledge, human capital, love, purpose, natural environment, or even security? What in your life do you value more than money? Financial maximization will never be satisfied. It will always look for a new space to disrupt. The world we live in doesn’t have to stay this way.
Yancey recommended focusing on these three questions to seek value in our own lives:
I’ve got to tell you, those questions were tough at 9:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning during my first conference, sitting by myself. But, it instantly put me in the mindset to do and be more as I experienced the conference over the next three days.
The key takeaway here is to reflect on my values and answering his three questions:
The Future is Video
I’ve heard this before and now I’ll echo it too – the future is video! I surprised myself and went to two sessions on this topic. The first was Crowdsource: Using Videos to Tell Authentic Stories and it was hands on. The speakers focused on the fact that crowdsourcing to increase engagement showcases authenticity, is cost-effective, easy to implement, and makes members part of the process. I think we feel like if we do video, it has to be a perfectly produced piece. The kind that costs your organization $5,000 because you have to write the scripts, prepare speakers, find a good backdrop, bring in a film crew – and don’t get me started about the editing process. On the flip side, we also feel like a Facebook Live or Instagram Story may not be as professional as it should for the type of industry our organization is in.
That’s where the SeenIt App comes in. This is not an ad, but SeenIt is a super cool Mobile App where you can have members of your organization film short clips and upload them for your use. It’s a great way to crowdsource videos for events, conferences, membership, idea sharing, day in the life, testimonials, or whatever else you can dream up. When you are collecting videos, there is a place to include a shot list of ideas to act as prompts to ensure you get the clips and perspectives you want. After you receive all the videos, it does take time to sort through and create a cohesive final product, but now you have authentic stories and people from your organization who have contributed. That engagement will create excitement and in turn, increase your reach. You can find out more about it at seenit.io.
Using Contextual Models to Increase Engagement
My third takeaway is using contextual models to increase engagement. Neen James, the speaker for this session, was a breath of fresh air. Her energy and enthusiasm were contagious. The concentration of the session was on how association executives can use contextual models to get (and keep) member attention and also use them as tools to share why people should join our organizations.
We focused on using these models to communicate our points. She asked:
There are lots of ways to organize information and Neen focused on three concepts – the circle, the triangle, and the square. The circle is good for people as it feels like a hug. A triangle is best used to explain a process because it leads to a point. Another is the square which can help you highlight a contrast or relationship. I won’t be able to do her talk justice, so I encourage you to watch her video, so she can explain it to you. The overall idea is you create a model to demonstrate how to work with your organization.
The key takeaway here comes from Neen herself and she says, “Everyone on the planet wants to be seen and heard. When you pay attention, attention pays.”
The Freelance Revolution
It may come as no surprise that The Freelance Revolution was my favorite breakout session at the ASAE Annual Meeting. As a new small business owner, I was fired up at the event and meeting my peers who were also exploring aspects of this new association workspace was just what I needed. The session highlighted the new paradigm of the association freelance workforce and freelance-driven organizational model – looking at the ways our industry must evolve in order to leverage this brave new world of work.
The facilitation by Sherry Budziak, of .orgSource and .orgCommunity, enabled wonderful dialogue between the panelists and room of eager attendees. We all walked away with tips to thrive in this new workforce to continue to bring value to the community. I also walked away with a few new friends who understand my journey. If you are a freelancer in the industry, .orgFreelancer will be live next month. Contact Sherry Budziak for more information.
My takeaways from this session are to find the gift in the struggle, to promote my business in terms of problems and solutions, and to have a laser focus so people know how to refer me.
Focus on Potential
Last, but certainly not least, the Closing General Session is where I picked up my last top takeaway which was a keynote by Siri Lindley, a world champion triathlete, coach, and author.
Great leaders focus on potential, to ensure the associations they lead do everything in their power to live their mission and bring their organizations’ vision to life. Whether decisions are around strategy, tactical, or financial, they are all about potential. Siri used her personal story of triumph to show how to look for the potential in the people you lead. It’s all about choice, inclusion, and results. We usually think about all the things that could go wrong instead of training our minds to think about what could go right. Siri offered inspiring lessons based on cultivating the mindset of a champion with a candid account of her journey to personal growth, self-belief, and self-discovery. We laughed, we cried, we were inspired!
The key takeaways here are remembering – If I can be better than I was yesterday, then I know I am moving forward. The gift she gave herself was love, appreciation, and respect for herself. I will focus on my potential through personal growth and self-love, too.
While I’ve shared my five key takeaways, I’d be remiss without adding a sixth in new friends. I’m extremely grateful and inspired by the people I met and old colleagues I ran into during the event. From Amy and Danielle to Kevin and Allison to Mark and Christy – it is truly about building relationships as we all are eager to continue making a difference in our world. We are working with our Boards and staff teams to further the missions of the organizations we serve, continually taking risks and dreaming bigger. Thank you to my friends and colleagues for inspiring me to do more and strive to be better.
While it’s a wrap on the 2018 meeting, I look forward to attending next year’s event in Columbus.
Did you attend the ASAE Annual Meeting this year? What was your biggest takeaway? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.