For many of us, September is the time of year for reflection and new beginnings. As we mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the third anniversary of the start of the Great Recession, it’s clear that “hopping a plane” to attend a meeting last minute will never be as carefree as it used to be. With staff headcounts down, each day out of the office means more work than ever isn’t getting done at the home office. Every trip and expense report you submit is being carefully scrutinized by the bean counters.
So why do we still do it? Because we’re humans. We not only like interacting with other humans, but we’ve found that no matter how many tools and devices we own, we still can’t replace the power of face-to-face interaction. We still haven’t found a better way for making new contacts, discovering new products and services, experiencing live product demos, shaking hands, closing a deal or reuniting with professional friends and colleagues.
As Our 2011 Association Communication Benchmarking Study revealed, association leaders rate live events higher (4.3 on a scale of 5) than any other communication channel they offer. Online media was a distant second, weighing in at 3.9. Case in point: The recent Association Executives (ASAE) annual meeting and expo in St. Louis—arguably the largest annual gathering of North American association leaders—attracted more than 5,300 attendees and 400 exhibitors from 18 countries. Last month, I made a few snarky remarks about the dearth of seating for ASAE attendees. Kidding aside, the registration and exhibitor tallies showed a nice uptick from previous years, which is even more impressive considering the sluggish economy and the early August date of the confab. This trend bodes well for all association event planners.
What we’ve learned through our research, travels and thought leader interviews
In St. Louis last month, Bill Sheridan of the Maryland Association of CPAs told us he’s losing sleep over the complexity of the accounting profession and the difficulty of keeping members abreast of all the new rule changes and regulatory initiatives. Julie Coons, head of the Electronic Retailing Association, told us she’s losing sleep over the amount of industry consolidation in the direct-to-consumer TV advertising market, which reduces her number of potential members. Ken Cousineau, active blogger and head of the Canadian Golf Superintendents, said the prolonged real-estate slump is making it tough to expand membership as fewer new golf courses are built and kept open.
As ASAE’s Reggie Henry quipped in today’s Corner Office column, “Associations have historically evolved to meet the demands of a changing society.” Well, now it seems solution providers are evolving to meet the demands of a changing association world. Below are examples of some of the more innovative and noteworthy solutions we’ve seen at important association gatherings this year.
Enlighten us but make it quick
Even if attendees express interest in a topic, not everyone wants to be immersed in it at the same level of detail. At ASAE for example, attendees could choose learning content in formats ranging from intensive half-day Deep Dive workshops, to 75-minute Learning Labs, to fast-paced multi-presenter “Ignite” sessions in which each talk is no longer than five minutes and a maximum of 20 slides auto advance every 15 seconds.
Not a one-way dialogue
Another trend we’re seeing is facilitated conversations between attendees, rather than presenter-to-audience lectures. At ASAE’s Conversations That Matter, attendees could interact with their peers in conversations about diversity and inclusion, executive management, healthcare, small staff, social media and young professional issues. Flash Learning rooms enabled attendees to claim a room on site and conduct a session of their own choosing. Content was promoted via social media vehicles.
More than 200 mobile apps have been developed specifically for the meetings industry, according to consultancy Corbin Ball Associations. Organizations such as ASAE and the Public Relations Society of America have been using mobile apps for more than a year at its shows and conferences. ASAE continues to print all meeting-related pieces, but is moving more material to the mobile environment for things such as navigating the trade show floor, locating a specific learning session, compiling all the education sessions and integrating all the blogs and Twitter feeds related to the show into a single location.
Making it easier to share and capture your organization’s smarts
Knowledge management vendors such as Peach New Media are making it easier for associations to pull all online educational offerings into a single, user-friendly page. An association’s conferences, webinars, social media, event archives and podcasts can now be integrated to enable members to customize their “big picture” learning experience with the association. This will be a boon to association content curators as ASAE Chief Information Officer Reggie Henry discusses in today’s Corner Office profile.
Breaking down silos with collaboration tools
In the old days hoarding information gave you power. Today it makes you the antithesis of a team player. What gives you power now is the ability to share and disseminate what you know with a large network of colleagues. Kavi Workspace is among the new breed of Web-based enterprise solutions that make it easier for those who work in separate offices, divisions and teams to collaborate on projects and share information. It’s especially useful for associations who have large numbers of telecommuters, volunteers, independent contractors and “cross matrix” teams working together on important initiatives. In addition to document control, collaboration tools such as Kavi can help far flung workers and teams reach consensus quickly on important decisions without the need to schedule an endless string of meetings.
Advocacy for associations that don’t have lobbyists
LobbyIt.com is an economical, outsourced lobbying and advocacy solution for organizations that don’t retain and/or can’t afford traditional lobbying firms to get their message heard in Washington, D.C. The company has been getting lots of traction from small business and not-for-profits who want to establish a presence inthe District, closely monitor their important issues or even get new laws passed. LobbyIt.com works on a completely different business model than other federal lobbying firms. Rather than locking clients into yearly contracts, the longest commitment LobbyIt requires is three months. The firm also prides itself on clear, transparent deliverables that hold the firm accountable for its results.
Making it easier for members to see they stack up to peers
Stack-up™ from Dynamic Benchmarking is an easy-to-use benchmarking platform that delivers financial and operational comparison information to associations and their members. Its tools help an association’s members benchmark their performance and gain immediate insight into their operations without burdening the IT department. It can also help the organization generate non-dues revenue and gain valuable aggregate data about the industries its members represent. Each member company simply enters its financial and operational data into an online interface. Almost instantly, they can compare their answers to all of the other member companies in the database, or to a group of businesses they define using an intuitive filtering mechanism. Questions or metrics can be organized into logical categories for easy data input and comparisons. Filters can create “on the fly” peer groups and reports can be easily generated, according to Stack-up representatives we met.
Times are tough and likely to remain so for the near future. Fortunately, there are lots of smart people in the association world and many smart vendors to support them. We’re confident that associations, with the help of their boards, volunteers and solutions providers will continue to evolve to meet members’ needs and maintain their relevancy and supremacy in the new normal era.
READER NOTE: Neither Naylor, LLC, nor Association Adviser has a commercial relationship with any of the vendors and suppliers mentioned in this article. Inclusion in this article should not imply an endorsement of the products or services of the companies mentioned herein.