Let me start by saying that, overall, I thoroughly enjoyed ASAE 2007 and got a tremendous amount of value from attending. In fact, my brain was hurting from taking in so much new knowledge, info and insight!
In the vein of Jackie Huba's comment that often your biggest critics are also your biggest evangelists (ie, they want/help you to get better), here's my short list of constructive criticisms:
1 - Kill the Fluff
Despite their best efforts to make the song-and-dance elements enjoyable (and, they were kinda funny and well done), I just kept repeating to myself "shoot me now, please just shoot me now". Over 1 hour of each 1.5 hour general session was spent on all the singing, dancing, back patting, clapping, etc, etc. All zero value to the attendee, and mostly painful to watch (especially at 8:30 on Sunday morning!).
My understanding is that much of those elements used to take place during a dedicated awards ceremony - but nobody showed up. Great, so instead of making the ceremony more interesting and compelling to attend, some genius decided to stuff it all into the general sessions so that attendees would be forced to watch it all. Ya, that sounds very customer/member focused to me. Please, dump that all into a ceremony again and work to make that ceremony worthwhile to attend. If only x% show up, then fine, those are the people who are interested and want to do/see that. Don't force it on the rest of us.
Also, in terms of social responsibility, how much money went into producing the show elements? What if we had not bothered, and instead wrote a check to org(s) working on social responsibility???
2 - Need More Coaching/Context
2/3 of the general session speakers were slick, but had no relevance/value to attendees (beyond very meta level messages of perseverance, commitment, etc). The other 1/3 tied into the ASAE, but was surprisingly clumsy in his delivery. Overall a big disappointment over the general sessions last year in Boston.
Most of the thought leader sessions were well delivered, and some of them made the effort to relate their material to the association world. ASAE needs to do more to get thought leaders to take that extra step. A great example of this is comparing Jackie Huba's member evangelists session with Robyn Waters talk on trend paradoxes. Waters' was slick, well prepared and gave good insight, but it was a 100% canned presentation that she's probably given dozens of times without changing a single word. In contrast, Huba covered material from the ASAE's Decision to Join research/book, referenced past ASAE sessions, talked about her personal association experiences, and gave examples from the association world - all in addition to her usual non-association material. Waters was good/valuable, but Huba took it to a whole other level. Every thought leader should do the same!
In terms of the learning labs, I'm sad to say most association professionals suck at presenting. With few exceptions (eg, Jeff De Cagna, Richard O'Sullivan, Ben Martin), the learning lab speakers need a massive amount of support - a group conference call is not enough. Both in terms of their delivery, and more importantly how they structure their content. The labs are important, but are still so hit or miss.
3 - Need New Lab Format
The format of the learning labs is broken. One may actually be a "lab" with group discussion and tasks. Next time, it is just one guy giving a lecture and taking some audience Q&A at the end. Another, you may get more of a panel of experts. Etc. Worse is that the room setup of banquet rounds does not match in every case. For example, in the final "60 tips" marketing session, the room was packed wall-to-wall and out the door, for what was, in essence a straight lecture from three speakers. There was zero value/use in having the room setup with rounds. If the room was set classroom or theater style, many more members would have been able to sit to enjoy the session.
Further, you never know ahead of time if the lab you want to attend is going to be more lecture oriented or more group/discussion oriented. Knowing this would impact decisions based on learning style, energy level, etc. Ditto for listing the level of expertize.
Instead, the labs should be split in two. Keep the "learning labs" for those sessions that are more group/discussion oriented and that require banquet seating for small teams. Additionally create a lecture series (or some other fancy label) for sessions that are essentially lectures by one or more speakers. Also, add a "level" rating for each session.
4 - More Content Slots
Despite all the learning, I'm hungry for me. I don't like how they shut down the conference portion as a way to direct traffic to the expo floor. I got bored of the expo floor after wandering around all the CVBs, hotels, etc, for about 30 minutes. Fine, take a lunch break, but content sessions should be running all day long. Also, there's no reason why the expo floor can't be open along side the conference sessions. Folks can then choose whether they want/need to spend more time on the expo floor, or go to more learning sessions. Again, leave it up to attendees to decide what they want instead of limiting available choices at any given time.
Well, there you have it, my major criticisms and some suggestions for improvement. Again, let me say that ASAE 2007 was massively valuable. And I'll certainly be back next year!