August 31, 2009

Annual Meeting: The discussion continues

Discussion about the 2009 Annual Meeting in Toronto continues, both on association blogs and elsewhere. Here's what I've come across in the past week--thanks to all of you who took the time to write up your feedback and comments! And as always, if you see something I've missed, feel free to post a link in comments or email it to me to add in.

- Christy Jones posted her reactions to the conference. A few commenters responded as well.

- Linda Owens was inspired to start blogging again during Annual; she also posted a roundup of helpful sessions for AMC staff from the conference.

- Erik Schonher, another relatively new association blogger, posts some takeaways from his session on how membership teams and CFOs can better communicate with one another.

- The weekly "assnchat" (short for "association chat") on Twitter took some time last week to focus on the Annual Meeting, what people liked and didn't like, and what people would like to see in 2010. A transcript of the chat is available through; scroll down to 2 p.m. in the transcript to see the actual chat as it happened live.

- Maddie Grant rounded up some thoughts from YAP members who weren't able to attend the conference on why they didn't attend. Maddie also posted some suggestions for the volunteer leadership brunch at Annual Meeting 2010.

- Sue Pelletier posted about an eye-opening experience during the conference.

- The PCMA Membership Blog shares some nuggets of wisdom on social media gleaned in Toronto.

- Speaking of social media, Peggy Hoffman posted some thoughts based on her session with KiKi L'Italien on how chapters can leverage social media.


August 21, 2009

Annual Meeting Roundup: Post-postgame

The discussion inspired by Annual Meeting continues with several great blog posts:

- Elizabeth Weaver Engel recommends faking your own death if necessary to see Clay Shirky speak (plus four other "top 5" lessons learned at Annual).

- KiKi L'Italien has 10 highlights and five "needs improvements" from the conference.

- Jeff De Cagna looks ahead to conversations we need to start preparing for at Annual Meeting 2010. (Don't miss the comments on his post.)

- Lindy Dreyer posted on her experience with the volunteer brunch and council meetings on Saturday, and asked for feedback on what kind of volunteer leaders association professionals want and need (be sure to read the comments on her post as well). During Annual Meeting, Peggy Hoffman wrote about similar topics from her perspective as a past council chair.

- Cynthia D'Amour analyzes how well the closing party did at engaging all attendees.

- For you visual thinkers out there: Another cool set of Flickr photos from Annual has been posted. The Splash blog also has an "Annual Meeting in photos" roundup, and Steffanie Feuer shared some photos from the Food & Wine Classic. (And of course there's the more general Annual Meeting Flickr pool, as well.)

- Brian John Riggs posted about themes he saw at both ASAE & The Center's Annual Meeting and AMCi.

- Maddie Grant shares three great examples of word-of-mouth in action at Annual. She also archived her "golden nuggets" from Clay Shirky's presentation all in one post.

- Matt Baehr has some notes from Annual.

- Jamie Notter shares some tips from his Learning Lab on managing conflict.

- Kevin Holland has the "Connect With Me" song stuck in his head.

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Why association marketing stinks

"You need to share with people what they want to hear, not what you want to shout at them."

That was said by Charlene Li in her general session at the annual meeting. If you have just a moment, skip down to the bottom of this post and watch the 2 minute, 41-second video from the last Marketing & Membership Conference.

I used to hold the opinion that just about everyone in an organization was part marketer. I'm ready to abandon that now. Oh, I still believe in the sentiment, but there doesn't appear to be any real change on the horizon. Associations are still supremely guilty of shouting out what they want their public to hear, rather than entering into dialog and informing. The term marketing has a bad connotation—it is the shouting, the blah, blah blah, the interruption, and it all wreaks of desperation. So now I'm ready to jettison the term. Just lose it from the vocabulary. While we're at it, if there is any product or service that needs marketing, then get rid of that, too.

It's time to stop thinking about marketing, replacing it with informing and engaging in dialog. It's what our members want from us. They didn't join to be marketed to; they didn't join to be sold to. They joined to be part of community. If you need more marketing than that, it's time to rethink what you're doing.

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Crowdsourcing a new book on corporate social responsibility

There was lots of buzz about crowdsourcing at this week’s Annual Meeting & Expo. I like this latest example underway--a new project by Seventh Generation, a “green products” company, and partner Justmeans to crowdsource a virtual book on “innovative CSR/sustainability work you all are doing” in your companies and organizations.

The book aims to “help companies choose opportunities to create products and services that deliver a Return on Purpose as well as a Return on Investment” and applies to associations as well. Consider contributing your own organizational story on sustainability, and then watch Seventh Generation CEO Jeffrey Hollender’s provocative call urging business leaders to move beyond what he calls “first-phase” efforts at corporate social responsibility toward a CSR “reinvention” in his four-minute video, Is CSR Dead?


August 20, 2009

Annual Meeting Roundup: Postgame

I may have said this before, but just in case I haven't: Thank you to all of the bloggers who have been kind enough to share their thoughts, feedback, notes and reactions to the Annual Meeting. As an ASAE & The Center staffer, I'm honored that you'd take the time to provide us with such generous and valuable information. (Not to mention the fact that I personally miss a lot of sessions that I would normally love to see because of other responsibilities while I'm at the meeting; I'm grateful to see notes from some of those sessions online through blogs and Twitter.)

Here are the latest posts on the Annual Meeting I've found from association bloggers and others. If you know of ones I've missed, let me know!

- Wes Trochlil posted his Annual Meeting highlights and lowlights.

- 18 tips Cindy Butts picked up while attending the meeting virtually.

- Cindy also posted 15 thoughts on her experience as a virtual attendee.

- Maddie Grant posted her takeaways and a couple of videos from the speakers she found most valuable.

- Speaking of videos, an archive of short videos collected during Annual is here, including a number of great speakers sharing key points from their sessions.

- Kevin Holland posted about some conversational themes he saw during the conference, and what he agreed and disagreed with; Judith Lindenau posted a response to what Kevin had to say and how it applies to Realtor assoctiation.

- Sue Pelletier posted her final mileage count for Annual (and can I say, wow?).

- Jamie Notter's recap of the meeting focuses on the themes of innovation, failure, platforms, and love.

- Frank Fortin posted 14 takeaways he, well, took away.

- Peggy Hoffman shared some of the greatest ideas she heard during the conference.

- Bruce Hammond has some ideas for what could have been done better in the closing general session.

- Michael McCurry posted his reactions to the conference as a virtual attendee.

- Eric Casey shares the things he liked and didn't like during the conference, and what he'll apply in his own meetings.

- Cynthia D'Amour posted on the "ultimate community builder" at Annual.

- Kevin Patrick posted a Flickr set of what he saw at Annual.

- Jeff Cobb posted a number of audio interviews he conducted at Annual, including interviews on games and learning, the growth of distance learning, AMS-learning management system integration, the resurgence of e-learning in associations, certification and continuing education in the current economy, and mobile learning.


August 19, 2009

Can we put all these good ideas into action?

Now comes the work of sorting through the massive amounts of information that we received this week. We all sat down together at the last general session and we each had so many new ideas. We probably covered 24 sessions among us all and have already thought about putting many of the things we learned into practice back home in Texas! We will get together on Monday with each of us bringing information from the presentations that we think deserve sharing and possible implementation. We also enjoyed the exhibitor booths and spent time, especially in the technology area, taking care of some association management issues. Got some great ideas to increase our processing speed - always needed.

I still have to say that my favorite session was the FBOS Breakfast. All sessions were good and I met many new networking friends. We gained a lot of new information on managing emails, managing social networks, legal issues and on and on.

The party last night was great and Toronot really knows how to have a fantastic ending to a great event.

I will update you next week on our final debriefing, but I can already say that this conference was very beneficial to TASBO.


August 18, 2009

Ideas for 2010

For the Tuesday Daily Now, I tweeted out a question to the folks attending or following the Annual Meeting: What's one thing you'd like to see at next year's Annual Meeting? A flood of good advice and feedback followed, which I've collected here.

Did I miss any tweets that should be included below? Or do you have more suggestions to add? Feel free to do so in comments!

What's one thing you'd like to see at next year's Annual Meeting?

markbledsoe Me! Not being there this year is driving me crazy.

robertmbarnes Next year the Aussies should be invited to bring session on standards of corporate governance as case studies through @AICD.

jobsearchcoach I really think #ASAE puts on a great show. Wouldn't change anything. OK wait, O.J. at the coffee stations in the AM : )

chrisuschan wifi everywhere

MissLynn13 Live-streaming the general session for those that can't be there.

ewengelmore places to charge laptops/mobile devices, esp. in session rooms

peggyhoffman sm 10, sm 201, sm 301—in other words, let's begin targeting content to experience. Today's tech can facilitate that.

aaronwolowiec A full-fledged reception for young professionals.

robertmbarnes how about someone presenting virtually or live feed via skype or something like this. Some naysayers may see it in action.

PBBsRealm more consultant specific sessions and programming.

chicagogirl27 How to Twitter kiosks in the hallway to get more attendees on twtter. I feel like I am virtually attending 5 other sessions.

PBBsRealm ability for content leaders to take questions LIVE by Twitter during sessions.

peggyhoffman exercise break! would love a walking tour of the city so we can meet, see, learn about city, new mtg concepts

DeirdreReid Time for two educ sessions in am. Keep general session as keynote only. Find time for recognition elsewhere - end of day.

annparker Less expo time, in exchange for more education sessions.

Urban_Chick engage all attendees to volunteer a local cause as a replacement to a big event. A visual event to show how assc. advance America.

peggyhoffman belatedly - we need lots of outlets in all rooms - think smart tables ... #asae09

youfoundbob Agree with @aaronwolowiec official YP reception and would like more time for educational sessions

rcgranger a featured session with presentation zen guy - lots could benefit from his ideas on interesting presentations

MichaelMcCurry I wld lk 2 C the Hashtags 4 the Ed Sessions posted ahead of time in the prgrm book.. also a live webcast of gen sessions

anernay idea for #asae10 get volunteers 2 help take qstns from Twitter/Hub for speakers streaming live, #asae09

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Annual Meeting in Photos: Tuesday

(Once again, this is being posted early because I'm travelling tomorrow. Another photo roundup will come once I'm back in DC!)


The view from the convention center (or centre).


Learning Lab presenter Jon Goldman, throwing frogs. (Photo courtesy of Hammock Inc.)


Clay Shirky at his Thought Leader session.


Shirky also hosted a more intimate Q&A session in the Online Engagement Lounge.





The new chair of the ASAE board, Velma Hart.


The new chair of the Center board, Robin Lokerman.


Closing general session speaker Fareed Zakaria.




Annual Meeting Roundup: Tuesday


I'm posting this early, since I'm flying home tomorrow. But I promise another roundup or two as folks continue to post their thoughts and reactions to Annual!

First, your Tweet of the Day, from the Annual Meeting Hub:

christytj Mobile phones are the pc's/laptop of the third world. If u can socially network with phone, all of sudden 2 billion ppl listening. #asae09

In other news:

- Some comments on the opening general session music video from someone outside the association community.

- Sue Pelletier sums up her Monday at Annual.

- Kevin Holland is back on the grid and sharing his first impressions of this year's Annual experience.

- Steffanie Feuer has some notes on Clay Shirky's Thought Leader session and his Q&A in the Online Engagement Lounge.

- Michael McCurry shares the Annual Meeting tweets he found to be most powerful.

- Renato Sogueco took notes during Fareed Zakaria's closing general session speech.

- Summer Huggins reports from the Learning Lab "10 Direct Marketing Strategies You Can Implement Tomorrow."

- Cynthia D'Amour comments on the effects of unexpected celebrity.

- Jeff Cobb posted some resources related to his and Lindy Dreyer's Learning Lab "The Power of Technology on Association Education and Learning."

- Jeff De Cagna posted a podcast commentary on Gary Hamel's opening general session speech.

- Tradeshow Week's Off the Showfloor blog reports on celebrities and tradeshows.

- David Patt has some comments on attending conferences as a staff (in response to Becky Bunte's Acronym post from Sunday).

- The Splash blog has a photo from the expo floor.

- There are a bunch of new videos on the Engage Your Career videoblog, including an interview with a small staff exec, an interview with an exhibitor, and a CAE study group reminscing about their experience.


Living through short-term pain


I could write 10 blog posts based on Fareed Zakaria's closing general session speech, but I think to start with I'll focus on one of his last exhortations to the audience: "We have got to learn to impose short-term pain for long-term gain."

If an association were to really orient itself around that statement right there, and commit to endure short-term pain for long-term gain, think how powerful it would be for that organization. But I think short-term pain is a challenge for associations: We don't like members to be unhappy (in my career, I've seen several initiatives of long-term importance derailed by member complaints). In addition, we're governed by boards made up of people who aren't there for the long term; many a volunteer president has wanted to keep things calm and pleasant for his or her presidential term. This isn't to say that boards can't think long term, but in many cases, it's hard to sell a board on "you should suffer the slings and arrows now so that the board members who are around in five years can reap the benefits."

So what does it take to strengthen an association's willingness to suffer now for future benefit? I have a few ideas:

Have a strong vision. It's a lot easier to suffer for a vision you really believe in than for "our margins will be two percent better" (at least in my opinion). It's also easier to convince members and stakeholders when you can paint them a picture of a future where this vision is reality than it is to sell them with disconnected facts.

Educate everyone. This ties back to a great post by Peggy Hoffman on the SmartBlog Insights blog, about turning members into informed and engaged association owners. If members really understand your environment and your vision, they're much more likely to be convinced of the importance of bearing the short-term pain than if they only know that "something I was comfortable with is changing and I don't understand why."

And it's just as important to educate staff. Make information available to them--don't keep it secret or within the executive ranks. A staff person who understands and is educated in your vision can be an ambassador for it.

Ask your members. Spread the conversation as far and wide as possible. Have them help you build the vision and make the choices. Pain is easier to bear when we bear it by choice.

What else would you add to this list? What can associations do to help overcome their aversion to short-term pain?

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Silencing dissent weakens your brand

A theme I’ve heard over and over from keynotes to thought leaders to hallway conversations is the idea of control. It’s a recurring fear I hear almost every time I speak to association execs about social media—they are scared of the possibility that online engagement will go places the organization doesn’t want it to go.

I’d guess most people reading this blog have pretty much the same answer: They’re going to do it anyway, so you might as well be a part of it. That’s true, if anybody has anything to say, they’ll say it in a way that can be noticed. If somebody notices and they agree, it can magnify. You want to know about it, and you want to be sure that your message is out there as you deem appropriate.

But that’s the old answer. Now, thanks to Mr. Clay Shirky and his Q&A in the Social Engagement Lounge, here’s the new answer: Trying to cut off or silence dissent weakens your brand. Make it known what you stand for (you have to back that up, of course), and that’s all you need do. Those who share that value will stand with you, and if there is energetic and earnest debate, everyone will be better because of it.

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The Rise of the Restless

I was stoked to see Fareed Zakaria. He delivered a strong, humble, articulate presentation. I was pretty amazed at how he synthesized 30+ years of complex global history into a compelling message that transcended politics or idealogy. I also enjoyed the fact that he didn’t patronize me with his ego, and he didn’t brag about what he’s accomplished...his scholarly approach was refreshing, he didn’t pound his chest once!

His approach, maybe even more than his message, was what influenced me personally. As I measured my own strategic vision skills, against his, it made me restless and maybe even feeling a little inadequate. Why do I often feel like I am just on the verge of a more comprehensive understanding of the organism that is the association I work in? How many of you, like me, feel like we have brief moments of insight, which often get buried in the 'urgent'?

Most interesting questions: What would I say if I had to give a similar speech for my members, about the state of their industry? How do I take my limited understanding of the system our association exists in, and gain a more compelling narrative of where we have been and where we should go, and how do I communicate that simply and effectively?

Comments welcome, I challenge all of the big picture thinkers to share their thoughts and vision!


How to overcome e-mail overload

Stressed by e-mail? Is it controlling your life? Tim Burress, author of The Hamster Revolution, recommends the following top two strategies for overcoming e-mail overload:

• Cut e-mail time by 20 percent.

According to Burress, the average professional sends and receives 80 e-mails a day or 19,200 e-mails annually. And e-mail use is compounding at the astounding rate of 16 percent a year. Assuming it takes about two minutes to process the average e-mail message, each of us is spending nearly 80 days each year on e-mail. If we cut e-mail time by 20 percent, we can save ourselves 16 days a year.

So how does Burress recommend we do this? Send less and you’ll get less. First, ask yourself whether or not the end-user needs it. Is it timely, relevant and complete? Second, ask yourself if the message is appropriate before you send it. Is it compliant, professional and inoffensive? Third, ask yourself if the message is targeted. Use “reply all,” distribution lists and carbon copies sparingly.

• Boost e-mail quality by 35 percent.

E-mail quality challenges include vague subject lines, e-mail that requires clarification and e-mail where the action is buried in the message.

Good e-mails are both professional and recipient-focused. To boost your e-mail quality, first strengthen the subject line. Make it clear and descriptive. Second, sculpt the body. Start with a brief, warm greeting, followed by the action/summary (specific action, purpose and response time), the background (clear, concise and relevant with bullet points, numbers and bold paragraph titles) and the close (signature).

My question to you is this: Do you control e-mail or does e-mail control you? What is your chief complaint about managing e-mail? What strategies have helped you overcome e-mail overload?

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What is not related to "social media"?

Here we are at the final day of ASAE 2009 in Toronto and one is overwhelmed with the amount of interest, and confusion, about social media and its impact on associations. The exhibit floor in the technology section is evidence not only of the intense interest in all things social media, but also the emergence of new solutions and companies in this sector.

A lot of the information on social media is aimed to help people understand the basics of what social media is and initial approaches. Other sessions have been able to go more into detail and share actionable information and resources.

However, one over-riding theme through all of the presentations and the discussions was just how important it is for organizations to develop a strategy for social media if they hope to really leverage the new tools and applications.

Another "elephant in the room" is about measurement and ROI. Sure, you might have thousands of "fans" on Facebook or hordes of "followers" on Twitter, but how are you managing your organizations brand message and reputation; how are you monetizing or measuring these platforms?

It is obvious that we are all at the front end of the social media revolution and that the initial strategies; i.e. using public social networks alone as the primary social media approach, are not going to deliver the kinds of sustainable results we need.

A solid strategy, use of multiple channels and the ability to manage your brand and quality of experience on a private social network while raising awareness in the public space seems to be where associations need to go to be more successful with social media.

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Member on Member

A recurring theme through this year's annual seems to be a greater emphasis on members helping members. Through ASAE's Twitter feed and sitting through both formal and informal discussions, the chatter is working on how can associations both simultaneously leverage their members existing connections (membership recruitment, retention), continue to create meaningful new ones (training, forums, networking) while sharing or even acquiescing the control of making all of this happen. Historically Associations were developed to serve their constituencies and became the authority for their members; with SocMed technology and philosophy, are we seeing a transition to an even greater facilitation role? How does that become integrated with "traditional" products of training, position papers, events?


Annual Meeting in Photos: Monday


Monday's general session opened with song.


Then social media expert (and coauthor of Groundswell) Charlene Li took the stage.



Following the general session, Li spent some time answering questions in our Online Engagement Lounge. (Can you spot the Acronym blogger in this picture?)


Attendees visted Connection Central ...


... and the expo floor.




And, of course, Monday evening was the celebrated Food & Wine Classic, in the historic Distillery District.




Annual Meeting Roundup: Monday

- MemberClicks just launched a new blog, Splash; welcome to the association blogging community! One of their first posts, by Shannon Otto, shares some recommended sessions for Annual Meeting (my apologies that I didn't see the post until last night).

- Peggy Hoffman collected the ideas that especially piqued her interest from her first few days in Toronto.

- Bruce Hammond shared what he saw and learned during his first and second days at Annual.

- Renato Sogueco took notes during Charlene Li's general session presentation.

- The Engage Your Career videobloggers have been active; check out new video posts by Amanda Batson (with Charlene Li), James Hieb, and Lauren Wolfe.

- Brian O'Leary at the Magellan Media Consulting Partners blog posted his thoughts on Gary Hamel's opening general session speech.

- Michael McCurry also blogged on Gary Hamel's presentation, based entirely on the information broadcast through social media.

- Cindy Butts liked the video from the opening general session.

- Stuart Meyer posted some video from the opening night party.

- Pat and Catherine from the Texas Librarian Association posted a neat visual postcard from day one of the conference.

- The Hammock@ASAE2009 blog has posted a bunch of stuff since yesterday's roundup post: the opening party, Sunday's opening general session and sketchnotes of Gary Hamel's talk, a report on the Learning Lab "Make the World a Better Place," a report from Jim Kane's Thought Leader session on building and maintaining loyal relationships, Monday's general session and Charlene Li's speech, photos from the expo floor, and a report from the Learning Lab "Using Social Networking Tools for Your Advocacy Efforts."

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UN Secretary-General Cheers Global SR Principles, Invites Climate Change Involvement

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent warm greetings to attendees at the Annual Meeting in Toronto this week, lauding in particular "your decision to create guiding principles for socially and environmentally responsible associations--principles that are aligned with those of the United Nations Global Compact."

Ki-moon also issued a special invitation that he hopes will further engage associations and nonprofits in the UN’s Millennial Development Goals and, specifically, a new UN global warming initiative.

"This [set of Global Principles] is an important step forward, but I urge you to go even further," Ki-moon wrote, noting that the association community’s "vast network" and resources are "well placed to help us address climate change. This is the defining challenge of our time. As we approach the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this December, the moment for action is now."

He urged associations to "join the UN’s ‘Seal the Deal’ campaign for a balanced and effective global climate agreement. With the support of all partners, we can usher in a cleaner, greener world." For more information about the initiative, visit


August 17, 2009

“Social is a way of being”

I attended Jeff De Cagna’s session, Associations Next: Serious Questions for 2010 and Beyond this afternoon. Whenever I have the opportunity, I make it a point of attending Jeff’s presentations, which are always insightful and thought-provoking. I find that the questions he raises linger with me long after the conference is over and typically prompt rich discussions with my colleagues. This afternoon’s session was no exception.

After stepping us through a series of 6 questions that get at the heart of what it means to associate, govern, and innovate in the web-enabled 21st century, he asked us to spend 10 minutes brainstorming radically different approaches to our association work. What would make the biggest potential impact, even if it meant making our CEOs, boards, and even ourselves very uncomfortable?

Several of the suggestions that came back were so intriguing, I thought I’d share a few of them here:

- One table suggested making membership completely free (we don’t control the network any longer, so why try to make it into a commodity?). Charge a fair-market price for the professional content that is currently packaged with membership and remove the barriers to the conversation. Then the members of our networks who are truly engaged and truly do contribute to the conversation will be able to join without barriers, making the conversation richer for all. (Any association that has opted for open, publicly accessible social media groups understands the value of this free association and not trying so hard to control the message or limit the participants.)

- Another table suggested crowdsourcing our next annual meetings. Empower the community to make the best decisions on its own behalf and deliver a meeting that is exactly what our attendees want. (NTEN, an association I’ve long admired, successfully structures its annual meeting this way, and their conference is consistently an audience favorite.)

- Another group suggested making board service based not on fixed terms, but on best ideas. Decide who remains on the board based upon record of service, innovation, and follow through. Those who aren’t contributing to the conversation could be voted off the island, a la Survivor. (I happened to be sitting in this session with the president of our board, and this suggestion was major fodder for conversation back at the hotel tonight!)

My brain is still buzzing with these ideas and Jeff’s many good questions, and I can’t wait to get back to my own association to continue this conversation with the rest of my team. How could a radically different ISTE better support and shape the conversation for our members and other educators?

What radical idea will you bring back to your organization at the end of this week? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Being human

I spent some time on the expo floor today, and during my travels I had the pleasure of being introduced to Patrick Essaye of Streampoint Solutions. He gave me his card, as you do, and my attention was immediately caught--not by the front of the card, but by the back.

Streampoint's business cards all include the usual business card stuff on the front--name, title, email, etc. But the back shares a short personal story from the staff member in question. Patrick's card tells a story about working on a jigsaw puzzle with his three-year-old.

Does the story tell me anything about Streampoint's mission or services? No. But it does tell me that Streampoint's employees are human beings--and in Patrick's case, a human being I have something in common with (being a parent, and specifically the parent of a three-year-old girl who loves puzzles). I love how his card shows me a human face alongside the usual business card information.

Are there places where your association could show more of a human side? So many of us have staff directories on our websites (and I agree with Kevin Holland that they should be on the public part of your site, by the way)--could the staff directory include short, personal stories? Could your organizational blog? How about your magazine? There are dozens of places your organization could show a more human face--with a little creativity and the willingness to do so.


Why You Should Never Leave a Session Before it’s Over...

Sherry Budziak and her session on website management started off pretty basic. She illustrated a few key points, and then several questions were asked. The questions were specific to a certain size of organization. At that point, numerous folks simply got up and walked out, and I’ll admit my urge to do the same. It had nothing to do with the content or Sherry, she was great, it had to do with the promise awaiting me in the 19 other sessions taking place.

I bet that up to 10 people left the session, but I stayed because I committed to Sherry by entering the room that she would have my attention for that 1 hour...the Gods of association management were smiling today my friends!

Sherry seemed to intuitively realize that the group was going to be interactive. She pushed through a portion of her slide show and got to the good stuff, and something wonderful happened—toward the end, Sherry willingly gave up some control and allowed the session to turn into a dialog. Here is what I learned:

- There are associations out there that view websites not as informational warehouses to store text, but as new tools for delivering quality education leveraging many forms of media, including video, audio, text, and web 2.0.

- There are literally tons of CMSs (content management systems) available for association professionals; some are free, but require in-house maintenance and a place to live; others are outsourced.

- Making staff or volunteers responsible for keeping content up-to-date can serve as accountability.

Personally, I took from the session two main things (this is how I translated the experience in my mind):

1) I’m not crazy, there are other people out there that see social/web 2.0 as a function of management, not a new frontier that changes too fast to keep up—what we are really talking about with web 2.0 is a change in our business and educational models. My goal should not be to recreate Facebook but make it specific to members; it should be to support and achieve the goals in our strategic plan using a consolidated platform that can incorporate/adjust to many trending technologies.

2) Many people are getting lost in our associations by what we call ‘Marketing’...the web can put us back on equal footing with our members, by humanizing us and making us a resource and not another email blast.

3) The fear of being burned online is real; however we don’t talk much about the opportunity presented to us when we are faced with criticism. If we make mistakes, and those mistakes are communicated, it’s a great opportunity to show that we are human. For every 1 dissenter, there are 100 or 1000 watchers, and our response to our own mistakes can have a greater impact than not making them.

This is why you should never walk out of a session before it’s over...


Chef Anna Olson Plays the "Favorite Game"

Okay, all of you foodies in Toronto! Super-chef Anna Olson kindly did a quick Q&A with me, which you’ll see in Tuesday’s Daily Now, but meanwhile, here’s a taste of some of her other advice for meeting planners hungry for memorable events. And check our meeting’s Twitter stream—we’re tweeting one of Olson’s ice-wine-based desserts (yup, in 140 characters!). (Her book, Fresh with Anna Olson: Seasonally Inspired Recipes to Share with Family and Friends, releases September 15.)

Favorite dish for large crowds?

Olson: What I’m known for mainly is my home-spun cooking, and I like to do something as simple as a roasted rack of pork with maple beer glaze in the fall and serve that with an apple-onion chutney on the side. From a caterer’s perspective, it’s easy to execute and deliver hot and consistently in a timely way. If you’ve got to plate for thousands, it’s got to come out the same every time and very fast.

Favorite question that meeting planners should ask potential caterers?

I like to be asked—and this is a question that, as chefs, my husband and I put to our suppliers—‘What are you eating for dinner?’ … That will give you an idea of their focus, what they like to do, how they’re thinking eating-wise. It’s a good way to get a sense of the chef.

Favorite ways to use your cooking knowledge to help others?

I am a co-chair on a capital campaign for Niagara College, a culinary and wine school. We’re renovating a major campus in a city that’s been really hard hit by the economy, so this has immediate and long-term effects. I also am spokesperson for Eat for the Beat, an event for breast cancer [research], and for the Ontario Association of Food Banks, because it’s responsible that when we indulge, we always give back to those who don’t.

Favorite quick tips on incorporating hot culinary trends into large-scale meal events?

[Focus] on ‘home flavors.’ I use fresh herbs wherever I can, and we do cater our menus to the seasons. If you see me in Niagara in September, it’s all about the apples. If you see me from June to August, it’s going to be about berries and peaches. In spring it’s going to be rhubarb and strawberries. And even when it comes to desserts, … while the basic dessert remains the same, I tailor the accents to suit the season.

[Also, use lots of chutneys and sides], because “it’s great fun. I’m a chef and pastry chef, and living in such a wonderful fruit zone, you might as well put it in wherever you can. We’re actually doing a large event this weekend, and one of the salads is a corn, blueberry, and pepper salad. It’s colorful, and it sparkles on the plate…. I do a lot of relishes and preserves, and I think chefs are jumping on to that, too. We’re making our own pickles, pickled tomatoes, and chutneys now.

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Early Start with Finance and Business Operations Section

I started my day early this morning by attending the Finance and Business Operations Section Networking Breakfast. This was my second year to attend both the conference and the breakfast. I remember last year not being really sure what to expect, but this year I looked forward to it with anticipation. As a matter of fact, two weeks ago I had not seen any information on it and contacted ASAE asking if it was being held again. It was at this breakfast last year that I learned of the Finance and Business Operations Symposium (FBOS) held in May each year in the Washington, D.C. area. As a new association CFO last year, this was probably the most critical information that I received and the most important “session” that I attended. I found my networking group that I had been searching for here. After hearing about FBOS at the breakfast in San Diego, I registered in the spring for the conference.

My only disappointment this morning was that there were not more business and operation attendees at the breakfast. There were several empty tables and this is such a great opportunity. I know this breakfast was listed in the program but maybe attendees weren’t sure who could attend. I hope next year that this event will draw a larger crowd. It is really a great “session” for those in the finance and operations areas.

Our table discussion this morning covered ROI, UBIT, lots of talk on the new 990, differences between 501(C) 3 and 501 (C) 6 associations, revenue generation opportunities and more. Good CFO language! I felt so at home. We also spent quite a bit of time discussing last year’s FBOS and what’s on the table for this May. FBOS will be in Washington, D.C. again. In addition to FBOS in May, we also received information on the Dollar and Cents publication. The group has developed Core Competencies for the financial areas and they will be highlighted in Dollar and Cents over the next issues. Also reviewed were training opportunities in the finance area. After the breakfast ended, no one immediately left. Intense table discussions started up again. You could tell that there were many there like me that just want to soak up any information that we can find on association financial issues. I am already looking forward to FBOS in May and next year’s breakfast at ASAE!


The Engagement Pyramid

Charlene Li, coauthor of Groundswell, presented today’s opening general session about engaging community. During this presentation she introduced a theory she calls The Engagement Pyramid, which describes the roles of individuals within their respective communities. Foundational to the pyramid are watchers. These individuals are involved in a community only in so much as they watch the messaging and networking that exist within a particular space but are otherwise limited in their involvement. Working up the pyramid Li describes sharers, commenters, producers and, finally, curators. The higher their place in the pyramid, the more engaged the individuals. Curators, for example, are the most engaged. These are the individuals who run and manage communities. Ultimately, Li believes that while we each want deep engagement, we must all start at the bottom of the pyramid and work our way up. My question to you is this: Do you agree? Where do you currently fit within The Engagement Pyramid? Are you equally engaged in both your personal and professional lives? Where would you like to be and how will you get there? Also, how engaged are your members? How will you move them up the Pyramid?

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Charlene Li on creating a groundswell

Charlene Li, author of Groundswell, an influential book about how technology has enabled people to connect in ways never previously possible, keynoted the second general session at ASAE & The Center’s Annual Meeting and Exposition. Her key points:

Focus on relationships, not technology.

Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed – these all just sound like buzzwords. Rather than think about how first, think about what—think about the relationships you want to build. Doing this requires a strategy, and Li listed her four points to establishing a social media strategy: learn, dialog, help, innovate. Learning is more than just listening, it is internalizing what it is you are listening to. A dialog is not the message you want to shout at people, rather, it’s figuring out what they want from you. Helping is helping those you engage with meet their needs and goals. And innovating is not being afraid to try new things.

Start small, but start now.

Li was pretty good at listing the barriers associations talk about: no money, no time, no staff, legal issues, IT issues. Her point, and the point of most people who believe that the future of organizations will include social media, is that it’s happening anyway, with or without you. You can accept that or not, if you don’t, the message is really, “good luck.”

But if you do accept it, Li had some straightforward advice for starting: find the people who will be the foundation for you, that key audience that is either already familiar with tool or who share the passion of creating relationships and can act as a change agent. Nurture them, and allow them to move you forward.

Prepare to let go of control.

Li asked these questions: why do you need control? What is it you think you are in control of? The answer is pretty clear, you don’t really have control anymore anyway. Part of letting go of control she says, is figuring out what to do with failure. She gave Walmart as the classic example. After several years of high-profile social media failures, the company kept at it, and eventually found a strong presence to have. You have to be ok with failure and have the tenacity to keep trying new things.

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Making connections

You'll probably think I'm a sick person, but I really love working annual conferences. I loved them at my last association, and I love them now that I'm with ASAE & The Center. I'm not saying I could work at that pace forever, but three days of nonstop action and pulling together as a team of staff and volunteers really is fun for me.

That said, I think my favorite memory of yesterday is just a small moment in time: An attendee asked me for more information about crowdsourcing and how it could be used for learning programs (following a Learning Lab presentation). I suggested that he look at what NTEN is doing with their community-driven agenda for their Nonprofit Technology Conference. The more I described it to him, the more obvious it was that this was exactly the information he needed, and it was a great feeling.

What I really loved was knowing that I was able to provide the right information at the right time for this attendee. You get some of that via social media (Twitter in particular is helpful for those kind of quick, do-you-know-how-to-do-X questions and answers). But it's even more fun to have the opportunity to share such information face to face.

I can't be the only person who loves to make those kind of connections, and have the opportunity to share my knowledge in a direct and helpful way. What can be done to maximize those opportunities to put people with information together with people seeking it (especially at a conference the size of Annual Meeting? Designated discussion tables during breaks? Have you seen other conferences do this kind of thing well?

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Annual Meeting in Photos: Sunday


Sunday's opening general session brought attendees together.


Members of the community shared their talent with the crowd.




Management expert Gary Hamel urged the audience to keep up with the pace of change.



And then on to the Expo!



(Photo courtesy of Hammock Inc.)


(Photo courtesy of Hammock Inc.)


The afternoon was dedicated to Thought Leader sessions and Learning Labs ...



and informal gatherings, like this tweetup.


After the day's learning, attendees fanned out to a variety of receptions and parties.





Annual Meeting Roundup: Sunday

Happy Monday, everyone! Here's your Tweet of the Day from Sunday:

@david_ricciardi #asae09 diversity session best quote: "talent goes where it is welcome". Good business tip for all of us.

Elsewhere, bloggers had good things to say as well:

- Renato Sogueco posted notes from Gary Hamel's opening general session speech and from the Learning Lab on Associations Now's crowdsourced issue (thanks for being there, Renato).

- Stephen Nold at the Event Tech blog posted his pre-Annual Meeting checklist.

- Sue Pelletier commented on Gary Hamel's opening session presentation, as well as the song that premiered during the general session. She also collected her favorite quotes from the day, and kept track of her steps through the conference so far.

- Bob Wolfe asked for input for his presentation today on managing and leading the next generation of workers.

- Dave Sabol has some feedback based on his experience as a virtual attendee this week, as does Maggie McGary.

- Amanda Batson and Bana Yahnke posted new video interviews on the Engage Your Career videoblog.


Networking in a meaningful way

One of the great opportunities to take advantage of during the Annual is networking with peers, whoop it up with old friends and bread bread with new ones. Sunday evening was run of one reception to the next, ending with dinner with a few friends at midnight. In the process it can be easy to forget that you are not just *networking*, but touching bases with people. Sometimes running from one handshake to the next just isn't enough. As much as I want to meet everyone that I can, I simply can't. It may not work out for the networking side of the equation. But spending a couple minutes more to ask about jobs, spouses, kids, lives, loves.....that's the balance that makes meetings like this special.

Hope to meet you sometime in the next couple of days!


August 16, 2009

First Day, Finance and Phones!

We have our entire executive team here at ASAE - Executive Director, Associate Executive Director, CFO, Director of Research and Technology, and the Director of Communication. We made no plans to meet this morning for the General Session, although we usually try to sit together. All five of us actually found each other without using our cell phones - well except for one text! We are so spoiled with iPhones, Blackberries and phones when traveling, that it was kind of amazing that we could find each other without them. I decided that I could do without talking on the phone - no problem. Texts were less expensive and I would just text if it was really necessary. But I do have to admit I only made it until lunch time before I made a couple of calls. Guess I am not quite ready to give up talking on the phone! Of course, we immediately started trying to connect to the Wi-Fi so that we could check our emails. Thank you ASAE and the Center for Association Leadership for having Wi-Fi available to us at the conference. And it is so easy to connect! A special thanks to ASAE for warning us, prior to our travel from Texas to Toronto, to check with our cell phone providers. When I walked into the general session, the first conversations I heard revolved around cell phone use – or non-use as some mentioned. There were many conversations about how to retrieve voicemails! I guess we will all figure it out before Tuesday.

The General Session was wonderful. Gary Hamel made some statements that really made me think. Looking back on my past work experiences, change usually is crisis driven. Don’t we all wish that we could be ahead of the curve so that change was “opportunistic” rather than reacting to some crisis!

Our group got together at the end of the day to share all we had heard today and talk about tomorrow. The five of us were able to cover nine sessions today! We attended sessions on legal issues, social networking, technology, and my personal favorite – “Finding Common Ground in a Shifting Economy: When Membership and CFO’s Unite!” Coming from the school business background, it reminded me of a training program that we do called “Bridging the Gap between Payroll and Human Resources”. I remember going to this session at one of our conferences and our presenters were dressed up as a bride and a groom. They had fun while presenting a difficult topic. I heard some great information and made some contacts to gather additional samples of dashboards and formulas for calculating the value and cost of members. Our association is focused on making data driven decisions and we have developed many dashboards over the last year. We are always looking for additional dashboards to share both internally and with our board and membership. Our team was also interested in the copyright information they heard in the legal sessions, especially when transferring an article from print to website. This is something we will be following up on in the future.

I think we have tomorrow planned. Again we will try to cover as many sessions as possible, talk to exhibitors, and then regroup tomorrow evening and share our sessions. It’s been a long day, but very productive. I just keep thinking it is Monday!


Talent goes where it is welcome

One of the best quotes currently making its way around the #asae09 twitterverse is “Talent goes where it is welcome,” as heard in today’s diversity session. I wasn't able to sit in on this particular session due to a conflicting presentation of my own, but was able to hit the high points thanks to Twitter (isn’t social media great?). The quote resonated with me because it indirectly references so many of the themes we’ve been discussing at the conference—how to encourage innovation, how to make our associations truly collaborative, and how to make it easy for volunteers and staff to do their very best work every day. So much of it starts with a commitment to nurture and support talent in our organizations (and the belief that talent can and should be everywhere, and is not a designation reserved for just a select few “rock stars”).

In this morning’s opening keynote, Gary Hamel talked a lot about innovation and the structures that will support it (and in some cases, the lack of structures). I’m lucky to work for an organization that does support talent and innovation, and is willing to recognize those things with enough room to pursue the next great idea. Even still, we grapple with creating the right systems and structures to both attract and retain talent, and also encourage the innovative thinking required to be a world-class organization.

Today at lunch, several of us from my organization were discussing the nuts and bolts of setting up an innovation fund. Who would make the decisions about how to use the money? How would we be accountable to the bigger picture? What would prompt us to stop doing certain things (sometimes even good things) to make room for the great things? Ultimately, the right answer may emerge as a combination of best thinking, and trial and error. But the important thing is the commitment to talent development, at all levels of the association.

How do you welcome and support talent in your organization? And what have you done to make it feel at home? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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The wonderful, amazing capacity to change

Eric Saperston can tell an amazing story. That's no surprise, really. After all, he's an award-winning documentary director. In his packed Thought Leader session at ASAE & The Center's Annual Meeting, he told the story of traveling across country talking to as many great leaders as would talk to him about why some people are extraordinary and why others are, well, ordinary.

His story is his revelation, and you can catch the extreme cliffs notes version in the video I captured of him below.

But what struck me about the session was the way, right in the middle, he made a fundamental u-turn. He went from no focus whatsoever on himself and those traveling with him, to a focus that is entirely on the four-person (and then three-person) crew. For this to mean much, watch the clip available on this web page. Now imagine what the results of his trip would have been if he had stuck to his original purpose--I'm quite sure there would be no clip to show, and I suspect that there would be no website, and I wouldn't have heard him speak today.

And yet it was such a profound, fundamental difference in the plan he had mapped out. If I learned anything on this first day, it is to be more open to--in fact to actively search for--a direction that is completely different than what a plan lays out. Would I have been free enough from the plan to make the fundamental shift that Saperston made? I really don't think so, but I want to try.


Creating clear and compelling messages

This afternoon I had the pleasure of attending a jam-packed learning lab about clear and compelling messaging sponsored by the communication section council. During this session, Brad Monterio briefly discussed the importance of targeting audiences. He recommended that association professionals define their audiences as finely and minutely as possible. He believes it’s important to establish a connection with members and intimately understand their needs, interests and wants. To the extent we’re successful at capturing this information it can then be utilized to package and deliver specific messages to specific membership segments.

While I absolutely agree that segmentation is an important and vital tool to positive communication outcomes, I’m not sure we’re all doing this successfully. I know I’m not the only one who is bombarded each and every day by messages – they come at us from every direction from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to bed. At some point, I fail to see the value and I just tune them out. The problem is that, at least in my association, we’re pushing our members to make this very same decision. Rather than harnessing technology, drilling down into our membership and messaging based on key segments, we’re sending one very general message to a population of people who may or may not be interested. Eventually, they fail to see the value and they tune us out.

So, my question to you is this: Do you agree that granular segmentation positively impacts your communication strategy? How successful is your association at segmenting its membership? Are you effectively delivering different messages to different constituents? What roadblocks stand in your way to mass customization?

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This is my bird dammit

Here’s the story that encapsulates Gary Hamel’s keynote at the first general session of ASAE & The Center’s 2009 Annual Meeting and Exposition:

You know the cliché: a bird in hand is worth two in the bush. Hamel disputes the saying, noting that, when it comes to the archaic ways leaders run their businesses, the bird in hand is actually all scrawny and you’ve been squeezing so hard for so long, it only has a few feathers left—it couldn’t fly away if you threw it. The two in the bush are much more worthwhile.

Why the reinterpreted cliché?

Hamel’s message is that organizations without a fine sense of adaptability are doomed, and almost every organization is based on a structure designed for efficiency. It’s an interesting take, just about every organization with a hierarchy is based on the industrial management model—one that had at its heart the purpose of turning human resources into robots. Unfortunately, the same structure isn’t much of a friend to adaptability, and leaders just don’t recognize it—they hold on to the bird they have wring it until there’s nothing left.

When it comes to human resources, Hamel has his own hierarchy of needs, and it goes like this: obedience, diligence, intellect, initiative, creativity, and finally passion. Once again, management and leadership in today’s organization focus on the first three things (obedience, diligence, and intellect), all of which can now be outsourced to anywhere on the globe. The last three things are what leaders need to focus on. It’s no longer the job of a leader to get people to serve an organization’s mission, it’s the job of a leader is to try to create a place with a mission that people feel good about serving.

So let’s just say you’re willing to let go of that bird—and beat the bush to try to find the new business model that will enable your organization to be adaptable, how do you do that?

Hamel had a lot of thoughts, but nothing is quite so simple that you can follow a recipe—add this ingredient, a dash of that, stir, and voila—so here are things to think about:

-Clearly Hamel is anti-hierarchy. He says nothing kills an idea faster than having to send it up the chain, so that it faces each person’s set of assumptions and biases. It’s bound to be shot down at some point, especially ideas from the front line people.

-Being effective adaptors means having both freedom and discipline, things that may sound like the opposite but shouldn’t be thought of that way. He used the example that a university staff is pretty high in the degree of freedom in the workforce, while a Fortune 100 company is high in discipline. He poses it as a question, how can you get discipline other than in the organizational forms you currently have?

-We have a tendency to want to focus on an idea, build a plan, and work it. Hamel’s alternative is to spend much more time on looking at different ideas. He says it takes a 1,000 wacky ideas to get 100 work examining further; from that 10 are worth running some experiments around, and then there’s 1 or 2 that will be worthwhile.

Hamel talked fast, and I missed much. Drop me a comment and let me know what needs to be added.

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Greg Fine, proud association geek

In this video, Greg Fine talks about why it is so important for him to come to the ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership Annual Meeting and Exposition. Catch all the videos we're shooting in Toronto on the annual meeting home page, and be sure to check out the installments from our guest video bloggers in the Engage Your Career Video Blog.


Annual Meeting in Photos: Saturday


Arrivals continued at the Annual Meeting Saturday.


Then the Volunteer Kick-Off Brunch, well, kicked things off.


Attendees connected and reconnected with colleagues ...



and shared success stories from the year past.


This moose is just here because I like him.




Then the volunteer councils and committees met to discuss their plans for the year ahead.


And from there, attendees headed to the opening celebration.





(Photo above courtesy of Hammock Inc.)



Annual Meeting Roundup: Saturday

There were so many great things going on on Twitter yesterday that I was unable to pick just one Tweet of the Day. So here are your top five Tweets of the Day instead.

First, two piece of advice for new attendees:

stevenjs my advice would be to go in with a plan, so you can reach all of your goals education wise, vendor wise, there is SO much to do!

jenxjones YP meetups are an op to meet young or young at <3 1st time attendees. look for the red foam finger at #asae09 and come say hi!

And the remaining top three:

sterlingraphael Lots do to still at @nfistudios booth. Meeting "a guy" in the back of an alley w/ canadian cash to replace damaged booth. hm...

rustystahl Yup, there's an association for association people! I'm lkng fwd to associating w/ them at their annual meeting.

Heleeene Lurkers are learners too - Tobin's words of wisdom

In other news:

- Bob Wolfe of the Young Association Professional blog is back! (We missed you, Bob.) He posted on five things he's excited about at Annual Meeting and some highlights for young professionals at the meeting.

- Jeff De Cagna has posted podcast interviews of John Graham, CEO of ASAE & The Center, and Clarke Price and Paul Pomerantz, chairs of ASAE and The Center.

- Rex Hammock captured some video from the opening reception. So did Steffanie Feuer.

- Sue Pelletier shares some of the things she's seen and heard so far in her trip to Toronto.

- New videoblog posts are being posted regularly from the Annual Meeting at the Engage Your Career videoblog on the Annual Meeting website.


August 15, 2009

You are who you are now

I had some great opportunities today to listen in on conversations about how associations are handling the economy. Here's one thing that particularly struck me: One member, who has lived through three layoff cycles in her nearly 20 years in associations, noted that layoffs can have a ripple effect, beyond the basic morale implications of seeing a coworker lose his or her job. Sometimes, she said, when certain people in a staff leave, the culture of the organization changes because they're gone. And then you may find that your star performers, the people that you least wanted to lose, will bolt as soon as the economy improves, because your culture is no longer one they want to be a part of.

Of course, we've all heard before that it's easy to lose star performers after an economic crisis, when you haven't been able to reward your best people as much as you'd like (whether monetarily, with benefits, or with professional development). But what that member had to say about the way culture changes after a layoff really hit home with me.

In recent months, I've heard people saying things along the lines of "this is a really tough time, and we have to do X for right now, but of course as soon as things get better we'll get back to normal." But the fact is, if you're doing X, whatever X might be--treating your employees poorly because you're stressed, skirting ethical lines a little more than you'd like, or what have you--you're now someone who will do that thing. If it continues, your organizational culture becomes one that will allow that thing. It's not something that will go away once the economy improves--it's who you are.

Organizational culture grows and changes and shifts. I think we all need to keep an eye on what our organizations are becoming in response to the recession. Is your organization what you want it to be? Are you still living by the core values you espouse, despite today's pressures? If not, start fixing it now. Don't wait for the economy to get better. Or it's entirely possible you will lose your key people, because you've allowed your culture to change into something they no longer want to support.


The decision to volunteer

As the vice chair of the young professionals committee, my day started with the volunteer leadership kick-off brunch. During this event, a representative from many of ASAE & The Center’s committees and councils shared with the group key accomplishments from the last year. The work product presented by these volunteer leaders was both impressive and inspiring.

This brunch was then followed by committee and council meetings. Now in its third year, the young professionals committee met for the first time at an Annual meeting to discuss goals for the year ahead. Once again, I was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm of our committee members to set an agenda for the next year that will positively impact young professionals and the greater association community.

Together, these experiences remind me why I volunteer. I find value in developing my professional network, leading open and honest discussions about the important issues impacting our profession and effecting change. Additionally, the benefits I’ve reaped from my volunteer opportunities are many. Not only have I learned a lot along the way, but I’ve also met an extraordinary group of people who challenge me to think about our work in new ways.

The decision to volunteer is not an easy one. We all lead very full and busy lives; however, today’s programming reminded me that volunteer leaders play an important role in their respective communities. If you don’t currently volunteer, I challenge you to find some small way to give back. Whether on a local, state or national level, there are countless ways to get involved.


Areas to focus on in the year ahead

I asked three incoming chairs to share with me the top three things facing associations (and ASAE & The Center as one of them) as they look to the year ahead.

From Dina Lewis, president of Distilled Logic and incoming chair of the Technology Section Council:

- Mobile delivery of content and information to our members and stakeholders.

- Usability of websites, constantly getting feedback from members on web usability and using that to enhance the online experience of our members.

- Getting better about using member data to determine how our members want to engage with us, and to meet them where they are.

Tony Ellis, director of education and incoming chair of the Professional Development Section Council:

- Learning to repurpose content in ways that are meaningful to members. Technology is enabling many new ways for associations to capture content and add value to the programs we produce.

- Restructuring around economic realities. People have fewer resources and less time; we need to learn what our members value and find ways to deliver it.

- Keeping up with the pace of change. How we interact with our members and how they expect us to interact is changing so much faster than it used to. Just keeping up with what member needs are is incredibly important for associations.

Don Dea, cofounder of Fusion Productions and incoming chair of the Membership Section Council:

Don had one major point with two key points underlying it.

The major point: uncertainty. We have moved from a time of relative certainty to a time when technology, the economy, and even political stability have produced a unique point in history that is defined by uncertainty.

For associations this means two things:

- Reinventing member value. Memberships are down, as is attendance. It's a fact that associations need to reassess what they do to reflect new value.

- New membership models will emerge. How people are interacting with each other -- associating-- is changing. The economy is only serving as an accelerating factor, but it was happening anyway. We need to quickly jump in front of that curve, and be prepared to adopt the models that make sense in this new world.


Excitement Stop, YYZ!

I've decided that life is now officially "hectic". I find myself initiating the packing ritual for back to back conferences - ASAE and another association's annual symposium - 3 hours before heading to the airport. I'm still checking emails, setting up "away" messages on voicemail and email, leaving last minute notes for staff, and jotting a few notes here to begin my stint as a blogger for the week.

This is my second trip to the Annual, and I'm really looking forward to it. Unlike last year, things seem a bit less overwhelming. Like others, I am looking forward to seeing people, and attending what sounds like a great slate of speakers and topics. I took home quite a few nuggets of knowledge last year, and hope to add a few more. If you are a newbie to the conference, and/or to ASAE, this is the trip to really get your game on!

I'm also looking forward to hooking up with my fellow cohorts in the 2008-09 Diversity in Executive Leadership program. This is a great group of folks to be associated with, and I'm happy to have been part of this program overall. I foresee a few evenings of extracurricular activities in our future...

Finally, I'm looking forward to where embedded social media takes us this year. I'm already following the #asae09 hashtag on Twitter, and it's just plain interesting to watch the organic growth as the kickoff approaches. I'm wondering if the session tweets will really capture the flavor of the Annual this year. I'm looking forward to the possibility. Will you be tweeting your thoughts this year?

...whew. Just found my passport. Now I'm REALLY going.


Annual Roundup: Getting there

For those of you who are already in Toronto, welcome! For those of you travelling today, I hope your luggage meets a kinder fate than mine ... And for those who aren't able to be here, you'll be missed.

Before we get to our roundup of blog posts for the day, here's your Tweet of the Day, from the Annual Hub:

sebriscoe: amazing to see niagara falls on clear day from a few miles above it on way to #asae09

- Elizabeth Weaver Engel shares the top five things she's looking forward to in Toronto.

- On the SmartBlog Insights blog, Peggy Hoffman writes that she hopes to learn new ways to help members and volunteers become engaged and informed association owners; on the Idea Center blog, she posted about a presentation on rock star chapters that she's particularly looking forward to.

- Lindy Dreyer is preparing for a presentation on technology and learning, and the process made her think about the power of peer-to-peer learning through social media.

- Jamie Notter is filling in as a replacement speaker. He posted some thoughts on how he'll approach the topic of his presentation.

- Michael McCurry has some thoughts on how ASAE & The Center's Annual Meeting and several others stack up in terms of options for virtual attendees.

- Maddie Grant and Elizabeth Baranik both posted Twitterfountains for the conference.


Annual Meeting in Photos: Friday

As attendees are starting to arrive in Toronto, the Flickr pool covering conference is starting to take shape (photos in the pool will also appear in the Annual Hub):


Customs at the Toronto airport.


The expo hall is starting to take shape.


And so is the bookstore.


Staff are ready and waiting at registration.


Welcome to Toronto!



August 14, 2009

The quiet before the storm

As I sit in the lower level of the convention center (which looks great, by the way) considering the flurry of activity that is sure to commence in this very building in just a few short hours, I feel a tremendous sense of peace and calm. As many of you can attest, preparing to attend this event is, in some cases, a full-time job unto itself. Trust me, I know.

This is my first time attending ASAE & The Center’s annual meeting and exposition, and I have responsibilities. As the incoming vice chair of the young professionals committee and a 2009-2011 diversity executive leadership program scholar, much of the next several days will be booked with various meetings and networking opportunities. I know you can relate.

My recommendation, as I sit here in what is surely the quiet before the storm, is to not forget your purpose for attending this year’s event. Whether it be to meet a certain number of new people, get more information about a particular product or service, pick up a new book or find a solution to challenges currently impacting your association, just do it (wait, I think I’ve heard this somewhere before).

Following are my specific recommendations for maximizing your conference experience:

• Jot down a list of personal and professional goals you’d like to accomplish before leaving Toronto (you have no excuse, there’s note paper in your conference bag);
• Review it before leaving your hotel room each day (and don’t forget to check in on it during breaks and meals);
• Select at least one goal to zero in on each day (and think big, this is the place to get things done);
• Seek support from your association colleagues (they’re friendly and all around you) should you encounter roadblocks to achieving a particularly challenging goal;
• Cross off your accomplishments as they’re completed; and
• Don’t forget to pace yourself (Rome wasn’t built in a day).

If you’ve previously attended Annual, what other advice and suggestions do you have for us newbies? What do you know now that you wished you would have known then? Are there any other tips or tricks that could enhance our conference experience?

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August 13, 2009

Annual Meeting Roundup: On your mark

As in years past, we're planning to round up posts from other blogs about the Annual Meeting here on Acronym. And just for fun, we're also going to be posting a "Tweet of the Day" from the Annual Hub, which will be capturing all of the Annual Meeting action in real time.

Without further ado , here's your Tweet of the Day:

Jill McCrory: Here's a question we'll be asking: Are you letting the monkey and lizard rule your emotions and actions? See you in Toronto!

- Deirdre Reid has shared her list of what she's doing to prepare for Annual. She also shared a list of sites she has bookmarked for easy reference during the meeting (including lots of good weather, currency, and local restaurant sites). (ETA: My apologies to Deirdre for my original typo in her name! It's been fixed.)

- Summer Huggins at Hammock's blog posted about planning her schedule for the conference, as well as things to do and places to eat in Toronto.

- Peggy Hoffman runs down her plans for the conference.

- Jeff De Cagna has a whole bunch of content creation plans for the meeting; he also reposted podcast interviews he did with general session speaker Charlene Li and Thought Leader session speaker Clay Shirky.

- This is the last time you'll see Kevin Holland mentioned in one of these roundups, because he's planning to go off the grid for Annual. Here's why.

- Elizabeth Weaver Engel shares her recommendations for events you can't miss while you're in Toronto.

- Rebecca Leaman at Wild Apricot shares some thoughts and resources for the meeting, as well as a link to an Association Jam page focused on the Annual Meeting.


August 12, 2009

Countdown to Toronto!

Wow – has time ever flown by this year. Was San Diego really a year ago? Seems like it was just last month! As a newcomer to the association world (after 30+ years in the public education in Texas), I was blown away by the experience last year. There was so much going on and everything seemed to be moving so fast. I was still learning association terminology – I knew “education ease” from being in public school finance – so it was a little overwhelming at times.

I am so very thankful that I work for an association that feels that professional development is a top priority. There will actually be five from our association (Texas Association of School Business Officials) attending the conference. We always try to attend different sessions and then share information with each other and our staff when we get home.

Have you seen the video blogs yet? You can see our Executive Director, Gwen Santiago, at the following link: Amanda D. Batson, Ph.D., another fellow Texan, is one of the video bloggers and did a short video of Gwen. This will be a fun area to watch – you just might end up on one of the video blogs!

I have glanced at the sessions and they look great. I hope to have time before I get to Toronto to really study the program and find the sessions that will take me to the next level of association management, especially in the financial area. But the one thing that I look forward to the most is networking! I have found that ASAE members are a great source of information and are always willing to help.

Hope to see you all in Toronto!


August 11, 2009

What does Social Media have to do with "International"?

As we prepare to go to Toronoto for ASAE's annual meeting, you might want to ponder what Social Media has to do with "International"? In talking with associations these days, most are focused on learning how to leverage social media or at least to get started in using social media tools for their association.

At the same time, a good number of associations have recognized that international markets represent one of the best real opportunities for their association to develop and grow.

However, very few have recognized the connection between these two very different but highly complimentary topics.

By its nature, social media as an Internet based platform for open communication and networking, is ideally suited to be used for international outreach and connecting. It has several very distinct advantages:

1. It is extremely cost effective and relatively easy to put in place.

2. The benefit to the user is in the ability to connect and network therefore the social media network delivers the benefit from the user community to its members directly.

3. It allows you to aggregate a critical mass of members and prospects even if you are only able to attract a relatively small number per country but from many different countries.

4. More people are becoming familiar with and using social media tools every day so there is less of a learning curve to get people to join.

5. It is a great first step to offering online education and training, leading to in-person live events, leading to membership or other more meaningful engagement with your international audience.

Want to learn more? There will be a session at Toronto on "Using Social Networks for International Expansion" held in room 803AB held on Sunday, 16 August from 1:30 - 2:45. This will include information and examples of using social media for international growth that has relevance for anyone wanting to grow their association, home and abroad. Hope to see you there!


August 7, 2009

Quick clicks, part I: Ready for Toronto?

Since the association blogging community has chosen to make my life difficult by posting so much good stuff in the past week, I'm splitting your weekly "Quick Clicks" into two parts. First, we'll talk about the Annual Meeting, which is only (panic attack!) one week away; in a second post I'll round up some of the other great posts that I've seen this week.

- Tony Rossell and Sheri Jacobs will be presenting an unsession based on the results of Marketing General's membership marketing benchmarking survey in Toronto. (What other unsessions should people know about?)

- Peggy Hoffman and KiKi L'Italien are searching for a chapter that wants a social media makeover, to take place live during their Learning Lab.

- Dave Sabol (the winner of the coveted Toonie offered to the first association blogger to set up an RSS feed devoted to the Annual Meeting) is getting ready for Toronto.

- Wes Trochlil is preparing to speak at two sessions.

- Sue Pelletier is looking for recommendations on can't miss education sessions.

- Maddie Grant shares some of what she's looking forward to (and some kind words about the Annual Hub).

- Jeff De Cagna has developed virtual ribbons for virtual conference attendees (as well as virtual ribbons for folks who will be there blogging and tweeting).


Shiny, Happy People

A week from Monday, I’m presenting a session at the Annual Meeting with my friend Jodie Slaughter on “Improving Staff and Volunteer Happiness to Enhance Organizational Performance.” I’ve always felt that treating people with respect, caring about their needs, and nurturing their personal and professional development are critical aspects of management and leadership. Quite simply, I believe that happy and engaged people do better work, are more productive, and are more likely to fix problems than complain about them. This doesn’t mean that I also make my staff happy, but it is something I consciously think about and cultivate in the way I lead. While this seems like a no-brainer to me, I have known many association managers and leaders who, while caring about productivity, don’t seem to care much about the happiness of their people.

Now, many people believe that “You can’t make other people happy,” and in a sense, this is true. Nothing you can do is going to take a fundamentally unhappy person and give them a sunny disposition. But while you can’t make everyone happy, you sure as hell can make folks unhappy. One of the exercises we are going to do in our session is to brainstorm this: “What can we do to absolutely guarantee that our staff is as unhappy as possible?”

I can think of a bunch of things that fit the bill: have managers treat staff like children, withhold the information people need to do their jobs effectively, don’t tell people the truth, discourage communication among staff, feed inter-staff rivalries, stifle creativity, punish people for trying new things, act like only the CEO has the answers, make seemingly arbitrary decisions without explanation, don’t give people control over how they do their own jobs, allow negative people to continuously spread venom, ignore people’s personal and professional development…and the list goes on. What always surprises me when I do this exercise is, while not deliberate, how common many of these practices are. To be perfectly honest, I see things that I do that could support these negative behaviors, but you can’t really address them until you identify them. So what’s on your list?

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August 6, 2009

Annual meeting guest bloggers

I am very excited to tell you about the group of bloggers who are going to be sharing their thoughts while at ASAE & The Center's Annual Meeting & Expo in Toronto, August 15-18.

There's a lot of familiar voices in this group, beginning with current Acronym guest bloggers Brian Birch, assistant executive director, Snow & Ice Management Association; Aaron Wolowiec, director of member services, Healthcare Association of Michigan; and Art Hsieh, CEO, San Francisco Paramedic Association.

Joining us in Toronto will also be Scott Steen, CEO of the American Ceramic Society. Scott is actually my cofounder of Acronym, serving with me as one of the first bloggers in 2006. He also helped out as part of a team from his organization last year in San Diego. And, we welcome Scott as he'll continue to post on Acronym as a guest blogger for several months after the meeting.

Terrance Barkan is chief strategist & business architect of Globalstrat. Before forming this company he led Association Global Services. He's well known in the sector for his international experience and savvy, and has recently made quite a splash in the association social media sector. Terrance also will be staying on board to blog after the annual meeting.

Becky Bunte, the CFO of the Texas Association of School Business Officials, was the first person to volunteer to guest blog at annual this year. I love getting the CFO perspective; she also is a relatively new association executive, coming from the public sector where she led the finances of a school district.

Of course Lisa will be here, too, as will I. Thank you to all of our guest bloggers who will be bringing readers their insights and experiences at the annual meeting. We look forward to giving you the scoop!

(Oh - and I may have a name or two to add to this list, so stay tuned!)


Calling all association bloggers!

If you intend to blog from or about ASAE & The Center’s Annual Conference & Expo, we’d love to pull your posts through to the Annual Meeting Hub news feed. To do this, we need you to set up an RSS feed specifically for your posts about the conference – a category- or topic-specific RSS feed. Send the feed to, and we’ll pull it through.

If you need help setting up the feed, shoot me an email and I’ll see if I can help. My email:

One note -- we're not at a point where we can customize the feeds coming through to the hub with their own identifier (icon), so any posts pulled through will get the same RSS icon identification.

We really want to give this a try, so as an incentive the first person to give us their feed info earns a Toonie onsite -- that's right, two whole Canadian dollars. (Watch out web team, here comes a barrage of email!)

UPDATE: Dave Sabol and his Associated Knowledge blog is the lucky winner of the coveted Toonie, taking all of 90 minutes to set up his feed and give us the URL. I'll try to find a bright, shiny one for you Dave!

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August 5, 2009

RFP: Request for Problems!

We need problems to solve! Challenging ones. Problems that require new ways of thinking and innovative approaches to solve.

I’m running a Learning Lab at Annual with Maddie Grant, titled “Counterintuitive Paths to Success: Upending the Status Quo”. The session itself will be pretty dynamic and non-traditional. The last part of the session we’ll be doing group problem solving, inspired by the learning from the earlier parts of the session.

Anyway, we figured it would be more fun if we tackled a handful of real-world association problems/challenges. An example could be the need to immediately increase membership without a marketing budget, or launching a quarterly peer-reviewed journal without increasing dues. Fun stuff like that!

So, if you’ve got a challenge that’s got you stumped, and you believe some counterintuitive thinking would help, please write it up and post it here in the comments. We’ll pick a couple of the more juicy ones and hopefully harness some wisdom during our Learning Lab. And, we'll post results back to the ASEA's wiki.

BTW, this session is inspired by my article in the August issue of Associations Now, “The Right Way to Do It All Wrong”. So ya, wouldn’t hurt to read that first.

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July 31, 2009

Annual meeting video weblogs

One of the new things we're trying at this year's annual meeting in Toronto is capturing some of the attendee experience via personal video. We recruited five people for the program, which is made possible with the financial support of ASAE (which will again have coaching and resume services available on site), giving each of them personal video cameras in exchange for agreeing to document their experiences.

The first posts are up, see one example below, but check back often, especially as the meeting unfolds, to see their updates.


July 21, 2009

Ethics: Worthy Debate or Spectator Sport?

Consultant and longtime association insider Joan Eisenstodt writes a compelling article in the June 22 issue of that is sure to make many meeting planners and exhibitors squirm. Essentially, she’s calling on everyone to re-commit to a higher sense of ethics, one worthy of a profession critical to our entire sector. Then she lists some cringe-worthy examples of shoddy behavior witnessed by others within our community.

Clearly, ethics is a hot topic, what with the 150-year jail sentence given to Bernard Madoff for swindling, sometimes destroying, dozens of charities and far more individuals out of staggering millions. And yet it always seems to be “the other guy” or organization who is engaging in distasteful (although likely not Madoff-level) behavior.

It’s kind of like that dumb question, “Are you a good communicator?” Yes, answers everyone. I mean, who doesn’t think they’re great at communicating? And who doesn’t think they’re ethical—at least 99% of the time? So why have ethics discussions at all if people don’t feel the conversation really applies to them?

And yet, of course we have to talk about it. Drill it in, frankly. But does the back and forth result in positive impact? Maybe. Maybe not.

You can engage more in this discussion here or via another of Joan’s commentaries, this one a short blog post about MPI’s Principles of Professionalism on the Meeting Professionals International site. Even better, catch what’s sure to be a provocative conversation during her August 17 education session, “Industry Ethics: Right, Wrong or Gray,” at 3:15 p.m. during the ASAE & The Center’s Annual Meeting & Expo in Toronto.


July 15, 2009

Interesting stuff from Charlene Li and Clay Shirky

As I was researching other things today, I came across some interesting comments from two speakers who'll be part of the Annual Meeting in Toronto. I thought I'd share them with ya'll as well:

Shel Israel at the Global Neighborhoods blog interviewed general session speaker Charlene Li twice for his ongoing study of social media around the world, once in August 2007 and again in August 2008. It's interesting to get a snapshot of her views on social media at two points in time--especially since we'll be seeing her in August 2009.

Jake McKee at the Community Guy blog posted a June 2009 TED talk by thought leader session speaker Clay Shirky on Iran, Twitter, and the ways our world is changing. I've reposted the video below.


June 26, 2009

The future of learning: Get serious

Offering another perspective on the future of learning for associations is Jeffrey Cufaude, a former association executive director and now president and CEO of Idea Architects, where (among other areas of expertise) he facilitates and designs conferences, workshops, and other learning opportunities. Jeffrey also blogs at the Idea Architects blog, where he’s currently writing a great series of posts about developing powerful presentations.

Here’s some of the many great things Jeffrey had to say about where associations are with regard to learning, and where we need to go.

I’ve heard you talk lately about issues related to diversity in association learning events. What should associations be doing to hold themselves accountable for greater diversity and inclusion in their learning programs?

I think you can start with the presenters. I think associations have an obligation to be doing due diligence about what messages they send based on the presenters that they are selecting.

I'm not saying that there should be a particular message, but if we believe and we value inclusiveness and top quality education and a whole host of other things, those then should be lenses by which we filter the choices we're making about our presenters, particularly the people who get the biggest platforms.

It would be rare for an association to bring in a political speaker or a person who has a political take on a topic without having thought about the consequences of only spotlighting one particular viewpoint. They may still choose to do it and say, no, we want this Democrat or this Republican's take on this issue. But they would have done this with deliberation and understand the consequences.

I don't think the same type of considerations are going on on other lenses. What does it mean if our three general session speakers are all 50-year-old white males? I'm not saying that's inherently bad. From my value system it is; from the association's standpoint it may not. But think about what that means in relation to the overall values of the organization.

I know, having been an education director and been around for long enough, how general session speakers are often selected. Who is the biggest name that people will get excited about listening to? And then secondly, when we get down into that plenary level, who will someone sponsor or who can we get for free?

That means our only criteria are those two core values. It's not looking at the broader set of core values. I don't think that's what people who are serious about learning should be doing.

And the consequence is that we continue to elevate the same voices and the same perspectives, and we create an echo chamber that those then become the voices and perspectives that people see because those are the ones that everyone's talking about.

What are some other things that you think associations need to be holding themselves accountable for with regard to learning?

The bulk of [conference] evaluation forms still primarily focus on satisfaction with the session. We're getting better. In my experience, maybe a quarter of those, up to a third, are getting into [questions like] “How relevant will this be for you in your workplace?” “I received ideas that I'm going to be able to use.”

But we're not even, in the basic level, asking questions that measure the effectiveness and the applicability of both the content and the format. We're still [asking] “this speaker was knowledgeable; AV and handouts were good.” I feel like we haven't even made the commitment to the baby step of holding ourselves accountable, let alone having a more sophisticated assessment mechanism to find out what actually was used.

To me that suggests that we're not really serious about ensuring that we're delivering education that is actually used back in the workplace.

What would it look like if we really were serious about that?

I think you’d see that as the finish line. Right now most associations and most directors of education see the finish line as the end of the event or the end of the webinar. I totally get that. But all we've really done is get people trained for the race; the real race is back there in the workplace.

I think there has to be an initial shift of thinking: We [know we] are successful three to six months afterwards, when people can tell us what percentage of the knowledge they used, what has worked for them, and what hasn't.

If you take that as a beginning mindset, you design things very differently from the very beginning. …

Why don't people ask what percentage of the session's content is going to be relevant to you in the work that you do? Why is that so hard to get that put onto an evaluation form? Sometimes we think about it being the meeting planner, focusing on logistics versus the director of education focusing on content. But I think that's too easy to blame the meeting planner.

If we're really serious about learning, why aren't we further along in this arena? That's the same thing I've been saying with diversity. If we were really serious about it, wouldn't things look different?

My bottom-line takeaway from that is we're not serious about learning. We're serious about delivering information, and that's not sustainable 10 to 20 years from now.

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June 18, 2009

The future of learning: The (global) crowd, part II

This is part II of a two-part interview with June Cohen, executive producer of TED Media; part I is here.

What's fascinating about that is that the volunteers took two steps. Not only did they identify that the translation was problematic, they actually stepped in and said, “I'll fix it.”

Exactly. Yeah, and were eager to, happy to, almost insistent about it. "Let me fix this. You can't have this on the site." And so we learned both to trust in that and also not to underestimate the desire of people to be involved and a part of something greater than themselves. I think that's actually sort of a fundamental human need, and that's one of the things that crowdsourcing, overall, online delivers. It creates community and it offers purpose and reward, which are things that everyone needs.

Are there any trends or interesting demographic information that you’ve seen in the project?

In the first three weeks, 2,500 translators volunteered, of which I think there are around 800 currently working on translations. There's like 1,500 translations in motion in 56 languages. The major thing I've learned in watching what talks have been translated into different languages is that I never could have predicted the talks that are chosen. If we had tried in a top-down way to decide which talks get translated into each language, there's no way that we would have guessed correctly, partially because so much of it is personal preference.

For example, we have maybe ten talks that have been translated into Farsi, or Persian. And among them are included Helen Fisher's talk on why we love and why we cheat, Richard Dawkins’ talk on militant atheism. And those are pretty interesting and controversial topics to be introducing to an Iranian audience. Now, of course, along with those are other ones which are not controversial at all, things like Ken Robinson on creativity and education, or Liz Gilbert on cultivating genius. But I find those kind of controversial examples just interesting and interesting to watch.

It seems like this has the potential to be transformative in how the meetings themselves are held. Does it make TED think maybe it can get non-English-speaking presenters integrated into the conference more?

Currently, we do think that in the next year we will likely have at least one speaker at a TED event that is speaking in another language and translated simultaneously. But we don't think that this will be a strong direction for us. We still believe that sitting in an audience through a speaker talking in another language, whether it's with supertitles or with a translator, is a bit tedious. It's actually a little bit hard to sit through in the room. Also, we think it's really important for the conversation at a conference to be in one language, to have a kind of coherent experience that can be shared.

But we have a new program that's not completely rolled out yet, called TED X, which allows people around the world to license the product's name and hold small, independent TED events in their own area. So we have a TED X Tokyo and a TED X San Francisco and a TED X UCS at the University of Southern California. It's a slightly different brand but a TED event that has at least 50 percent TED content, recorded TED talks, and then 50 percent live speakers. What this allows us to do over time is find some of the best speakers in other languages—capture those talks at events in that language and then put them up on the TED website with English subtitles. I personally would love to see some of the best speakers around the world who don't speak English and who I wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

It seems like what you're telling me is that you really still can't sacrifice the personal interactive experience that the people actually onsite are having at the event.

Right. Exactly. We are constantly trying to balance preserving the integrity of an intimate live event that works with the people in the room with the creation of talks that will have a much longer life online and many, many orders of magnitude more of people online. The conference itself, the live event, is still the nucleus. It's the absolute center of what we do. And we just can't sacrifice anything there. The event has shifted actually since we've started putting the talks online and since we've gained such a large online presence, but we've been extremely careful about preserving the quality and integrity of that experience, even as we started to begin having five cameras in the room and professional lighting and professional staging.


The future of learning: The (global) crowd

If you haven’t heard of the TED Conference, TED stands for “Technology, Entertainment, Design”—and originally, the conference was intended to bring people from those three worlds together. Today, TED has evolved into a small, invitation only conference with a global following online. More than 400 of the conference’s TEDTalks, 18-minute presentations by people from Seth Godin to Jane Goodall, are available online. These videos are released under a Creative Commons license, so they can be freely shared and reposted.

Last month launched its Open Translation Project, which invites viewers to translate the talks into various languages. The effort has already been a remarkable success, and June Cohen, executive producer of TED Media, spoke with Mark Athitakis (senior editor of Associations Now, who kindly contributed this post to Acronym) about its evolution into a crowdsourced project, how to channel users’ enthusiasm, and how crowdsourcing has sparked future projects.

What inspired TED to begin translating its talks?

We launched TEDTalks online nearly three years ago, and pretty much as soon as we put TEDTalks out to the world we started to have people ask us to translate them. People were asking us to translate them into other languages, but actually more frequently people were offering to translate them. We would get at least one or two offers a month of somebody saying, “I've translated Ken Robinson’s talk into Polish." They would say, "Well, we did this translation. Do you want it?" But we didn't know what to do with them. We didn't have a system for dealing with them.

So we knew pretty early on that there was a lot of demand and, more interestingly, that there were people who were kind of clamoring to translate for us. So we began thinking about the project at least two years ago. And we committed to it around a year and a half ago. It's been a very long time in development. As we've discovered more and more, it was just an extremely complicated project to create an architecture for what we wanted to do.

Was crowdsourcing always part of the plan? You had people who were willing to volunteer translations, but was it always designed to open the doors to let people contribute?

Yes and no. Crowdsourcing was always going to be a component of it because we knew from the beginning that there were volunteers who were interested and motivated. But initially and for a very long time, I believed that the crux of the project would be based on professional translation, because we take very seriously the task of faithfully translating our speakers' words. For some time I really believed that professional translation was the only way that you could guarantee that kind of quality. I also thought that by having professional translation it would set the bar at the proper level. It would provide an example to the volunteers of the kinds of quality we were shooting for.

I do think in every volunteer project it's important to set examples. But it turns out a lot of my assumptions were wrong. Around six months ago we shifted from a project that was going to emphasize professional translation with some crowdsourced translation, to one that was entirely focused on crowdsourced translation but was seeded with a small amount of professional translation.

I can give a great example of why we've come to really trust in the idea of crowdsourcing. As we were about to launch the site it turned out that one [translator] actually submitted to us a small amount of work that was machine-translated. And within two hours of opening up our site, just our beta site to just our translators, we had three different volunteer translators come to us and say, “There's a problem with this translation—it seems to have been machine-translated. But just give it to me, I'll fix it.”

So we had these errors that were introduced because of a rare, dishonest translation vendor who had submitted to us machine-translated work. And within hours it was identified and corrected by volunteer translators. That really turned on its head everything I thought going in about the roles of volunteers versus professional translators. I really thought that in all cases the professional translators would be leading the way in terms of the quality.

(See part II of this interview for more, including a glimpse of TED’s new “TED X” program.)


June 11, 2009

The future of learning: Un-learning

One quote that really struck me as I was transcribing my interview with Rhea Blanken last week was “That blank room is my canvas, and I can paint anything I want with it.” What if that blank room was your attendees’ canvas, and they could paint anything they wanted with it? One way to do that is to hold an unconference.

Michele Martin is a learning expert, as well as the author of the excellent Bamboo Project blog. She recently organized an unconference (using a format called Open Space) and was kind enough to speak with me about the experience.

What led up to the decision to use the open-space format for this particular conference?

This is part of a larger project that I’m doing with the Department of Human Services for the State of New Jersey. They had done what they’re calling the Discoverability New Jersey Plan for looking at how they’re helping individuals with disabilities find and keep employment.

I had done an open-space forum in December for some youth services practitioners in Pennsylvania, so I suggested that we think about doing something along those lines, to engage people in more of a problem-solving, best-practice-sharing kind of conversation, as opposed to the typical conference where you have people doing presentations.

How well did the open-space format work for the goals that they had for the conference?

It worked extremely well. We got great feedback.

The goals were to bring people together to have conversations and start talking about different ideas. For example, we had a session that was on myths and challenges—stories that people are telling themselves. So a group talked about what the general public thinks about people with disabilities, another group talked about what people with disabilities themselves think, parents and families and so forth.

It’s getting different perspectives and then [asking], how can you address some of those issues?

Several attendees had disabilities themselves. How did you make sure there were no barriers to their participation?

Some people had physical disabilities. We had to give a little extra time to make sure that they could get to the room [for each session] and also think about what rooms we were using and how accessible they were.

Some people had visual disabilities: Some people were completely blind, other people were partially blind. Obviously, since we were having conversations, they could participate in that, but we also had to make sure that we were always summarizing things, rather than just relying on flipcharts.

We are also putting stuff on a wiki. We’ve had some challenge with that, because we’re getting feedback that not all wiki platforms are accessible with JAWS [screen reading software for visually impaired users]. So we’re looking at ways to share the notes through PDF.

What else did you learn that you could apply to future Open Space events?

One is that it’s an incremental process. We actually used a modified Open Space. In real Open Space, you come together with a larger theme, like “individuals with disabilities seeking employment.” Then people take responsibility for coming up with subthemes, pulling people together into their own conversations, scheduling, all of that. It’s a much more participant-controlled process.

I didn’t think they were ready for that, so we used a modified version. I would always suggest doing that unless you know you’re dealing with a group that’s really willing to take charge.

Make sure that you give your facilitators good guidelines and information on how to facilitate, how to take notes. That is really critical, so that you get everything back in a good format, and so people know what their role is and what they’re supposed to do.

The other thing is making sure that you give people clear expectations before they get there. We advertised it as something that was different. We sent out the Open Space guidelines prior to the session and said, “Do not come here expecting PowerPoint because you will be sorely disappointed.”

Even with that, we did get some complaints. Now part of it is that some people are just not going to get a clear picture until they participate. But those multiple stages of prep were something that we found we needed to do.

What are some ways that you think associations can best take advantage of the Open Space concept?

One of the ways to make it work is to think: What are the big questions? What are the big issues of the day, and how can you frame that in a way that’s going to get people interested, engaged, and talking to each other? Present those questions in a provocative way, because that gets people talking. Working with a planning group to come up with good, engaging questions for the issues that are facing you is a good strategy for getting [an Open Space conference] going.

I think [Open Space is] a good way to share best practices and start moving on some things. Part of what we tried to do was pull that from people, so that when we then put it up on the wiki, people can follow up. Having that follow-up is a way to connect back to the workplace or back to their daily lives.

(Note: Michele has posted more reflections on the Open Space experience on her blog. Association blogger Ben Martin has also posted about planning a successful unconference.)

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June 9, 2009

The future of learning: Be brave!

On Friday, I shared some insights from Rhea Blanken on the future of learning in associations. Following our conversation, Rhea sent me some additional thoughts via email; she's agreed to let me share them here:

"In the future (and in the now), what is needed, beyond venue, delivery, and tools....
The willingness of people to be more courageous, especially regarding their own development.

"More is being expected of both Right & Left Brainers—do more with less, be more creative and innovative, be faster, be more adapt in solving yesterday's problems today while focusing on the future. The human brain (plus the body) needs to be refreshed, rejuvenated and renewed regularly.

"We need to be more courageous in finding ways to do just that for ourselves, our staffs, our volunteers, and our organizations. As we train, learn, and develop—being courageous and taking that next step to engage in those development opportunities will be critical."


June 5, 2009

The future of learning: Experience it

As I mentioned earlier this week, this month we’re going to be exploring several different perspectives on the future of learning, much like we did last month with community. Our first conversation was with Rhea Blanken of Results Technology, a passionate advocate for learning in general and new learning formats in particular. And by nontraditional, I mean nontraditional: At a recent event, she convinced a hotel to pile every possible kind of seating in the corner of the room—everything from standard conference room chairs to sofas and chaise lounges—so that attendees could select their own seats and decide where they wanted to put them. And that was just the beginning of their learning experience.

Here’s some of what Rhea had to say.

You’ve long championed the cause of nontraditional learning formats. What motivates you to be so passionate about new ways of approaching learning?

The first experiential learning design I did was over 35 years ago. It was an all-day training for fundraisers; I was a volunteer training for United Jewish Appeal. Back in the ’70s, Russia said you could to immigrate to Israel, but it was going to cost you $10,000 a head. So we needed to raise a lot of money, and we needed to raise it fast. And that kind of fundraising isn’t about having a nice conversation with someone. You needed to experience what we were doing it for.

[Participants] got the experience of leaving Russia, got the experience of immigration, got the experience of deprivation, got the experience of welcome. These were very proper Southern Jewish women, and the effect was startling, because they were immersed in what we were talking about. What we needed to do is respect their time, respect how they would absorb things. …

As learners, we’ve changed, and one of the ways we’ve changed is, I want the entire experience. Let me have it. Back in school, you hated being talked to; what you learned was when you were involved in it, either by actually experiencing the idea of it, or in the construction of a learning lesson. …

Get people involved in their own learning. Don’t give them a book. Even a webcast can get them involved. Virtual doesn’t mean you don’t have them involved. But if you just have them sitting down and listening, they will not walk away with much.

Are you seeing more associations experiment with different learning formats?

Yes. You had at Great Ideas a session where one of the guys did a board game about training volunteers. There have been a couple of reports in Associations Now where different staff at associations have created board games to train staff at that organization. What I know to be true is there is experimentation going on. There are individual staff people getting it.

Has the association community turned the corner? No. But individuals are getting it. It’s these little moments, but they are learning, they are seeing how to do little things on their own. They just need to be encouraged that it’s OK.

What is your vision for the future of learning in associations?

We’re still going to have meetings, and I think we’re meant to meet. We’re relationship based. I don’t know if cows have meetings, but human beings meet; it’s what we do. That is not going to change.

If I had my druthers, it would be that the venues we meet in would let us use them to their fullest capacity, and wouldn’t say “No, we can’t do that here.” They would say, “How can we do that?” … That blank room is my canvas, and I can paint anything I want with it. Stop saying no, and start saying “Yeah, let’s look at that.”

Number two is that the people presenting that learning, they get supported. You can be a great expert, but if you’re never taught how to present, you’re not going to be successful. …

We’re still going to meet, online and in person. I don’t want to say there’s only going to be one way [to meet]. There’s not. We’ll always need venues, delivery systems, and deliverers of content. But we need to be more creative, more inclusive, more inventive.

(How can we become more creative and inventive? Rhea spoke about creativity and how to create a culture that nurtures it in a recent ASAE & The Center video.)

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