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August 31, 2011

Loveable losers (and how we talk about them)

A couple years ago, C. David Gammel, CAE, coined the term sacred zombie cow:

These are programs, products and services that are a net negative to the company and yet are incredibly hard to kill. They no longer have a strong sponsor on the scene but still they shamble along, eating up resources.

Like a lot of great innovation, David's term was an important improvement on an already pretty good term, sacred cow, which refers to something considered exempt from questioning.

I'd like to add a third term to this set (with apologies to Chicago Cubs fans):

loveable loser: a program, product, or service that has been evaluated and deemed worth supporting despite losing money

I've been thinking about this since Wes Trochlil's Learning Lab, "Is There Money Hidden in Your Data?" at the Annual Meeting & Expo. He suggested that good data can better inform discussions about when money-losing programs should be cut and when they should be subsidized by other revenue streams.

This was just a brief point that Wes made in the session, but it added an important extra dynamic to this topic that I hadn't thought about before. The underlying point that David Gammel makes it that sacred cows become sacred zombie cows when conversations about cutting or keeping them don't happen. They become loveable losers when those conversations do happen and they're deemed worth keeping.

Those conversations aren't easy ones, though, and while it's hard enough just to initiate them, there's a good chance of getting the conversation going and not knowing how to come to a decision. Even with as much data on hand as possible, how do you weigh the value of a program if it costs real dollars but returns more intangible or indirect results? And how do you identify and separate a program's real, present-day value from long-held perceptions about its value?

A long while back, there was a great conversation here on Acronym about social media ROI. I pushed for talking about social media in terms of dollars; others argued that strategic returns (i.e., non-financial returns) should be weight just as heavily. Social media might be one of those loveable losers at your association. Others like advocacy and public relations come to mind. Maybe some publications, or maybe even some face-to-face events. Anything could conceivably be a money loser but worth keeping around for its strategic value, but it's only a loveable loser if a conscious decision has been made to keep it. Otherwise, you have no way to know if it's just a sacred zombie cow.

Making the distinction between the two may be more art than science. Data helps a lot, but (as Scott pointed out earlier this week), it might not get you all the way to a decision. I'm curious how you've navigated conversations about supporting money-losing programs, if you'd had them.

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August 29, 2011

Statisics are no substitute for judgment

Maybe it's the carry-out place I get my Chinese food from, but I get some of the worst fortunes in those tasteless cookies. I don't get "You're going to be rich beyond your wildest dreams," or even "A night of passion awaits."

Nope, I don't even get fortunes. I get things like:

"A fool judges people by the presents they give him."

"Dig the well before you get thirsty."

Sometimes they're not bad, such as:

"Deep doubts, deep wisdom; small doubts, small wisdom."

And then I run across one that gets tacked to my wall:

"Statistics are no substitute for judgment."

It doesn't say don't use statistics. Far from it I think. I love data. I'm one that hates what passes for data sometimes and think that poorly designed research should be criminal. Data on its own, though, is meaningless. Interpretation of data is what matters, and that's what the Chinese proverb is telling us. Look at the data, but then use your judgment to interpret it. Taking it one step further, judgment about how others interpret data is also critical. That's called scholarly debate. You don't have to be a Ph.D. at a university or thinktank to engage in it. I wish it were a more common occurrence for everyone.

Putting this in the organizational context, I think there are a couple of things of paramount importance.

1. It's critical that there be space for debate. Talk about different interpretations and judgments. These need to be safe, no bullying, as much as possible no hierarchy, sessions. All interpretations are valid and there is not a right and a wrong.

2. There also needs to come a time for decisiveness. Data, and debate about it, can be paralyzing. I don't believe there are right or wrong decisions so much as better and worse decisions, with the decider using his or her judgment.

And two important things to keep in mind about being decisive. The first ties in the debate, and it's what Jennifer Riel from the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto talked about at the Great Ideas Conference and again at the Invitational Forum on Leadership & Management. She said the best leaders seek out alternative solutions (not "A" or "B," but the previously unthought of "C"). The second thing to keep in mind is when a decision is made based on an interpretation different than yours, it's not a matter of winning and losing, and it's a mistake to look at it as such.

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August 26, 2011

Quick Clicks: Small good things edition

Reaction to ASAE's Annual Meeting & Exposition continues -- keep up here on our Scoop-It page (now with more than 100 posts).

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But even as we continue to feel the meeting's afterglow, the world continues on, and there's been some great blog posts in the last week. Here are some small, good ones that caught my eye.

Ordinarily I'm not sure I'd link to this post. Don't get me wrong it's useful, but my thoughts on open rates are a tad on the skeptical side, so I don't think I would have paid much attention to this post if it weren't for the title: What We Talk About When We Talk About Open Rates. It's this simple really, you make a good play on a great Raymond Carver short story title and you make my Quick Clicks. Thanks Brett, I'm going to be reading some short stories tonight.

From there let's jump to diversity and inclusion and Jeffrey Cufuade who has some tough words and some tough introspection on the topic. I gotta say, though, Jeffrey, I liked the original post a whole lot better than the update. Your specific example makes the diversity and inclusion topic hard, and guess what? It is hard. It needs to make us uncomfortable. Taking it more general makes it more comfortable. There's need for both conversations, but your stark light on it makes your post stick out as essential for me.

It's not a far jump then to the messy topic of organizational culture. Jamie Notter didn't try to neaten it up for us -- such attempts are spurious anyway. Rather, he just gives some advice on how to see it, because before you can do anything about it, you have to see it and name it and know where you want to be -- but that's getting ahead. Start with Jamie's post, take a step back and see your culture for what it truly is.

And I just can't help it. If you can step back and see your culture, and it's not set on a bedrock of trust, then there's trouble. I like it when people share personal stories and make a point on their blogs. Here's Wes Trochlil's story on trust.

I like to end my Quick Clicks with links to nonassociation stuff I've read that I liked. I'm going to throw social media genius Chris Brogan's post in here rather than the end, though, because it's about building on things other than bedrock. I like the parable he tells a lot. Projects crumble. Careers crumble. Organizations crumble. Guess what? Those things are just an end, not THE END. (And if you want to get all existential, they're also beginnings.)

I've been really wordy in these Quick Clicks, so apologies for the not-so-quick clicks. To redeem myself, I really will share some quick hitters:

- Shelly Alcorn reminds us to keep it important.

- Lori Halley pulls together some of the recent thinking on board development.

- Maddie Grant gives us an idea of how to listen (i.e. find) things important to us in Google+.

- Scott Fulton (ReadWriteWeb) tells us what we can learn from Steve Jobs.

- And finally, Seth Godin pulls inspiration from the earthquake to provide a little truism about human nature.

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August 23, 2011

"So where were you?"

OR: "A Blogger Extrapolates a Hazy Lesson for Associations from a Mid-Afternoon Earthquake"

OK, so there was an earthquake in Virginia today, which was felt by much of the Eastern United States. You know that much.

After the initial bewilderment and after the checking in with family and friends and colleagues, the rest of the afternoon was filled with trading stories about who was where when it happened and what it felt like. This happened in person and online.

Throughout the afternoon, I was struck by the energy in those conversations. It was something everyone could talk about. We have these sorts of moments of common shared experiences increasingly rarely. (On a national scale, the last two I can think of were the announcement of Osama bin Laden's death and the Super Bowl, but again, the quake was only on a regional scale.)

Seth Godin pointed this out less than an hour after the quake, and it also reminded me of the discussion about the value of commiseration here on Acronym a few weeks ago. If you're on the East Coast, pay attention to the energy in people's voices as they talk about the quake today. It's proof positive of that deeply human desire for shared experience.

The lesson for an association? Next time you're planning an event or meeting or even just a group project for volunteer members, think about today's earthquake buzz and think about how you can spark that kind of shared experience. When your members get together, give them an experience that shakes them up a bit (in a good way, of course). If you can give them something they can all talk about, they'll be building positive bonds that they associate with your community.

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August 19, 2011

What We Learn from What We Read

Good news--people are still reading. And some are reading a lot (20% of adults read more than 21 books per year, according to a 2010 Harris Poll).

That was clear from the crowd that raised their hands to the question during the session "What We Learn from What We Read" at the ASAE Annual Meeting in St. Louis recently.

The best news--they want to read "smart," meaning they want to be mindful of what reading is influencing the thinking and actions of their colleagues in other organizations while also finding inspiration, ideas, and knowledge in less-common sources such as literature, non-business books, mobile phone applications, new-book aggregation or executive summary websites, and more.

Panelists Jeffrey Cufaude (moderator), consultant Joan Eisenstodt, CEO Mark Anderson, and I shared not only what we were learning by reading beyond the "obvious business sources" (Harvard Business Review, New York Times, etc), but also the resulting ways we've applied that learning to our work and personal insights on everything from community building to leadership to technology.

Since we all admitted our book addictions and the difficulty of narrowing the choices we'd share at the session, our panel posted additional suggested reading and sources around the room, and attendees could jot down on cards anything of interest. For folks at the session or overall meeting, don't forget to download the session materials that list even more resources or to order the CD to listen to the session.

One of my favorite parts was when we asked the audience to share what books and sources they thought others should know about--you can hear their suggestions in the session tape, and I urge you to share your own favorites in the comments section of this post.

In doing my research for the session, I ran into a quote by Steven Piersanti, president of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, that we used to move people into thinking beyond their own learning and toward that of their members and colleagues: "...[P]eople are reading only books that their communities make important or even mandatory to read. There is no general audience for most nonfiction books, and chasing after such a mirage is usually far less effective than connecting with one's communities."

If true, doesn't that leave a huge opportunity for associations to aggressively curate the overwhelming amount of content for their community?

Most organizations already are trying. For instance, on the plane, I sat next to an Avectra professional who told me that the entire company is reading Race for Relevance and then will gather to talk about it.

Another attendee said that her CEO picks two books a year for the board to read, and it's the first item on the agenda because discussing ideas and new information "gets people's mental juices going" right away.

Our panel added more suggestions such as running regular book reviews online and in publications, offering virtual book/information clubs for members, creating reading-learning-applying online communities for open conversations around new books or sources, mobile apps that aggregate top news of interest, and what-I-learned-from-what-I-read education sessions.

We all have had such a tremendous response to the session that we may pitch it again for Great Ideas or next Annual Meeting in Dallas, and we're discussing the potential of an open sharing community to continue the momentum of the session.

We hope you'll join us in our virtual book nook to share your favorite reads and learning, too.

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August 18, 2011

Us versus them

The following is a guest post from a familiar voice here at Acronym: Lisa Junker, CAE, director, publishing and custom media, at Stratton Publishing & Marketing and former editor-in-chief of Associations Now and Acronym staff blogger.

What is one thing that's holding us back as association professionals?

The 2011 Annual Meeting & Expo was a new experience for me this year, because it was my first year as an attendee rather than a staff member. I feel privileged to have been able to experience the conference on an attendee level and benefit from all the hard work that I know was going on behind the scenes!

As much as I enjoyed the conference, there was a dissonant note that stood out to me in session after session. Perhaps I was more sensitive to it because I began the conference with Shelly and Mark Alcorn's session on "Change Your Language, Change Your World"; after hearing what they had to say, I spent the next several days listening more carefully to the language around me.

What I kept hearing was language that created an "us versus them" dynamic. I noticed it with my new "consultant" name badge and the reactions association executive attendees had when they saw it. I noticed it in a session on innovation, where many questions were rooted in issues of staff versus board conflict. I noticed it in the Young Association Executive Town Hall session, where I took part in a table discussion that kept returning to management-versus-staff issues. I noticed it on Twitter and in hallway conversations that circled around staff-versus-membership concerns. I even noticed it in the fabulous closing session, where Peter Sheahan shared an anecdote about how silos held Sony back from success in the MP3 player market. What are silos but "us versus them" hardwired into an organizational structure?

Think of how much more effective we could be as association professionals if we erased those us-versus-them lines. What if staff and management worked together to build a better organization, rather than misunderstanding or judging each other? What if different departments in an organization saw each other as partners instead of competitive silos?

On my way home from the conference, I put together a to-do list of followup items from the conference. And first on the list is a challenge to myself: Whenever I hear myself creating a line between "us" and "them"—whoever the "them" may be—I'm going to try to stop, step back, and recast the issue as an "us." They aren't that different from us, after all—we just have to open our eyes to what we have in common.

(And since Shelly Alcorn's session at Annual started this line of thought for me, I should also point you to a great blog post she wrote on a related topic: "What's in it for us?")

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Quick clicks: Getting back to normal edition

ASAE's 2011 Annual Meeting & Expo is now more than a week behind us, but the thoughts and reflections from both attendees and nonattendees have been steady. Since the last edition of Quick Clicks last Friday, another 20 blog posts/articles have popped up related to the conference, and we've added them to the #asae11 Scoop It page, here:

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Thanks to all of you out there who have been writing and sharing your thoughts and lessons learned from the conference.

Of course, the rest of the world has continued to spin for the past two weeks, so here are some interesting reads from beyond the the #asae11 bubble we've been in lately:

Executive onboarding. Tim Wolfred and Jen Masaoka at Blue Avocado share 12 tips for boards to support a successful transition for a new executive director. Tip number one: assign a board member to be a six-month "ED Transition Advisor."

Workplace interaction. Which pays better: being nice, or being sort of a jerk? Research from the Academy of Management says it's the latter. I don't know the makeup of the study's source data, but I'd be curious to know if that dynamic holds up in the nonprofit realm specifically.

Leading from below. Ellen Behrens shares advice on creating change in an organization (particularly when coming back from a conference loaded with great ideas) from the middle of the organizational chart.

Curation for conferences. "Curate" is quite the buzzword these days, a point that Jeff Hurt concedes, but none the less he offers an excellent perspective on how the concept of curation can apply to the conference-planning role.

Small- and large-staff dynamics. Elizabeth Engel, CAE, compares and contrasts her work experience in organizations of varying sizes and wonders how to combine the best qualities of each. Some good ideas in the comments, too.

Online community. Joshua Paul at Socious offers 10 surprises about building online communities. Number one: "online communities are not about social networking." The lessons only get more interesting from there.

Brand loyalty. How much do your members love your association? A new study shows that consumers who are highly loyal to certain brands actually experience lower self-esteem when the brand is criticized or performs poorly. That's an interesting commentary on modern society, but it can work to your association's advantage if it builds strong relationships with members.

Link sharing. So, is social media about community or about sharing? Both, you might say, but one PR/social media blogger offers evidence that "the key to social media success is links, not conversation." [Thanks to Maddie Grant for sharing this one.]

Levity. A sharp-witted denizen of the association community has launched The Association Onion, a blog for poking fun at some of the situations we associations often find ourselves in. Lampooned so far: strategic planning, social media, innovation, free pricing models, conferences, and credentialing.

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August 17, 2011

In times of financial distress, consider your talent

Over on David Patt's Association Executive Management blog, a recent post caught my attention: Positions not People. It's a short post, but to give the short overview anyway, he says in times of financial distress, you should rank the products and services in terms of importance to your organization and keep the people doing the most important work and lay off those doing less important work even if they may be strong employees.

It's rare that I have a completely opposite view from my association blogging brethren and sistern--usually differences are based on nuance, intensity level, or even just semantics. But I'm about 180 degrees from David on this one. Yes, use financial distress to your advantage by refocusing your organization on what really matters--but when it comes time to decide who is going to do the work that really matters, absolutely make those decisions based on the people rather than the work they are currently doing.

I think there are four kinds of employees:

1. Average or worse. Get rid of them, financial distress or not. They're not helping you. My opinion, as I've written before, is that associations do not use the hiring and firing tool to their advantage near enough. No one is striving for average; why would you tolerate average employees?

2. Good and have reached their potential. Strongly consider getting rid of them, financial distress or not. Certainly if you're laying off people, lay off these people right after the average people. In a few isolated cases, perhaps the staff person is good and has a specialized skill that would be very hard to teach or replace. Well, you have to keep that person for now, but I'd also be rethinking why I have a need for such a specialized skill and trying to develop systems, strategies, etc., to decrease my dependence on it. You know, the whole hit-by-a-bus theory and all.

3. Good and motivated to be exceptional. Keep these people.

4. Exceptional. Keep these people and, financial distress or not, push them into new areas and to try new things so they stay excited, stimulated, and motivated to continue their exceptional work for you.

Let's say you have to lay people off and you're following my advice to keep your best talent. Now let's say that some of the category 2 or 1 people are doing jobs that you've deemed essential. I say lay them off anyway. Skills can be taught. Attitude, enthusiasm, and motivation cannot be taught and in my opinion more than make up for the experience lost. The idea is take the staff in categories 3 and 4 from less essential functions and put them in more essential functions. Obviously you do this with an eye toward putting them in positions to be successful. My experience is that when you tell people with the right attitude, enthusiasm, and motivation that you need them in a certain area, that they see it as both a challenge and a vindication of the work they've previously done. It won't always work, but nothing ever does.

The way I read David's post is that he is saying don't let talent cloud your judgment about what is important to the organization. Amen. But I also think he is advocating being cavalier with that talent, maybe because of an equality ethic where all staff should be treated equally. Personally, I just think talent is too rare and I don't think the notion of equal treatment serves an organization well in this instance.

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What makes an association and its members happy with loyalty programs?

This is a guest post from Vince Duobinis, champion of the association experience with the Affinity Center International.

At ASAE's 2011 Annual Meeting, our team set out on one mission: to find out what would make associations and their members happy. In terms of loyalty programs, responses most commonly referenced member benefits, value, and simplicity for the association staff.

Most associations are interested in loyalty programs, but get bombarded by offers from companies unrelated to the association's mission.

Association executives told us programs must be offered with specific member benefits that are of real value and relevancy to the association. Products and services available through the loyalty program must relate to the member's business needs and also entice interest on a personal level, as members can make purchases for both.

"If members prefer blue pens, it's not particularly helpful to have only red pens in the online store," said one association executive at the meeting. It's more than just the overnight delivery, rental car, and insurance products typically found in discount programs, it's having a variety of options your members can redeem points for.

Once options are decided, make it easy for members to purchase through the program and obtain points, which are used in most loyalty programs. Simplicity is key when selecting a loyalty program. If you have to read a thick instruction manual every time you try to redeem points, run. Not only will this cause frustration for your members, it will drive your staff crazy. Loyalty programs don't need to be complicated.

Loyalty programs can be very beneficial to associations by providing additional nondues revenue. However, it is critical for associations to do their homework in finding a loyalty program that can offer products and services that are relevant to members and don't add a burden on staff. Loyalty programs also require a thorough understanding of member's desires. One cardinal rule we have all pretty much dealt with is never assume, and this goes for loyalty programs, too. Don't think you know what your members want, be sure by asking them. A couple questions and listening ears go a long way in your members' happiness and the happiness of your association's finances.

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August 15, 2011

What is the true cost of association business-model innovation?

The following is a guest post from Robert Barnes, general manager, operations, at Fitness Australia, in Alexandria, New South Wales, Australia. Twitter: @robertmbarnes

The 21st-century association works very differently from the way we know them operating even today. The transition to new and successful business models requires an investigation far deeper than simply asking about "membership versus nonmembership."

In my 20-year career as an association manager, I have always felt there was some other way for associations to be valued in the community and provide value to the industry or profession they have served. Until I read Jeff De Cagna's articles on association business-model innovation (see here and here), I was unable to put my finger on exactly what I was thinking. Now, it not only has some tangible presence; it also is a model for managing on a day-to-day basis.

I recently experienced Jeff's business-model innovation work over the course of one week where I was able to practice the design thinking, building blocks, and game dynamics that give Jeff's platform its solid foundation. Having given the modeling some significant thought since then, and in the lead up to ASAE11, it has me asking, What is the true cost of business model innovation for 21st-century associations?

I enjoy the big-picture thinking as much as the next COO; however, my performance is measured in the doing, so when it comes down to it I am responsible for the costs of innovation as much as I am accountable for maximizing the opportunity it brings. The more I practice using the business-model innovation canvas, I find myself counting the human capital costs where people's roles and responsibilities—even their jobs—are in question if we are truly to capture the 21st-century platforms of "associating."

I think the true value in considering the cost of business model innovation is in comparing and contrasting it to the costs that rise from traditional change-management planning. When a person's role, their perspective on their work, and their future is questioned in the course of "normal" change management, it is easily perceived as change for change's sake. Or worse, change because management is taking action to save itself in the face of serious challenges to the association's status quo.

Business-model innovation born from scenario development with a healthy dose of game dynamics is so transparent that an association's leaders and team members cannot hide from all the factors that give rise to new opportunities and expose the true costs associated with achieving a new future. The collaboration between key stakeholders is a far cry from the consultation usually associated with change management. Change management normally applied by associations allows the leadership to gloss over or flat-out ignore key components without which the objectives cannot be achieved, or at least not achieved with the requisite measure of success.

Business-model innovation generates visions of a plausible future of the association with all the building blocks having to be in place for the picture to be complete. Miss one and anyone, stakeholder or not, will see the gaping hole in your future and ask why? The incomplete picture exposes either a lack of courage or the laziness we would normally be able to get away with when we "plan" the next five years of our association's work.

I, for one, want to engage the people I lead and whose livelihoods are invested in our association. I need them invested in the full process of making my association the best industry association in Australia. Not only will they see opportunity I could never see, but they will also be directly linked to the true costs of that future and therefore prepared to do whatever it takes to get there.

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August 12, 2011

Quick clicks: #asae11 weekend reading

It has now been a full week since many association professionals were packing up and boarding planes for St. Louis for ASAE's 2011 Annual Meeting & Expo. Time flies. In the time since the end of the meeting, the conference has been the topic of choice in the association blog-o-sphere.

Since the last quick clicks post on Wednesday, we've added more than 20 more links to new blog posts and articles about #asae11 on the #asae11 Scoop It page:

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The new posts include recaps from John Chen, Elizabeth Engel, Tom Ingram (a video!), Jamie Notter, Shelly Alcorn, Amy Williams, Stefanie Reeves, and more. If you haven't seen them all already, then now you have some good weekend reading to catch up on. Enjoy.

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IGNITE ignited Annual and what you can learn from it

This is a guest post written by Jeffrey Cufaude from Idea Architects. Note: The photo was inserted by Scott Briscoe and is of Cufaude delivering an Ignite session at ASAE's 2011 Annual Meeting & Exposition.

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While many sessions were standing room only, Monday afternoon's IGNITE sessions had to be pushing the fire code limit, appropriate given the name of this interesting learning format.

IGNITE is one of two timed presentation formats being used on the worldwide stage. Pecha Kucha, the first, features presentations of 20 slides displaying for 20 seconds each. IGNITE offers a slight variation, 20 slides for 15 seconds each. IGNITE or Pecha Kucha nights are regularly held in cities around the world, often in an informal club-like setting, and frequently featuring presentations focused on a particular issue or question.

They were clearly a hit at ASAE11. Here are a few reasons why and how you might leverage the same concepts for your own future programming.

They're different. Different isn't always better, but there's something to be said for variety particularly when conferences have fairly rigid and standardized sessions.

They engage fresh voices and familiar voices in new ways. Many of the people doing IGNITE talks are folks I've never seen on the conference program before. It's always great to hear new voices, but IGNITE is also a great place for more regular presenters to show other sides of themselves and their interests.

They're short.
Where most sessions offer entrée-sized content, IGNITE is a buffet of appetizers. You get to sample a lot in a short period of time, and if you find an individual talk unappealing, it will be over in a few minutes.

They're unpredictable. Given the constraints of the format and the pressure on the presenters, there is an air of uncertainty about how well everything will go. It feels live, unedited, and you half expect a panel of judges to be giving feedback after each presentation. This creates a high level of energy in the room (from both the participants and the presenters).

The content can be more personal. IGNITE and Pecha Kucha can easily be done on professional topics (case studies and show and tell work very well in the formats), but they also are well-suited to personal stories. Where a conference might not do a track of personal development topics, one round of IGNITE sessions can address important personal issues to the professional development of your participants.

There was already buzz. IGNITE debuted for ASAE at the Great Ideas Conference earlier this year (along with a sneak peak session at DC's Busboys and Poets). People liked them there and talked them up in St. Louis. And many of the presenters in St. Louis have built-in followings of friends and colleagues who came to cheer them on. In addition, videos of the Great Ideas IGNITE talks have been watched online so a built-in audience had been cultivated for Annual.

So do consider how you can use the full IGNITE or Pecha Kucha formats in your own organization's learning experiences. But more importantly, take the lessons of why it worked in St. Louis and turn them into questions to share your future conferences: How can you engage fresh voices and familiar voices in new ways? How can you vary session length to build energy? What pilot opportunity might help build buzz for a more mainstage rollout?

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Do Your Actions Match Your Words? A YAE Challenge

This is a guest post from Brandon Robinson, projects manager at the Propane Education & Research Council.

Over the course of my four days at my first ASAE Annual Meeting, there was one theme that I seemed to hear again and again. The current model of doing business is not sustainable and to reach the emerging young association executives and potential young members, associations will have to rethink much of the way they have operated in the past. I heard this loud and clear during the opening general session. I also heard this repeatedly in hallway conversations, at social events, and in other sessions.

The last session I attended was a reflection on what I'd learned and what I was taking back to my office. Jon Hockman facilitated a small group discussion about our takeaways, and naturally one of the discussion points was implementation of what we had learned. It's very easy to go back and quickly fall back into the same traps. The energy, excitement and new way of thinking you had at the meeting quietly fades into the background. The change about which you were so fired up at the meeting gives way to the day-to-day necessity of moving the small rocks.

My hope and the impetus behind this blog post is that we won't lose that excitement. More specifically I hope our actions will match our words about engaging younger colleagues and potential members in our important work. Just like it's easy to go back to our offices and slip back into our old habits, it's just as easy to continue doing things the way we always have to the detriment of those who weren't around during the good old days.

The younger generation is different. We think differently, we process information differently, and most importantly we engage differently. I feel like a challenge was issued in St. Louis to really think about how we engage younger folks like me. Will our actions match our words? Will we lead by example? That's my plan. I hope it's yours too.

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August 11, 2011

Are you empowered to implement what you learn?

The following is a guest post from Maggie McGary, online community & social media manager at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

A question I hear a lot at conferences is "what is the one thing you're going to implement when you get back to your office next week?" Or something similar--what's your one key takeaway, what one change you're going to make as a result of all the cool new stuff you just learned?

Call me cynical (who, me?) but every time I hear these types of mass pledges made by conference attendees, I can't help but wonder how many of those people are actually empowered to follow through on their must-do idea. How many go back to their offices, full of great intent and detailed notes, only to have the wind taken out of their sails by a workplace culture where doing something new isn't as easy as just deciding you'll do it and--bam! you're doing it. It's no secret many association staffers work in the realm of "this is the way we've always done it" and of hierarchy and boards and silos, and I find the concept of ending sessions with "now go do something different" to be more perplexing than inspiring. While it sounds great and very rah-rah to end a few days of being surrounded by smart people doing super-cool stuff being encouraged to go forth and do your own new cool stuff, isn't the reality that most will go back and try to implement their awesome new idea only to be shot down, at least if the idea involves business processes that extend beyond stuff like how you organize the stuff on your desk?

Don't get me wrong--I've loved attending my first-ever annual meeting. Just please don't ask me what my key takeaway was or what one idea will I be implementing when I get back to the office.

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Getting my I on

The following is a guest post from Peggy Hoffman, CAE, president, Mariner Management.

I have to say my head is still spinning from the last day at ASAE11. In particular, it's spinning from "Collective Intelligence: A Community Innovation Challenge." In a very quick 75 minutes, we explored a very timely topic - volunteerism - and an innovation process. The session was set up as a truly experiential learning opportunity. We were tasked with developing a prototype solution to the question: "How can the volunteer experience be designed to address the evolving skill, knowledge, and time needs of associations and the interests of individuals?"

We were given 4 steps of an 8-step innovation process to work through. We had a facilitator, Marsha Rhea, CAE, president, Signature i, to keep us on time and focused. We had a great group of executives who were respectful and creative.

What made this session so powerful though was what went before it and the promise of what is to come. And, this is perhaps one of the best learnings from the event. You see, sitting in the airport awaiting the homeward bound flight, a group of us talked about how learning should not be a discrete event.

This event began before ASAE11 as part of the Innovation project. The idea is to encourage innovation talks and even to begin to define a process associations can use. Staff reached out to members and asked for challenges that could be tackled in the innovation talks at the annual meeting. Volunteerism was a popular topic. Following this session, ASAE will be continuing the conversation through Collaborate where a group will be set up to further work on the ideas our groups sketched in this Tuesday morning session.

Do you see the whole picture? Tie a new project to a session, engage input in that session before you get to town, then continue the work virtually. So stay tuned to more info. Be prepared to join the conversation on Collaborate.

Let me leave with three lessons learned in the session about crafting a successful innovation conversation:
1. Start if off strong - we began with the Beatles' song "Revolution."

2. Set up the conversation in parts with distinct time periods. We began with exploring current challenges, future assumptions, and strategic opportunities followed by defining the problem to overcome; then brainstorming innovations and solutions, and wrapping up with designing an initial prototype of an innovative solution or strategy.

3. For effective brainstorming, practice the 2-minute pause. Take 2-minutes for everyone to write down their ideas. Then share in a rapid-fire fashion.

Let's get our collective "I's" on.

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Darth Vader has nothing on me!

The following is a guest post from Linda Chreno, CAE, with Marketing General.

The ASAE Annual Conference has always been an event that I looked forward to with anticipation and excitement. As an association professional for the past 20+ years, I have always found the education, networking, exhibit hall, and social events to be what I needed and wanted to improve my skills and knowledge about the association management profession.

This year, however, I attended as someone "not" employed by an association - but rather a very recently hired employee of Marketing General Incorporated, one of ASAE's industry supporters and partners. How would my colleagues treat me now that I was someone from the "dark side?" Would other exhibitors welcome me or feel I was just a competitor for the association executive's attention? Would the ASAE Annual Conference experience still be a rewarding experience for me?

I am happy to say that this was one of my all time best ASAE Annual Conference experiences. From an educational perspective, I attended sessions to gain knowledge - knowledge that I could share with others to improve their association's performance and to help with the executive's skill set. This year, I was able to learn about how an association executive viewed the "sales" word, how my leisure reading could help me with my work life, and how there are free or low cost tools that can help with productivity. When I was an association executive, I always wished that more vendors would learn more about our profession - now I can walk the talk that I always felt was an important attribute for vendors and consultants.

The Exhibit Hall was an exciting experience. I was able to learn what the newest services and exciting venues were available to the association community - and meet the exhibitors who were there to help. The social events were fun, and St. Louis definitely went above and beyond to welcome and entertain us.

The association community was as warm and welcoming as always. My friends and colleagues shared with me as they have in the past - their successes, their opportunities, and their challenges. There is no "dark side" -- just a different perspective or viewpoint. The association community is definitely my home - and I love being part of this vital community. I look forward to my future interactions with association professionals in my new role with Marketing General Inc.

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August 10, 2011

Quick clicks: #asae11 recaps and reviews

ASAE's 2011 Annual Meeting & Expo has concluded, and the recaps and reviews are coming in.

Just today, we've added 10 more links to new blog posts and articles about #asae11 on the #asae11 Scoop It page:

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We'll continue to add links to this page as long as the buzz continues, so stay tuned!
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5 reasons to be excited about Dallas 2012

The following is a guest post from Lowell Aplebaum, director, member relations, Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society.

What about #asae11 has me ready for Annual Meeting & Expo 2012?

  1. Learning Opportunities. With diverse educational approaches, opportunities for presentations, panel discussions, small groups learning, and more, the formal learning opportunities presented in St. Louis were so much more than sessions. Whether speaking one-on-one with a facilitator, articulating themes and points of priority to colleagues who attended other sessions, or brainstorming a concept for implementation back home every moment provided the opportunity to learn.

  2. Redefining Locations. This was not my first time in St. Louis, but after the 2011 Annual Meeting & Expo my image of the city has been completely redefined. I did not realize when I boarded the plane for the Conference what red carpet, VIP treatment St. Louis had in store for us. Some of the best stories I will share will be because of the host city this year - and if the promo for next year is true ("If you haven't been to Dallas lately, you haven't been to Dallas") then I am sure Dallas will have all new meaning as well.

  3. Tweetups. Having too many sessions that you want to attend is a good problem, but the solutions are few and far between. Session hop? You may miss the best part of both sessions.  Split sessions between people? You may get content, but risk missing the "Aha" inspiration. The #asae11 twitter stream this year went leaps and bounds towards solving this dilemma. From whichever session I was in I could follow along with the highlights, driving points and discussions happening in concurrent classrooms. Many of these Tweeters were my best teachers during the conference, and being able to meet them face to face will make our ongoing conversations (140 characters or less) richer moving forward.

  4. The Unpredictable. Having read his bio and book review beforehand, there was no way to know just how amazing Peter Sheahan's presentation would be. While in line to have his book signed I found myself standing next to an ASAE Board member who introduced me to a member who I had wanted to thank in person for all the hard work they put into making the conference an amazing experience. And to think two hours earlier I was just looking at lunch as another item on the schedule. I already wonder what unplanned moments of connection and insight will happen in Dallas.

  5. The People. Business cards, LinkedIn connections, new people to follow on Twitter - introductions abound at ASAE. Yet, the real currency that I feel like I am taking home is a host of new colleagues and friends with whom to continue the conversations we started in St. Louis. These are people who also want to become CAEs, or have become one and want to give back.  These are colleagues handling issues of membership numbers and dues, governance, growth, and foresight - who want to work together so we can all be better association professionals.  These are people that I feel honored to call not just colleagues, but friends. I look forward to seeing them all in Dallas next August, and to meeting many more. 
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Facing fears in the association healthcare community

The following is a guest post from Frank Fortin, CAE, chief digital strategist and communications director, Massachusetts Medical Society.

What is ASAE's emerging value for healthcare associations?

Though 20 to 25 percent of ASAE's members are from healthcare associations, I've wondered whether the extraordinary diversity of ASAE's healthcare membership would frustrate efforts to create value inside ASAE's structures.

After attending three high energy healthcare sessions this week, my answer is: Yes!

Like healthcare itself, ASAE's healthcare members are all over the map. You have your doctors and nurses, for sure. But there are also allied health professionals, medical device groups, long-term care providers, collaborative care organizations, consultants, and even a healthcare economist. (Oddly, I didn't see anyone from health insurers for the drug industry. Maybe we can work on that.)

What we all share in common is the urgency to respond quickly to the incredible change that is already engulfing our members and our industry.

Federal healthcare reform only scratches the surface of what lies before us. It terrifies many of our members, because there are few well-tested solutions, and healthcare professionals find extreme comfort in well-tested solutions!

At the Annual Meeting, our esteemed facilitators from the Healthcare Community Committee started the dialogue by collecting lists of the things that keep us up at night. And then we all talked about what we're all doing to address these issues, one at a time.

Without exception — and I mean that without exaggeration — the things that people shared could help every one of us in the room, regardless of the type of profession we work in.

For me, the gnarliest issue that threatens the very value proposition of our medical society. Not too long ago, most physicians were independent and self-employed. Think: Marcus Welby. Today, most doctors work for somebody else. In a few years, almost everyone will be employed. Think: House.

That irrevocably changes our value proposition, because so much of what we have offered is for the doctor who doubles as a small business owner. That era is almost over. So if associations don't change, we die.

Honestly, I didn't get the golden answer this week that will let me sleep soundly at night. But I did see that others are tossing and turning over the same thing. And there are issues we will have lots of trouble agreeing on.

But that conversation has begun, and will continue both informally and at the Healthcare Association Conference in Baltimore, November 7 and 8.

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Finding Great Idea #200

The following is a guest post from Pamela Strother, CAE, principal, Sponsorship Specialists.

How has the role of knowledge management changed for associations?

When I came in search of Great Idea #200 for "Building Meeting Attendance and Revenue" at #asae11, I walked into the St. Louis Convention Center not realizing that over these few days I would witness our massive industry accept the big shift. Oh, how it pains this Gen X'er to say it. But here I go...

Associations no longer control knowledge and content. We no longer control monetizing that knowledge. And, we no longer control how people convene!

As Sheri Jacobs (@Chicagogirl27) tweeted the other day, association members are telling us: "We want what we want when we want it in the format we want it. Easy enough"

Well, not so easy. I watched time and again what felt like senior association managers giving confessionals about how they are worried that they don't have the resources to manage a shift to our new world of knowledge sharing — and frankly even about their relevance now that they don't control the information. The good news for all of us is that being association professionals has prepared us.

Dave Lutz and Jeff Hurt of Velvet Chainsaw (@VelChain) summed it up for me: We are now the curators of knowledge and information and the hub of where people come to talk about it.

We don't post tweets with the hash tag #associations, we post tweets with the hash tag #ASAE.  What could be more valuable, and validating, at this moment in time? If your association is not a leader on Twitter, please make this your first priority when you get home. Your current and potential members are already talking about the cutting edge of knowledge without you in this space.

Great Idea #200 is not just an idea, it is the framework in which the next 199 ideas will bubble up from the ASAE community for each of the 199 Ideas series. I for one, look forward to contributing!

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August 9, 2011

What is your association's story?

Throw out your mission statement, vision statement, all that nonsense. Just tell your story. That's what all the boilerplate is supposed to convey anyway, right?

"You're in the business of storytelling far more than you're in the business of fact telling," said Peter Sheahan, author of several books on innovation, including his latest, Making It Happen: Turning Good Ideas Into Great Results, in his keynote presentation at the closing general session at ASAE's 2011 Annual Meeting & Expo.

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The story should be simple. It should be emotional. And every product and service your association offers should be evaluated for how it supports that story. The ones that don't aren't worth doing.

Sheahan delivered a stronger message than opening general session speaker Tina Brown—he had clearly studied associations and their challenges, even citing some recent Associations Now articles—but they both extolled the power of storytelling.

Brown talked about The Daily Beast's annual Women in the World Summit. The subtitle of the event is "Stories + Solutions." The stories shared at the summit were so powerful that The Daily Beast—a news website, remember—created a nonprofit foundation because people who heard women speak at the event wanted to know how to support them. The presentations at the live event are streamed on the web, and the stories are told in article form on The Daily Beast and in Newsweek.

The story is what ties all of it together, and the combo of Women in the World with The Daily Beast is no different from a nonprofit with a publishing arm. For any association, its programs should all support the same story:

  • The live event builds passion and excitement about the story;
  • Research builds knowledge that makes the story tangible;
  • Publications spread the story far and wide;
  • Advocacy puts the story in the minds of influencers;
  • Development raises money that can help shape the story;
  • Membership builds the pool of people who can put the story into action;
  • And so on and so on.

Humans make decisions based on emotions, not logic. Sheahan hammered this home, and Brown's case supported it. Yesterday's Ignite! sessions were a series of five-minute stories, and the atmosphere in those sessions was electric. If you walk away from #asae11 with one lesson (or want to know what you missed), let it be this: If you're not telling your association's story, chances are no one is listening.

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What is a freak flag and why does Joe Gerstandt think I have one?

Joe Gerstandt is a freak.

I mean look at him...

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(Sorry Joe, couldn't resist.) The lede to this post might ordinarily not pass Acronym guidelines, which call for no personal attacks. But I think I'm on safe ground since the title of his session at the Annual Meeting today was "How to Fly Your Freak Flag."

Flying your freak flag means being authentic - knowing who you are and being that person uncompromisingly. It's not that easy, he notes, because at work we're conditioned to fit in, which is the antithesis of authenticity. Which leads me to my question:

How would you encourage authenticity at work?

The point Gerstandt made is so simple, I've never thought about it in that way - our organizations are set up around conformity. We have a defined work week. We have dress codes. And lunch hours.

Yes, many organizations have begun to be more flexible in all of those areas, a testament to Gerstandt's point that nonconformity can be beneficial. But what about status meetings? Or performance reviews? Or staff meetings? Or hierarchies or silos or turf or board meetings or internal processes? There is in fact a long way we have to go when it comes to encouraging individuality and authenticity in lieu of conformity.

A lot of these annual meeting posts ask a single question and are followed by some kind of answer. I wish I had that to offer you here. If I did, it would make this some kind of magic blog post, I think. The word itself -- organization -- implies to me this very sense of conformity, but I don't think the best takeaway from the session would be transforming into disorganization. I don't know how to encourage employees to fly their freak flags at work, I just know that we're going to have to figure it out. The strongest organizations are going to be strong because of it, and you're not going to be able to attract or keep talent if you don't.

Gerstandt tried to help attendees learn about their inner freak flags with the following questions:

Who are you?

What about you is different?

What are you here for?

What is your gift?

Maybe that's a start. Of course it has to start with a culture that accepts and embraces freak flags--and I like that term better than authenticity because it conveys the fact that the practice of accepting it is hard and unusual. What company wouldn't say they embrace authenticity? But that's not even step number one, that's a prerequisite. The hard and fun and fruitful part comes when we figure out how to use all of these freak flags to build phenomenal organizations. Stay tuned, this is new idea for me, and one I think I'll explore again.

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When a takeover isn't really a takeover

How to be successful in acquisition or partnering?

I'm going to come back to this question soon, but I want to start with this statement: For dozens of years associations have been entrepreneurial engines.

People who have read my Acronym writings may be surprised to see that from me. But I absolutely believe it. We haven't really had a choice. ASAE research has shown that for the last three-quarters of a century or so the percent of revenue from dues has declined. We've been doing other things to make money. Tradeshows. Sponsorships. Certifications. Certification materials. Education and training. Associations were trailblazers in these entrepreneurial endeavors. Are we good seeing and seizing opportunities? I would argue that despite such a strong track record of success, there's been a lot of dysfunction in how we've gotten there and we could do much better - but that's a different post.

6022703639_a677e2cc34.jpgThis post is about Build-a-Bear (a St. Louis-based company) and such a wonderful important message that Maxine Clark, Build-a-Bear CEO gave in her game changer session. The low-hanging fruit of entrepreneurial venture is acquisition and partnering. Someone is doing something similar to you or that fits your business model, but they're not doing it particularly well. You swoop in and either acquire their product or partner with them to improve the offering. You swoop in with the idea that you know what you're doing, you have a track record of success, and all you need to do is put your imprint on it.

That's what Clark was going to do when Build-a-Bear was expanding to the United Kingdom. A company there had essentially copied the Build-a-Bear idea and launched in the market. But they did it poorly. When Build-a-Bear was ready to expand to that market, they were able to acquire the copycat company with the idea that they have he retail and manufacturing infrastructure that Build-a-Bear could start from and then mold the company into the Build-a-Bear culture.

"What we discovered was something different than what we expected," she said. "The people working from the company we were buying had so much knowledge and so much passion, but the company was able to take advantage of it. So we changed course. We realized that our best path of success was to listen and learn to the people that were there." Build-a-Bear thought it would be a one-way transfer of culture and information, but it was much more of a two-way exchange.

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#ASAE11 in pictures

See more photos in the Flickr Group Pool.

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August 8, 2011

It's not just the topic that counts. It's the community.

The following is a guest post from Peggy Hoffman, CAE, president, Mariner Management.

I attended one of the Conversations That Matter sessions today at ASAE's 2011 Annual Meeting & Expo, and my biggest takeaway is that the right people in the room will make the session better. I was in the "Open Discussion Forum for Executive Management Staff" where I witnessed—and participated in—a lively conversation on four wide-ranging topics. Because the session was designed as a safe space, I won't share the details, but I do want to share that the session provided a great example of part peer-support group and part professional learning. We were invited to bring up stories that highlighted a challenge, celebrated a success, or shared an "a-ha" in each of four areas. The group then collectively discussed options. There were three people who got sage advice, several more that went away with actionable ideas, and likely even more who tucked business cards and names in their pockets.

This was not a formatted, lecture, or prepared case study or even experiential learning. This was an informal conversation that mattered. It didn't matter what topics were brought up, it mattered that the right people—all senior association professionals—were in the room. It mattered that the people in the room came with the intention of sharing and not judging. It mattered that we had two CEOs facilitating the conversation that brought their own challenges and successes to share.

Earlier in the day I attended another session that had a good topic but not the right people. I'll vote for the right people over the topic every day. Which gets me to my main point: we have an obligation in preparing professional development programs to begin with defining who should be in the session, then clearly communicating that to the potential attendees. Any thoughts on how to do that effectively? Love to hear ideas so I can both improve my programming and improve my choice of programming.

Side note: many thanks to Executive Management Section Council, of which I am a member, for hosting this session for the second year in a row and especially to EMS council member Stephen Gold, JD, CAE, president and CEO of the Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI and council vice-chair Jeff Shields, FASAE, CAE, executive director, National Business Officers Association, for facilitating a conversation that mattered.

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Lessons from Ignite!

The following is a guest post from Shelly Alcorn, CAE, principal at Alcorn Associates.

I went on an Ignite! binge on Monday afternoon at ASAE's 2011 Annual Meeting & Expo, and here are some of the rapid-fire lessons I learned (my apologies to the presenters if quotes aren't verbatim).

Tara Bishop, CAE, shared her secrets to creating a successful relationship with a boss and used an airline metaphor to do it. Takeaways: we had a choice to get on this flight, we need to stow our baggage in our overhead bins, deal with the turbulence, and remember, any landing is a successful landing.

John Chen taught us that Twitter is the world's biggest happy hour. He relocated from California to Washington, DC, and really had a hard time meeting people and developing a social network until he found Twitter. The real power of Twitter is taking those relationships offline and appreciating the people who make a difference in your life.

Vickie Lester, MBA, CAE, is a Chieftain, Princess, and Goddess and took us on a rollicking ride with her tribe. She takes an annual road trip each year with a group of association professionals and related photos from their trips to valuable lessons about mission, setting goals, and how important honesty, accountability and diversity are. In the end, it's all about the tribe.

Jeffrey Cufaude asked us if we are living our lives, both personally and professionally, in a sustainable way. Just because you can do something doesn't always mean you should. Consider asking yourself different questions about who you want to be and how you really want to live. Instead of trying to fit in, seek opportunities and people who fit with you.

Christine Melendes, CAE, reminded us that members are humans too. As staff, put your name out there and be yourself, be honest, and be accessible. Go where they are both on social media and in person whenever possible.

Jeff Jorge, MBA, told us how being in a triathlon has taught him some valuable lessons. The power of goal setting, a reminder about efficiency and pacing yourself, the need to put one foot in front of the other even when you are exhausted and celebrating reaching the finish line. The mind gives up well before the body; don't let it.

Miriam Miller, CAE, reminded us that "selling" isn't horrible. Those stereotypes come from people who don't do it right. Here are some tips for successful "persuasion": don't think about the money, be sincere and don't fake it, be confident, listen and follow-up. And if you still get a no, be a "'no' detective" and try to find out why.

Stephanie Reeves, CAE, talked about how the music artist Prince sets a great example for innovative thinking. He chose alternative distribution routes for CDs selling through his website before that was popular, packaging CDs with concert ticket sales and inserting CD's into newspapers for free for promotional reasons. Surround yourself with great talent and let that talent shine. (Plus she had an awesome picture of her with Prince and we're all jelly!)

Joe Gerstandt reminded us that sometimes profanity is appropriate especially when we run across things that are totally confounding or need to be challenged. Herds of sacred cows just produce that much more BS. Truth is the truth and we need to be relentless in seeking it out, prioritizing it, and defending it.

Bana Qashu, CMP, CAE, talked to us about yoga and leadership. The common links between the two are ensuring we are in the present moment and acting mindfully. It's important to establish a habit of being consciously aware and intentional with what we do both individually and collectively.

Jim Flanigan talked about the fact that it isn't always the most intelligent that survive, but the most adaptable. Associations' greatest strengths—stability, community, similarities—can also be a weaknesses when we don't adapt fast enough to change. Embrace mistakes, cross-pollinate, and try to avoid having to make snap decisions.

Meg Simpson talked about frustration at work. We need to identify what we find frustrating, think about how we act when we are frustrated, and find out how others perceive us when we are in that state. Sometimes, what underlies frustration is actually some of our greatest strengths that are being thwarted. Leverage those strengths to stop the cycle.

Tom Pierce, MBA, told us a story about a mentor who had a great impact on his life. Every coach needs a coach themselves.

Paul Wehking shared leadership lessons learned from Little League and used "running the bases" as a metaphor. First base is communications, second base is expectations, third base is letting go of control and home plate is celebrating successes. Put the team on the field and just let them play! (Plus, ice cream is a great antidote to the sting of loss).

Rick Olson, JD, focused on how conflict can be a gift and an opportunity. Some of the best ways to deal with conflict include getting the right tools in place ahead of time, setting the right principles, and developing a common language.

KiKi L'Italien showed us how being more like Lady Gaga can help us get control of our lives. We are rushing around saving all this "time" and we are squandering it on faster, faster, faster living. We can't wait for the valium to hit, the fish are changing gender due to pharmaceuticals in the water, and we need to stop the crazy. We can be reborn! (Sing it sister!)

These were all fantastic talks but …

It was Valerie Fries-Wade, MM, CAE, who brought the house down. She shared her personal story about how being homeless when she was young didn't stop her from getting back on her feet and becoming a successful association executive. When you confront homelessness, it's not about where people on the street are, it's where they have come from. Compassion and assistance are gifts we can give back to people who are in this situation through no fault of their own. Support World Homeless Day, October 10, 2011. We'd all like to thank Valerie for a courageous, inspiring, and important talk. That standing ovation was a testament to the immense power held within five well-told minutes.

Look for video of the Ignite! presentations from the Annual Meeting & Expo at www.asaecenter.org in coming weeks.

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The challenge of breakout seating

The following is a guest post from Scott D. Oser, president of Scott Oser Associates.

Why is it almost impossible to judge how many people will attend a breakout session?

I was really excited about one of the sessions during the 3:15-4:30 p.m. time slot. I started heading toward the session room about 3 p.m. I ran into some folks, so I had a couple of conversations along the way and ended up approaching the room around 3:25. As I got closer, I noticed that people were standing in the doorway, so I turned around, which is what gave me time to write this post.

This is a common challenge for association meetings. Is there a way to predict what the hot sessions will be so there is enough seating? I think the experience for the association and the attendees would be better if there was, but I have yet to see anyone perfect it. Good thing I have the twitter stream to fall back on. Any suggestions?

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Quick clicks: #asae11 continues

We're halfway through Day 3 of ASAE's 2011 Annual Meeting & Expo and participants continue to capture and share lessons and experiences.

Here's another reminder to check out the latest blog posts and articles about #asae11 from the community on the #asae11 Scoop It page:

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The latest posts discuss association learning trends, personal energy management, food at the expo, the opening night celebration, and more.
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One step at a time

What's wrong with baby steps?

Nothing at all, judging by several ideas shared in Learning Labs so far at ASAE's 2011 Annual Meeting & Expo. In the three separate sessions I've attended, speakers extolled the virtues of incremental improvements in their associations' work.

In "Coping and Managing as a Small Staff Executive" on Sunday, Lydia Middleton, CAE, president and CEO of the Association of University Programs in Health Administration, talked about saving time and money for her association by moving to a virtual staff model. But she didn't completely abandon the brick-and-mortar office. Instead, AUPHA is transitioning. They've reduced office space from 3,500 square feet to 900, and staff work from home two days a week.

Later on Sunday, in "Email Marketing in a Mobile World," Amy Hager, communications and online member services manager at the Satellite Broadcast and Communications Association, talked about small, simple tweaks to emails to make them more mobile friendly, such as limiting subject lines to 30 characters and changing the "view the online version" link to "view the mobile version." The latter led to a 173-percent increase in clicks on the link, she said.

And this morning, in "Is There Money Hidden in Your Data," Wes Trochlil said there's one simple change that most associations can make to improve their data-gathering practices: stop collecting data that you don't use to make decisions.

We discussed small-scale innovations here less than two weeks ago; clearly it's a theme that continues here at #asae11.

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To take a central role or not

Should associations try to position themselves as the hub of conversation for their profession, industry, or interest?

Is there anyone who would argue that the answer could possibly be anything other than yes? Well, I would.

There's a key word in that question: the. That key word implies that the association should see itself as the central location of important knowledge in a sector. The argument is one we've heard since Google made information freely and easily accessible more than a decade ago: Yes, there's tons of instant information available at your fingertips, but associations are vital because it's the trusted source that culls through and finds the important content for you.

My problem with this way of thinking is not about content curation - I absolutely believe associations should be content curators in their sectors. The problem is when associations strive to position themselves in a central position. They're the hub and all the meaningful spokes attach to it. I just don't think the world of collaboration and content works that way anymore. When you try to centralize, you lose. The social web ensures decentralization. Rather than try to develop strategies that make you the central hub, develop strategies that make you an important part of the conversations.

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A postevent strategy

How can you make the most of digital content after an event?

It's a definite theme for me so far at this meeting (see my first post on Sunday's general session). I attended the session Improve Member Loyalty via Digital Event Strategies with Dave Lutz and Jeff Hurt, and here was there recommendation.

The tendency, they say, is to have a big digital splash after the conference, sometimes referred to as the afterglow. The idea is everybody will come for a day-long digital content bonanza with facilitated chat and sessions and interaction with speakers and other attendees, etc. They're all for the digital bonanza to extend the experience of the event, and they like that it's scheduled. But better than doing it all in one fell swoop, why not space it out, with a piece of it on one day, some more a few weeks later and so on? Not only does this extend the life of the engagement your attendees have with your organization, but the passage of time will actually work to keep the content fresh. All of your attendees are having experiences in their work, and these experiences are going to continually change how they view the content you provide--new ideas, new conversations will continue the sense of discovery.

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To believe or not to believe?

The following is a guest post from Jeffrey Cufaude, president and CEO, Ideas Architects. Follow Jeffrey on Twitter @jcufaude.

How do you determine credibility?

This was the question on my mind after participating in an invitation-only session on Monday with author David Nour. David has been working with the ASAE Foundation on research and a new book, Return on Impact: Leadership Strategies for the Age of Connected Relationships.

During some fairly passionate exchanges among the association executives in attendance, the online community's credibility was challenged compared to the association's credibility: "How can you trust what you read from a blogger?" Or "Just because someone has lots of followers doesn't mean they know what they are talking about." Difference of opinion on this topic seemed to vary by both generations and social media usage.

Here's the thing: we've always had connected relationships and we've always turned to our connections for advice. John Seely Brown wrote about this more than 10 years ago in his book, The Social Life of Information, in which he observed Xerox copy repair personnel calling coworkers for insight rather than turning to the company's training manual. We can just connect differently now, and that is disrupted the traditional ways in which information has been exchanged and knowledge has been created.

But credibility was an issue long before Twitter was created and will continue to be long after the next new technology emerges. When you sit in a session at this very meeting and hear a colleague share her take on a particular issue or a peer do a presentation, you filter their assertions for credibility based on whatever criteria you choose to apply. How is that so different than reading a blog post or a Tweet and assessing its validity? After all, we didn't peer review their registration forms for the Annual Meeting to only let in vetted association executives whose every opinion can be treated as universal truth.

So yes, credibility is critical individually, organizationally, and as an association community. But to out-of-hand dismiss the information and the connections created via social media could be an incredible slight and put your own credibility at risk in the eyes of some of the very people you may be trying to engage.

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August 7, 2011

3 lessons from day one at #asae11

The following is a guest post from Peggy Hoffman, CAE, president, Mariner Management.

On my to do list for this meeting is to explore the "I" - innovation. My gleanings today came from three sources: "Change Your Language, Change Your World" with Mark Alcorn and Shelly Alcorn, CAE principals, Alcorn Associates Management Consulting, "The World is Changing Fast, Are You?" with Tom Morrison, CEO, Metal Treating Institute, and other panelists, and Tourism Toronto's Imaginarium.

Lesson 1: To jumpstart innovation, try changing your language first. As Mark and Shelly Alcorn suggested, flip "innovation to language" to "language to innovation." We tend to frame the problem, search for a solution, and then name the solution. Unfortunately, our words are limiting and so can be barriers to innovation. It is true. When we say chapters we have a picture in mind that is essentially a mini-organization with bylaws, officers and a bank account. If that's our image, then it's difficult to create a new model. What if we started with reframing the word chapter to "local network"?

Lesson 2: Give innovation space. Tom Morrison, CEO, Metal Treating Institute, talked about two habits he has that help achieve this. First, he sets up the innovation process through almost casual conversations. The innovative launch of a member community began with a comment to a leader that he was troubled by members' frustrations with getting younger staff. He didn't go to the board with a "we need a Facebook group." He just seeded the conversation. Secondly, he assures consistency in the innovation process through regular conversations with his executive committee to talk about key projects. By drawing all in regularly, he has involvement that keeps projects moving even as leaders change.

Lesson 3: Play with options. One speaker in "The World is Changing Fast" session summed this up by saying his strategy is to do lots of pilots. Tourism Toronto brings this to life. In their Imaginarium room, you create your signature perfume, create a piece of jewelry or cufflinks, or try a decidedly different drink. It's about creativity and options. It's about exploration. It's about piloting a different way of introducing your city to potential clients. It's about piloting different ways to have attendees interact with you and your city.

In all three lessons, there is one common theme: the "I" in innovation isn't for idle.

One final note: ASAE is supporting innovation in some, well, innovative ways. In addition, to the series of innovation exchange sessions here, you can visit the Innovation Exchange online at asaecenter.org/innov. And watch for information on Innovation Grants coming in 2012.

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Communicating about awards

The following is a guest post from Scott D. Oser, president of Scott Oser Associates.

Why don't more people attend the Gold Circle Awards?

I am sitting in the 2011 Gold Circle Awards ceremony. The awards honor the best communications pieces from associations for the year and is facilitated by the Communications Section Council. I have judged for the last two years and have found it very valuable. This is a great way for associations to get recognized for doing great work. Why don't more people submit and why don't more people attend the awards? Lack of awareness?

Be sure to check out the list of the 2011 Gold Circle Award winners.

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Publications share a common future

The following is a guest post from Sheri Jacobs, CAE, president and chief strategist at Avenue M Group.

What do association publications and websites and The Daily Beast have in common?

After the opening general session of the 2011 ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo, a group of ASAE Foundation Gold level supporters were given the opportunity to participate in a roundtable discussion with the session's speaker, Tina Brown, editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast and Newsweek, as a thank you for their support. During the discussion, Tina shared her thoughts on the future of publishing. As she spoke, I realized that just because a publication or web site is profitable, doesn't exclude it from many of the same issues associations face. And in some cases, such as The Guardian, they may not even profitable.

Here are some of the key ideas shared during our meeting with Ms. Brown.

  • The challenge is balancing trends or what is popular with telling the stories that need to be told. The decisions you make impact your brand.
  • Association publications often contain content contributed by volunteers. Do you have a gatekeeper to ensure the reporting is ethical?
  • People won't pay for quality news, they just want the news now.
  • Putting up pay walls on the web doesn't work because the culture of the web did not grow up that way. Applications are different. People expect to pay for an app. The iPad is the newsstand of the future, and the future is coming!
  • People will read your content when they trust you will give them something they don't already have.

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Postevent Engagement

Tina Brown.jpgWhat happens when you merge a new media organization with an old media organization?

You get the oldest type of media exchange in human civilization: face-to-face. That's a crucial lesson Tina Brown, editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast -Newsweek, gave attendees at the first general session at ASAE's Annual Meeting & Exposition. She says "high-touch live events... bring life to everything else you're doing." The new ideas, innovation, and sharing "fueled by a topical purpose" that happen there is one of the most powerful ways information gets exchanged.

Associations have a couple hundred years of experience in face-to-face. We could likely learn a few things about integrating information from other media into their events, but she raised another more important point--and is also something associations could do better--postevent engagement. The Daily Beast decided to make the global women's movement the focal point of their face-to-face meetings. After the first event, people were clamoring for more after the event, particularly wanting ways to support the work and causes of some of the presenters. They learned quickly how to tap into that event excitement and carry it forward for months afterwards.

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What was your biggest flop?

In her keynote at the opening general session at ASAE's 2011 Annual Meeting & Expo, Tina Brown said she thinks everyone should make one big mistake in his or her career.

The editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast and Newsweek, Brown said hers was Talk magazine, which lasted just two years and never found much success before falling victim to the recession immediately after 9/11. None the less, Brown said she made connections during those two years that led to her later career endeavors.

What's the biggest mistake you've made in your career?

How did it affect you? What did you learn from it? And do you agree with Brown that everyone should make at least one big mistake? Brown's mistake was a job itself; I'm not sure, though, that everyone ought to take at least one job that doesn't work out. But big mistakes can happen in any context, and if you work long enough, they're bound to happen.

Personally, I'm early in my career, and while I've made some mistakes, I don't think I've made any mistakes yet at the level of Brown's. Maybe it's just a matter of time, but it's comforting to know that taking a risk that flops as big as Talk did doesn't have to be a career killer. Clearly, for Brown, it was anything but.

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Quick clicks: Getting started at #asae11

Day 2 of ASAE's 2011 Annual Meeting & Expo is underway, and the buzz around the meeting has continued as attendees traveled to St. Louis, participated in committee meetings, and enjoyed the opening night party under the Gateway Arch.

Be sure to check out the latest blog posts and articles about #asae11 from the community on the #asae11 Scoop It page:

#asae11 - Scoop.it 2011-08-07 11-44-26.png

Among the latest posts include David Patt, CAE, recapping the opening night party, Mark Golden, FASAE, CAE, sharing his thanks for the ASAE Key Award, and more.
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August 6, 2011

First impressions of #asae11

The following is a guest post from Scott D. Oser, president of Scott Oser Associates.

What did I first experience when I walked into the convention center in St. Louis?

The first thing I noticed was the buzz and the excitement about all of the different things going on. I immediately saw my friend and colleague, Shannon Watson of the Solar Energies Industry Association. Shannon was dressed very casually as she was getting ready to participate in the community activity organized for local stray pets.

Right after that I was very warmly approached by a volunteer asking me if I needed help to get my badge. Unfortunately, my badge was not available through the express registration area, but the main registration area worked with me to get it right. During this whole thing, which took about 15 minutes, there were people connecting and registering and hugging and shaking hands. The vibe was great.

The next person I ran into was Reggie Henry, ASAE chief information officer. If you know Reggie, he always has a smile on his face, and this time was no different. Reggie and I chatted some about how we were looking forward to a great meeting, which, if my first impression holds for the rest of the meeting, there is no doubt we will both have experienced.

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August 4, 2011

Quick clicks: Scoop 'em up edition

This week's installment of Quick Clicks is a hybrid. First, I'll introduce a new tool we're going to try out during the coming days to share what people are writing about ASAE's 2011 Annual Meeting & Expo. Then, your normal Quick Clicks programming will resume with some recent links on association management.

Annual Meeting links

We're fortunate that Annual Meeting attendees are a knowledge-sharing bunch, as there always seems to be healthy buzz in the blogosphere during the meeting. In past years, we've posted a traditional Quick Clicks post each day during the conference to point you to the latest articles and blog posts. This year, we're going to gather them all in one place with a new online tool called Scoop It.

Scoop It is a free online tool that's still in beta mode, so this is an experiment in progress for us. But, it's a convenient tool for curating links on the web, and the conference provides a focused, short-term event to build a collection of links around.

The widget below scrolls just a few of the latest links that we've "scooped" so far. Click anywhere on the widget to check out the full #asae11 Scoop It page.

The direct link is www.scoop.it/t/asae11, and if you're RSS-inclined, you can subscribe to a feed of all the "scooped" links here: www.scoop.it/t/asae11/rss.xml. As we continue to add links during the conference, please let us know what you think.

And now on to this week's links:

Research. "6 Tips to Make Membership Research Work," from Adina Wasserman via Erik Schonher's Experts in Membership Marketing blog.

Management models. Which model of organizational management do you follow: Holding, Strategic, Active, or Operationally Involved? Findings from a Booz & Company study, via Virgil Carter on the Plexus Consulting Group blog.

Small-staff. "Tips for leveraging people's skills and talents in the best possible ways" at a small-staff association, from Shannon Otto at MemberClicks.

Get IT help. Nonprofits can tap the minds of tech experts on TechSoup's forums, via a new program called "Donate Your Brain." This is an opportunity both to get IT help and to see an interesting microvolunteering initiative in action. (via Engaging Volunteers)

Staff bonuses. Good or bad? Laura Otten at the Nonprofit University Blog says staff bonuses are bad, calling them "offensive and difficult in the nonprofit sector."

Me vs. Us. Shelly Alcorn, CAE, writes, "I believe WIFM (short for "what's in it for me?") is the bane of association leadership. … The Boardroom belongs to WIFU instead (short for "what's in it for us?")"

Generations. Jamie Notter had to trim his training on generational diversity down to 50 minutes for a recent training session, he focused on three points: Theory matters, Learn about millennials, Embrace change. He recaps those points here.

Conference speakers. 17 tips for conference planners on how to help make speakers' experience, and thereby their audience's experience, a positive one.

Idea sharing. What's the tipping point for an idea to spread like a virus? One new study says it might take just 10 percent of people in a social network to adopt a view to ensure the idea spreads throughout the network.

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August 2, 2011

In search of publishing efficiency

A couple weeks ago, a new speaker was announced for the opening general session at ASAE's 2011 Annual Meeting & Expo. The only bad news is that this change renders moot my previous post about the topic of the opening general session, but the good news is that it offers the opportunity to discuss here another big challenge facing associations.

Tina Brown, editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast and Newsweek, will deliver the opening general session keynote. She has a lengthy and varied experience in journalism and publications, and her current role gives her a first-hand understanding of multi-platform publishing.

Associations are getting in on multi-platform publishing—print, web, mobile, tablet—but few if any associations have the resources and scope of a major consumer publication. So, the name of the game is efficiency, and that's the question I hope Brown can shed some light on:

How can associations deliver content to their members in multiple formats without also multiplying work and resources?

It's a complicated question with complicated answers. I'm increasingly doubtful that creating new, tailored content for every platform that comes along will ever be a cost-effective strategy. But with that said, I struggle to make the connections between content created for a print publication and useful repurposing for a smartphone (or vice versa, or for tablets, or for the web).

Brown may have some interesting ideas about efficiency in publishing, but that will be just the beginning of the conversation. I'm eager to hear from fellow association professionals, as well, about what has and has not worked for them so far as they navigate the new publishing environment.

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