March 17, 2009

A Twitter experiment

As you may have seen, Twitter is becoming an important part of more and more conferences--providing instant audience feedback as well as serving as a kind of combined discussion and group notetaking tool. But, as some bloggers have pointed out, it can be difficult to sift through large and sometimes chaotic Twitter streams to find the most important information, especially at conferences where active groups of Twitterers are posting throughout the day (and, in many cases, the night as well).

We were lucky enough to see some great Twitter activity during the recent Great Ideas Conference, so we decided to play with it at bit and see if there's a way to boil the information down and present it more simply. Summer Faust, an editor here at ASAE & The Center, went through all of the Tweets marked with the #ideas09 hashtag and tried to organize the "notes" Tweets (as opposed to more social ones) into a format that Great Ideas attendees and those who didn't attend could find useful.

You can see what she came up with on the Great Ideas website. You'll notice that she's separated them into several categories: "Conference Takeaways" is for notes that don't seem to be connected to a specific education session, while "Attendee Feedback" is for comments about the conference itself. The remainder of the Tweets are organized under the name of the education session they're based on.

The whole point of this experiment was to find ways to add value to the great Tweets posted during the conference, so we'd appreciate any feedback you might have. What do you think? Is this reorganized version more useful than the raw Twitterstream? Less useful? Is it worthwhile to provide a boiled-down version of the Twitterstream in this way? Are there ways it could be better--or entirely different approaches that you would suggest? (If there are any other associations doing something similar that have advice to share, that would be great too!)

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March 5, 2009

Great Ideas, one more time

I've been gathering up Great Ideas-related links over the last few days to share with you:

- The vibrant volunteerism unsession is continuing on Facebook.

- The unsession also continues online: Lynn Morton at the SNAP blog is the latest person to post her thoughts about ad-hoc volunteer opportunities.

- The Hourglass Blog writes about generations at Great Ideas.

- Alli Gerkman at the Next Generation Event blog has some comments on one of the videos shot at Great Ideas and what it says about repurposing education content online.

- Some notes from the wiki session at Great Ideas have been posted in the Associapedia wiki.

- Jamie Notter posted twice about the results of the Idea Lab on leadership lessons from 80s music. Warning: If you remember these songs, reading these posts will get them stuck in your head.

- Our newest Acronym blogger, Art Hsieh, posted on his own blog about what he learned from Patti Digh's general session presentation.

- Elizabeth Weaver Engel posted twice about her Great Ideas experience, once on the Beaconfire Wire blog and once on her own Thanks for Playing blog.


March 4, 2009

Dipping the proverbial toe, or jumping into the deep end?

Hi and thanks for taking the time to peruse through a first time blog entry. As a later-comer to the not-so-new world of social media I wanted to find out first hand how to relate to these forms of communication. I am not entirely sure how integrative I want this all in my professional and personal lives. Yet the potential of social media to interconnect people in new ways is both intriguing and exciting. At the Great Ideas conference I decided to go “all in” and really follow other association bloggers who were present, listen to the discussions and try my hand (okay, pecking fingers) at tweeting content during the sessions.

Thinking about it afterwards, I felt both exhilarated and a little overwhelmed about the experience. On one hand, listening to the live discussion and watching it translate into an online event through Twitter was amazing. At times there were discussions happening outside the classroom regarding the topic; then the occasional question came from the online world back into the session itself. Amazing! Here was an ability to engage an audience without significant high tech engagement and still carry the significance. Simultaneously I was following other folks tweeting about the other sessions I couldn’t attend. Wow!

On the other hand, at times I simply couldn’t keep up with the flow. I am a bit older and a bit set in the ways I absorb information; as I clumsily worked my smartphone keyboard I would be distracted and miss part of the live discussion. The twitter stream was hard to grasp too - having to scroll back up to track the online comments, or doing a search for a hashtag were cumbersome tasks. Sometimes I felt that I couldn’t do justice to what the speaker was trying to communicate in 140 characters, resulting in an inadequate comment or not sending one at all. As a regular presenter and educator I wanted to not denigrate the information, even as the topic was ironically about social media.

So, a week after my own internal experiment, where am I? Still interested and intrigued - heck, I’m even willing to embarrass myself through the occasional blog. I’m tweeting less, for which my nonassociation friends are grateful. My posts are more directed, working on content as well as style. I haven’t yet begun to figure out how to integrate/separate pure personal from pure professional. I’m not feeling as unconsciously incompetent (not knowing what I don’t know) as I did two weeks ago; yet I’m not sure if I’ve reached conscious incompetency (knowing what I don’t know). I certainly do thank the ASAE folks who helped me to work and understand this technology, whether in sessions or online. That’s the wonder and power of associations - getting great ideas from folks willing to help out!

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March 2, 2009

Great or Challenging?

A little late to the post Great Ideas discussion, sorry. So ya, was out in Miami last week, and co-presented in two sessions (one on wikis and one debating the death of membership). On the whole, I massively enjoyed the trip and got a lot of value from being there. So, Great Ideas was totally ROI positive.

That said, I found the content to be insufficiently challenging. Not that the content was of poor quality. It was good content, say on par with Annual. But, I guess I was expecting every session to be really out there in terms of level of innovation or controversy of ideas (like my debate on the death of membership). In short, I was expecting way more heretical content than solid status quo content.

There were a few gems... The Dan Roam visual problem solving keynote was great. The '80s music leadership session was way out there. The volunteering unsession was a cool experiment. And a small few others...

Different definition/expectation of "great", I guess.

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February 26, 2009

Post-game analysis, Great Ideas style

Conversation about Great Ideas is continuing online:

David Gammel wants to empower you to make changes to your website! In a recent post on the High Context blog, he shares his Great Ideas slides about how to do just that.

Jeff Cobb of the Mission to Learn blog was inspired by Dan Roam's presentation at Great Ideas (I particularly like the drawing Jeff shares).

At the face2face blog, Sue Pelletier continues the conversation about Twitter at Great Ideas.

More Great Ideas videos are now available online, including Patti Digh's general session presentation, as well as Bob Carr of SHRM talking about meeting strategies in a down economy, Howard Horowitz of the American College of Healthcare Executives on taking education programs online, and Carolyn Fazio of Fazio International on creating contracts with your volunteers.

Ann Oliveri has some thoughts about being human at the Zen of Associations blog, inspired by Patti Digh’s talk and other conversations she had at Great Ideas.

And last but not least, a bunch of new photos were added to the Great Ideas Flickr pool since we all returned from Miami.

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February 25, 2009

It's not an idea, but it sure is a great line

This from Matt DeMarco from the American Farm Bureau Federation at his session on engaging volunteers:

When someone asks you to volunteer, "what's the politically correct way to say 'no'?"


"I don't have time."

Love that line, by far my favorite of the conference.

And there was an idea attached to it—a really good one. You're getting the politically correct version of "no" because the ask isn't right. You need to engage the prospective volunteer in conversation, ascertain if they are most likely to volunteer because they want:

-to make a difference
-personal or professional development
-social opportunities

From there, tailor the ask to the desire.

See the handouts from the presentation for the next month.

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Another way of looking at Great Ideas

Wordle: Great Ideas

MariAnne Woehrle (@agnewfarms) created this Wordle based on the Great Ideas Twitter stream, and kindly gave me permission to post it here. Click on it to see it in better detail.

It's an interesting way of zeroing in on the central issues discussed over Twitter during the conference. I really like that "members" jumps clearly to the forefront ... what do you think?

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Post-Great Ideas quick clicks

- Steve Drake at Association Voices shares his impressions of Great Ideas.

- Ann Oliveri looks at Great Ideas as an ideas ecosystem.

- The Great Ideas Twitter stream hosted a lot of interesting feedback and discussion around various conference sessions; new ideas have been posted since the conference ended, so it's worth checking out again if you haven't visited recently.

- Speaking of Twitter, Cynthia D'Amour wonders what future impact Twittering will have on conferences like Great Ideas, while Ben Martin shares some tips for speakers on how to handle an audience of Twitterers. (I've also heard them called Tweeple, but that makes me imagine an audience full of Weeble people for some reason ...) And Julie Hewett shares some thoughts on her experience following the conference via Twitter.

- Maddie Grant at the Socialfishing blog saw some themes emerging over the course of the conference.

- Peggy Hoffman has an update on the volunteerism unsession at Great Ideas.

- On a related note, Dave Sabol's post for the unsession attracted some great discussion in comments, which lead Dave to post a follow-up with his thoughts on what it means to volunteer.

- Tony Rossell has some analysis of the ASAE & The Center economic impact study that was presented at Great Ideas.

- For anyone who was interested in the "Success From Failure" session at the conference, some good thoughts on how to learn from organizational failures (and successes) are available in this article on the Army's After Action Reports (via The Bamboo Project).


Blogging About Great Ideas Was a Great Idea

I don't know which was worse yesterday: having a truly a fabulous 3-day exchange of great ideas, positive energy and optimism end, or being forced to leave the sun and palm trees and return to frigid DC. But then again, it was of course great to be back home with my husband and kids, and armed with a bunch of great ideas to explore and share.

I am really grateful to have had the opportunity to blog for Acronym throughout the conference. Not only was it nice to be able to add to Lisa and the other conference bloggers’ perspectives, knowing I had to blog about my impressions really enhanced the value of the meeting for me. As I sat in sessions, I had to do more than just listen and take notes; I had to be thinking of how I could weave the information presented into blog posts that were (hopefully) worth reading and would add value to both attendees and people who weren’t able to attend in person.

If my task had been just to take notes and write a report about the information presented, it would have been all about summing up the facts logically and in a set format—the equivalent of a book report. I would have been focused on making sure I got every word down correctly and not missing any detail. But blogging is about more than just presenting facts; it’s about taking information or experiences and looking at them from a different angle. It’s about weaving facts and personal opinions into something (hopefully) worth a person’s reading time. After all, the handouts and session recordings are already available; the posts on Acronym need to offer something more than just a recap of what’s already available.

I have to say one of my biggest takeaways from the conference was realizing that if you experience things as if you have to blog about them, it’s a lot more interesting and enriching than just listening, taking notes as if for a test, and, as also with tests, probably forgetting most of it as soon as you close your notebook.

One of my favorite sessions was “What Do You Think? Are You a Genius?” Not only was Nancy Reisz a captivating presenter, but the ideas she presented relate directly to what I’m trying to say here. She talked about avoiding “I have to…” “I can’t….” and “I shouldn’t….” thinking. She said, memorably, “Stop shoulding all over yourself.” (sound that out loud to understand the humor). Totally true with regard to not only blogging but social media as a whole.

With so many sessions about social media, one resounding sentiment was the notion of giving up control and not letting the “what it?” component keep your association from embracing new ways of engaging members. As we all hopefully learned, the reality is that, like it or not, we don’t have control so there’s no sense in worrying about it. Just as “should” and “can’t” limit your effectiveness, productivity and success, not embracing social technologies will yield the same results: stale thinking and, ultimately, member offerings that don’t meet their evolving needs and expectations.

Even if your association isn’t quite ready to embrace social technologies, how about starting to delve into them yourself if you already haven’t? If you’re not on Facebook, sign up and check it out. If you didn’t follow the #ideas09 twitterstream, take a look at it now and see how it worked and why it was valuable. Do a blog or twitter search for keywords that relate to your association and see what your members may or may not already be saying about you. And, if you don’t already have a personal blog, how about starting one? Even if nobody reads it, it will help you explore and flesh out your own great ideas.

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February 24, 2009

Creativity at the farm bureau: Getting volunteers engaged

The folks at the American Farm Bureau Federation had a problem. Their membership has grown and grown and grown—every year for 40-some years. Their problem obviously wasn’t about getting members, it was about volunteers at the local level not being engaged.

To combat the problem, as Matt DeMarco and Margaret Wolff from the federation explained in their Great Ideas learning lab, they developed a series of training sessions, with a board game (Make It Magnetic: How to Attract and Keep Unbeatable Volunteers) as both ice breaker and educational development. The board game is rigged, of course, and has cards with scenarios, but all the scenarios are bad and no one can make any progress. Here a few of my favorite scenario cards from the game:

When you show up to volunteer at the annual meeting, someone hands you a stack of envelopes to stuff and says, “You should be able to handle this. It’s a real no-brainer.” Go back to start.

Your shoes get ruined because at the last minute you are asked to give tours of the dairy barn instead of working in the refreshment stand. Lose a turn.

At your first meeting, one of the board members leans over to you and says, “Being a Farm Bureau volunteer is easy work. All you have to do is show up and sit through the meeting. Then you get free cookies and coffee.” Go back 1 space.

What a joke! Every year we talk about new ideas for the annual meeting. But when it comes time to plan, we do the same thing, right down to the green beans and chocolate cake. Go back 2 spaces.

No one talks during the board meetings. They wait until they get to the parking lot, then trash the president behind his back. Go back 2 spaces.

(Don't worry there's a different set of cards to play with for the end of the training. A sample: "Your child comes home from school with a Farm Facts booklet donated by the county Farm Bureau.")

A snapshot of the game:


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Great Ideas day 3 in photos

We all enjoyed our last day in the warm Miami weather at Great Ideas. Here's a few snapshots from the Great Ideas Flickr pool:


Getting started in the morning takes fuel.


General session speaker Patti Digh.



Attendees at the general session.


Patti Digh's presentation notes, back-of-the-napkin style.


One of the many panels of experts who presented at Great Ideas.


Attendees at an Idea Lab.


Attendees at a CEO Bootcamp session.


The group's last lunch together.



A final look at Miami.


February 23, 2009

Great Ideas Day 2 - A TRUE Share Point

Day 2 of Great Ideas had a great deal to live up to…and certainly did. Today I spent some time going to sessions to further my own development. Attending the “I Think I Know What I Think You Said” with Paul Endress completely opened my eyes. He started off with a true stumper. “The result of the communication is the responsibility of the communicator”. So many times we get frustrated with people for not understanding how something we said could be misinterpreted without ignoring the best way to divulge the information to people who have different representational systems: auditory, visual, etc. If we can appeal to their systems we can build rapport giving us an even further communication advantage.

We learned ways our unconscious mind is our most important ally in communication. In doing an exercise where we tried to mirror a partner when speaking with them it came incredibly more naturally than you would think. It seems our mind takes control and attempts to make communication situations even easier for us.

Then of course “ran” to the session called “The Value of Associations in Challenging Economic Times” led by Monica Dignam, anxious to study the results of ASAE’s survey of 97 associations and how they are dealing with the difficult economic times. Now there was some bad news as well as some good news. It seems a number of organizations membership is doing ok during the time, despite everyone’s initial thought that it would be hurting. Doing a quick survey of the room you could tell the main concern with everyone is conference attendance with travel budgets being slashed or frozen. However, another fact that rose to the forefront was that one of the most valuable things members feel the organizations provide is networking and the one place we should all try to market are the networking opportunities our meetings provide. This year might require a different approach to our marketing campaigns in the past; it’s now time for us to put in black and white the “take aways” from the conference and not so much the social events. It looks as though ASAE will be doing the study again in June, so it will be interesting to see how the results differ.

The session took an interesting turn once the results were reviewed the audience began bring forth their own ideas. We learned ways groups are attacking marketing pushing education and not the parties, how they are working with hotels to avoid attrition offering scholarships for registration getting them into the contracted hotels to take up those rooms. This was truly an exchange of ideas session and looking around the room hearing the concerns of fellow association execs it’s obvious we can all learn A LOT from each other and these sessions have provided a great face-to-face "share point".

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A great close to a great conference

What would you do if you only have 37 more days?? I am sure most of us will be mentioning this morning's closing speaker, Patty Digh. Her talk was very personal and I was impressed with the emotional and intellectual response I had to her presentation. It was personal in the fact that I think, from observation, that it impacted each of us at a level much deeper than just our profession. She spoke about being able to live each day to the fullest and do those things that are a value to you. Don't do something because of fame you may receive or the it because it means something to you. Be selfish but selfless. Realize that you are part of a larger community and that what you do impacts that community as much as that community impacts you. The greatest idea is to take a step back and look at the big picture.

If you were unable to attend the meeting and are looking for a great takeaway, I do suggest looking at a copy of her book Life is a Verb. If anything, the pictures that are included will have a small impact on you and your great perspective.

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Unsession ideas

There's an "unsession" on vibrant volunteerism in associations going on throughout Great Ideas (brought to us by the Component Relations Council). The session has included both face to face conversation in the unsession area and "virtual" discussion via flipchart. The flipcharts are set up around the area with questions at the top; attendees can leave their answers whenever they'd like.

Reading over the flipcharts, there's some interesting thoughts being shared. (For those of you who aren't here, leave a comment with answers of your own to these questions!)

In one word, list your favorite volunteer management tool.

- Telephone
- Email
- Twitter
- Conversation
- Trust/truth
- Listen
- Authentic appreciation and a hug [hey, that's not one word!]

Why do you volunteer?

- Fun
- Love
- Purpose
- Loyalty
- Improving my personal brand
- Network
- Give back

What's the most difficult volunteer skill to teach?

- Set priorities
- Delegation
- Group play
- Letting go
- Time management
- Conflict resoltion
- Culture of inquiry
- Innovation
- Doing rather than thinking
- Giving up ownership

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Living change

Patti Digh, author of Life Is a Verb, spoke to a packed and emotional room at Great Ideas this morning--her talk moved a lot of people (myself included). Reading over my notes, it's hard to pick one central point to highlight.

One comment of Patti's that really spoke to me personally was this: "We complain about the culture we're in as if we're only visitors here--but we create the culture!" It's easy to complain to colleagues about things you can't do because "our culture," "the board," or "the higher-ups" won't allow it. But, Patti argued, your choices are part of what keeps that culture stuck in that same mode.

Can you go to work tomorrow morning and announce to everyone that "We're going to be completely different from now on!" and have it magically happen? Probably not. But you can make choices that lead to the culture you want rather than the culture you have. If you make those choices consistently and are committed to the change you want to make, you'll inspire others. And once others are making choices that reinforce yours ... powerful change can happen.

Admittedly, that sounds easier than it really is; making choices that go against your organization's existing culture, and making those choices consistently over time, is hard. But it can be done. It's been done. You could do it too.

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Great Ideas day two in photos

Here are just a few of the images posted yesterday to the Great Idea Flickr pool:


Breakfast at the Doral.




Attendees at Cooking Up Leadership, a special program hosted by Rhea Blanken.


Today's general session speaker, Patti Digh, with Scott Steen, CEO of the American Ceramic Society.


A volunteer idea shared back-of-the-napkin style.



The evening reception, poolside.


February 22, 2009

Quick clicks from Great Ideas

Great Ideas information and commentary is popping up all over:

- For those of you who missed Dan Roam's general session talk yesterday, video is available online.

- The Great Ideas Twitterati have taken some great notes and raised some equally great questions today. To read what they've posted, visit this Twitter search page or this Twitterfountain created by Maddie Grant.

- Some additional bloggers have posted in response to the volunteerism questions raised for Great Ideas, including Bob Wolfe, Maggie McGary, and Dave Sabol.

- Cynthia D'Amour has some constructive criticism about the Great Ideas handouts.


Great Ideas...Great Start

The first day of Ideas kicked off with napkins and learning where the start of most great ideas come from…on the back of cocktail napkins and this is true. For example the Opening Session showed that this is how Southwest Airlines got its start just a simple drawing on the back of a napkin, many great bands have written huge number one hits that started on the back of cocktail napkins, songs we know and love today. The speaker had all of us draw on a napkin with a symbol representing ourselves and the other representing “our problem”. Then within the problem shape he had us divide it between the who, what, when, where, and why of our problem. Now, I am no artist nor do I even claim to be but I was really encouraged when I thought large companies have been founded on this principle and it sort of opened my eyes to not forget the basics. The problem may not be solved on the back of a napkin but we can at least get an analytical view of the issue. Separating all of the issues surrounding the problem might be the first step to overcoming that problem. He showed the how our mind deals with each of the questions, how for the “where” our mind will locate an object and if not moving simply disregard it but then if it begins to move the “where” mindset spots the object and tells our brain how to react…is it coming at me? Is the object walking away from me? Is it moving in a threatening or friendly manner?

Then I decided to venture into the 15 strategies for Legally Hiring, Motivating, and Retaining Only the Best Employees. This session was a HUGE EYE OPENER! Just when you think your experiences are the craziest that could be out there, someone walks in and tops it immediately. We learned of people who “fudge” entire resumes and experience…even fake references with friends posing as former employers/employees. Jeffrey Pargament outlined several methods to keep your association safe from potential legal situations. Methods the interviewer should use or be trained in as well as some red flags to look for, the room held a somewhat of a group therapy vibe where if you think your problem was bad…listen to these examples an excellent session by far!

With Social Media being one of the main buzzwords at the moment and wanting to learn more about using them on a professional level since I’m well versed in how to use them on a social level I decided to attend the Social Media Lab: Leveraging the Power of Real Time Communications with Lindy Dreyer as well as the representative from ASAE & The Center Social Media content. The session mainly focused on two very specific aspects of Social Media blogging as well as “Twitter”. Lindy Dreyer the resident Twitter expert was incredibly animated to follow during the session, now knowing Twitter I had more specific concerns with a professional use of the software. We have started a Twitter feed for my association and because I use Twitter personally am suddenly in charge of the Association Tweets. I learned a great deal of things to try and things to keep in mind when using Twitter as a tool for the association. There was hesitation in my association about losing some of the branding if we had too many twitter feeds, but listening to Lindy and ASAE I think it is a GREAT idea to get the twitter pages to feed into each other, having separate ones for the larger conference and one for the association as a whole that sort of guides visitors to those pages for the most up to date information.

There was a book mentioned about Being a Purple Cow? This book sort of helps drive you or your organization to be extraordinary and with these times we all want to stand out and be extraordinary not only to our members but to our industries we service. I’m anxious to get back and start putting as much effort into these Twitter pages as I do my own. Hearing that others have had to sort of help their associations buy-in to the program was a huge relief! I truly thought I was the only one that had to convince anyone of the potential possibilities this could hold for associations.

All of this JUST from Day #1! I’ll post another tomorrow with all of the buckets of ideas I’m carrying around from today’s session. Happy Napkin Drawing, Happy Employing, and Happy Tweeting until then.


Strategies for a rough economy

Monica Dignam, vice president of industry & market research for ASAE & The Center, presented findings from the just released: Impact Study: Beliefs, Behaviors, and Attitudes in Response to the Economy.

(See the full white paper on our new Economy Resources Online, a constantly updated new web page devoted to leading associations in a turbulent economic climate.)

Here are some of the ideas/suggestions for what associations are doing from session attendees:

- Waiving dues for a year for unemployed members.

- Expanding the “retired” member status with lower registration fees and less expensive dues to unemployed members.

- Enhancing the career services offerings, including adding mentoring opportunities, resume critiquing and commenting, and information on how to do a job search (in a profession where people may not have had to look for employment in a long time).

- Invite a group of members to a roundtable discussion to find out what issues they are having, bring in experts/economists to talk to them, and develop a white paper or other product for members.

- If attrition clauses are kicking in, use it to provide “scholarships” in the form of free housing to selected or hard-hit members. Involve chapters to help add value and possibly share cost burden.

- Rethink the annual meeting, replace big, expensive bash with low-key networking opportunities designed to get attendees talking with each other.

- Give attendees a $20 Visa giftcard instead of offering an expensive lunch or dinner.

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Are Virtual Challenges Really More Challenging?

I’m the first to admit the idea of virtual meetings kind of freaks me out. The sheer number of things that could go wrong and set members into a tizzy is almost enough to put me off it entirely: what if they aren’t computer-savvy enough to even log on? What if there’s a technical glitch that brings the event to a grinding halt? What if they aren’t able to sit in front of a computer for an entire day’s worth of sessions? A million what-ifs, all culminating in an avalanche of irate members demanding their money back.

I contemplated this stuff as I sat in yesterday’s session, Making the Transition from Onsite Conferences to Virtual Sessions. Which I arrived at 15 minutes late, by the way, because first my room wasn’t ready, then the elevator was out and I couldn’t get to the room, then I had to rush back to the main hotel where the meeting room was. Then it was hot in the room; then cold. I was following Twitter while listening to the presenter and listening to the side-conversations that were going on throughout the session.

It dawned on me that maybe the challenges of virtual meetings aren’t all that different than those of live meetings. While there are many distractions when you’re participating in a meeting from your desk at home or work, there are equally many—if different—distractions at live meetings.

Or am I just too ADHD for live meetings?

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E-learning: Do something!

I am at a Great Ideas learning lab this morning on developing e-learning programs from face-to-face programs. Lots of ideas and strategies, but one message was certainly clear:

Howard Horwitz, VP of education for the American College of Healthcare Executives, made a great comment: “When you think you are riding the curve, you may already be behind it.” It’s ok to not be on the bleeding edge, particularly if your members don’t demand it, but there is a real danger with the wait-and-see approach, and that is falling behind.

When talking about an experience at a previous position, he says, “We could have gotten product out faster. We should have looked at early adopters faster and we would have been even more successful.”

Tony Ellis, CAE, director of education for the National Association of College Stores, echoed a similar sentiment: “Do something.” He says he succumbed to the urge to want to get it right, and he studied and researched and tested. As months stretched into more than a year, he realized he just had to do something. Technology, it’s use, formats—all of it is changing really, really fast. Accept that you won’t be fully informed, decide on something that you think is right for your organization, and be flexible enough to adapt based on results and future trends.

The excellent handouts for the session will be available online for a month or so from now.


Great Ideas day one in photos

There was a lot going on at Great Ideas yesterday! Here are some snapshots from the Great Ideas Flickr pool, just to give you an idea.


Morning in Miami.


Waiting for the general session to begin.


General session speaker and Back of the Napkin author Dan Roam.


The view from the audience, and, below, some napkin sketches from attendees:





Dan Roam signs books following his presentation.


Getting ready for the reception.


In the middle of the action at the reception.


A view of Miami's South Beach.


February 21, 2009

Opening your mind

A great idea can be completely wasted if you can't open your mind to it. The session I attended this afternoon, "Are You a Genius?" really drove that home to me.

At one point during the session, presenter Nancy Riesz asked us how many times we've heard a new idea from someone else and shot it down. I know I've been guilty of that from time to time! Often, when it happens, I find myself thinking something like "We've tried that before" or "That just doesn't work with our production schedule/workload/etc."

Her question was a good reminder to me that I have to constantly build the habit of listening to new ideas with an open mind--trying to focus on how they could be possible rather than why they're not. Which can be a difficult habit to build at times ...

Another interesting concept she shared with us was the idea of graphing the obstacles you face in implementing a particular idea. She suggested graphing them within a four-quadrant box, with "illusionary" and "real" on one axis and "flexible" and "rigid" on the other. Riesz told us that only five percent of obstacles fall into the "rigid" and "real" box--and the rest can be dealt with. I might give that graph a try the next time I'm trying to decide if we can fit a new project into our schedule.

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Member Databases

As an association professional, how do you use your membership data? As the membership manager at NACUBO, I use our member data on a daily basis. This can include updating information, downloading reports or queries, adding a new member, and merging profiles. How well we use our data can determine how effectively we are communicating to our members.

I’d like to highlight one of the programs I attended today called “Get Personal with Your Database to Provide Relevant Messaging”. How are you communicating to your membership using your database and are you effectively using this information to increase renewals and attendance? By using purchases, event attendance and survey data, you may be able to ‘predict’ your renewal rate. At my association, I am currently working to update the data that we use to process dues in April. Because this is my first year in this position and with this database, I am learning as I go. I used to be adverse to data….’how boring’ I used to think, but now I understand the relevance and importance of correct data.

This session gave me some GREAT ideas about innovative ways to retain our members this upcoming year. It also reminded me to revisit our newest members (1-3 years). I think that in the current state of the economy, membership professionals are looking for creative ways to retain members and increase their ROI on membership.


The power of clarity

Dan Roam, the author of the book The Back of the Napkin, is speaking now at the opening general session of Great Ideas. He argues that pictures have the power to solve problems--and we all have the power to solve problems using pictures.

He shared some examples of "napkin pictures" that have solved problems: a sketch of the intial routes flown by Southwest Airlines, some presidential sketches, and the "Lafferty Curve" that launched supply-side economics. One thing jumped out at me: In nearly every case, the problem-solving sketches were simple ones. Not complicated, not pages of data, but very simple sketches of at most a few lines.

To me, this demonstrates the power of the simple. More complicated pictures wouldn't be as persuasive or as powerful.

As I was typing the sentence above, Roam quoted Bill Gates, saying, “The barrier to change is not too little caring, it is too much complexity.” Is complexity a barrier to getting things done at your association?

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Early morning Great Ideas photos

Some of the Great Ideas Flickr users started posting early today. Here's some of what they saw:






Time for some great ideas!


February 20, 2009

Great Ideas RSS feed

For those of you who would be interested in getting Acronym posts from the Great Ideas Conference piped directly to your RSS feed reader, the wonderful Amy Hissrich in our web department has set up an RSS feed:

(And if you're interested in subscribing to all Acronym posts, the more general RSS feed is available at

Happy reading!


February 19, 2009

Quick clicks: Talkin' about Great Ideas

A bunch of bloggers (and others) are talking about Great Ideas this week:

- The #ideas09 hashtag is already in use on Twitter. You can see the latest Tweets related to the conference here.

- Peggy Hoffman is organizing an unsession on volunteering at Great Ideas, so she asked some other bloggers to write about some short-term, ad-hoc volunteer opportunities they'd love to have. Bruce Hammond, Maddie Grant, Jeff De Cagna, KiKi L'Italien, and Elizabeth Weaver Engel have responded with their ideas.

- Maddie Grant started a similar conversation focused around word of mouth; here's a good roundup of the responses so far.

- Peter Turner shares his thoughts on the biggest mistake associations make when trying to go global in advance of his session at Great Ideas.

- David Gammel is getting ready to present at Great Ideas, as is Maggie McGary, Elizabeth Weaver Engel, and Jamie Notter.

- Jeff De Cagna has reposted podcast interviews with the Great Ideas keynote speakers, Dan Roam and Patti Digh.

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February 18, 2009

So Many Choices, So Litte Time

This morning I realized I've been so focused on the fact that I'll be presenting at Great Ideas, I hadn't actually given any thought to what sessions I plan on attending. After a quick glance through the program I realize it's going to be a tougher decision than I'd thought. There are so many great sessions covering such a wide variety of subjects--I need to figure out a way to clone myself so I can attend them all.

As I said in my previous post about Great Ideas, this will be the first ASAE conference I've attended. Up until now, any conference I've been to has been strictly of the one-track variety; I showed up and sat in the same room from 9-5 each day (barring breaks and lunch, of course). While those meetings are obviously very useful and I've learned a lot from them, the idea lab format is actually much more my style. Let's just say that sitting still and paying attention for hours at a time isn't my biggest strength.

But, as with all things in life, being presented with a bunch of choices and having to pick from them is usually not an easy task. In this case, do I stick with sessions that deal directly with my current job—web and/or tech—or do I expand my horizons and go with things that are totally outside scope of my current position, such as leadership, membership or marketing? If the whole idea of this meeting is to spark creativity and new ways of thinking and operating, is attending sessions on things I’m already involved in on a daily basis counterproductive? Or is that the way to go, since even though those are topics I’m immersed in every day, I know the presenters and attendees will shed new light on them? Maybe I'll try the close my eyes and see where my finger lands on the page trick--that would probably yield an interesting schedule.

How do you decide which sessions to attend?

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Anyone can have a big idea

As I'm looking ahead to Great Ideas, I've actually been thinking a lot about Chris Sacca's presentation at last month's Technology Conference. A lot of the advice Sacca had to share is directly relevant to how we pursue great ideas and turn them into a reality.

I was particularly inspired by a comment Sacca made while he was talking about some of the startup companies that his venture capital firm works with. "On $6000, which is basically rent and ramen noodles, these guys build companies," he said. His argument was that, thanks to today's technology, you don't need to be a big company with big resources to build something big. What you need is an idea and the will to pursue it.

A few pieces of advice from Sacca about pursuing great ideas:

- Start now!
- "Don't waste time on picking off the low-hanging fruit."
- Keep your eye on the possibilities, not the problems; "what prevents innovation in most cultures is focusing on the obstacles to the process," Sacca said.
- Be humble and avoid hubris. Let others do what they do well; you should do what you do well.


February 17, 2009

Gearing Up for Great Ideas

In gearing up for what is my first Great Ideas Conference, I wanted to be ready for when that great idea hits. I bought some brand new pens, a notepad for my thought-provoking notes that are sure to come of the meeting, highlighters to mark around as well as decorate around the great idea that will surely come as a result of this conference, even a brand new thinking cap (aka excuse to buy a new baseball cap).

However, the more I thought about what makes a “Great Idea” the more I realized I may be putting a bit too much pressure on myself before even arriving in Miami. A great idea can come in the shape of any size; I don’t need to walk away from Miami having discovered a new fuel source or the newest cooking appliance for a late-night infomercial. Even a small cost-saving idea can become a great idea, especially in these times. Conferences like the Great Ideas Conference are so vital; they are an important avenue to engage with peers about how they are handling the economic downturn and how they feel they’ll come out after the smoke clears. The Great Ideas Conference just might be able to provide some tools that will help our associations continue to weather this storm.

One thing I am looking forward to is being able to network and connect with fellow association professionals to not only to engage in learning at the various sessions but getting a chance to connect on a personal level to understand how things are going in the rest of our industry and outside of my own backyard. What new initiatives are associations doing as a response to the difficult times that are lay ahead? What OLD initiatives have weathered the test of time and continue to work today?

A great idea doesn’t have to be a BIG idea or even a new one and I look forward to walking away with mine, big or small, new or old…but most certainly incredibly decorated on my new notepad.


Great Ideas

As in most of the programs I have “attended” at ASAE, I fall into the young professional end of the spectrum. I entered the association world about 4 years ago after beginning a career in higher education administration. Now instead of working FOR higher level college administrators, I work WITH them. I have attended multiple Membership Idea Swaps, Membership/ Marketing conferences, online programs, and the Future Leaders conference 2008. I have learned and gathered a wealth of information from each experience and I am looking forward to attending my first Great Ideas conference and sharing all that I learn.

As a young professional, it is all about putting in your time. It is all about challenging how things are done, suggesting new innovative ideas, and taking on those projects that you hope will provide learning opportunities for the future. I value the fact that at any program or conference, we are each surrounded by so much experience and knowledge. Through each interaction, we are expanding our network and pool of resources. In reflection, my most valuable take-away from the Future Leaders conference was the close network of fellow young professionals and their ideas and insights. I continuously use them to bounce ideas around, ask for suggestions to problems, and use as a sounding board. In essence, they are a “mini” Great Ideas group.

I am looking forward to Miami and to all of the Great Ideas I will be able to pass along to my colleagues and to all of you through Acronym.


February 13, 2009

Quick clicks: Great ideas from other bloggers

In the spirit of the upcoming Great Ideas conference, I've collected some links to great posts by other bloggers:

- New blogs are great ideas, right? Jamie Notter and Eric Lanke have launched a new blog to facilitate discussion on generational issues, called the Hourglass blog. Some other new blogs in the association space that I've found recently include Steven Davis, CAE, on Leadership, and Association Voices.

- What if your association had a meeting where members could feel totally open and free to ask any question? Cindy Butts wonders on the AE on the Verge blog.

- Kevin Holland suggests another brilliant "unspoken truth" for association leaders.

- Also from Kevin Holland, an interesting post on communities as commodities--with a whole bunch of interesting comments on associations, networking, community, and more.

- The blog has an interesting post on profiting from a green meeting strategy.

- Tony Rossell has eight important tips for membership marketing campaigns.

- Frank Fortin has posted a very interesting example of an un-RFP.

- The i on Nonprofits blog shares three examples of inspired fundraising/awareness campaigns.

- Michele Martin at The Bamboo Project blog has some thoughts on the tyranny of dead ideas.

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A second welcome to the Great Ideas blogging team

I’d like to welcome one more guest blogger to our Great Ideas blogging crew: Matthew D’Uva, CEO of SOCAP International. I’m looking forward to his perspective on what he sees and hears throughout the conference.

We’re grateful to Matthew, Maggie, Kristin, and Steven for sharing their time and insights with us over the next few weeks. Welcome to Acronym!


Re-Emerging at Great Ideas

Even though the weather has been decent in DC this past week, I still can’t wait to be in Miami! I’m really excited about being invited to blog for Acronym and am looking forward to sharing my experiences at Great Ideas. While I already feel very much a part of the ASAE community, thanks to this blog, YAP, and all the friends I’ve made in the Twittersphere, this will actually be the first ASAE meeting I’ve attended “IRL” (in real life).

Are my social media junkie colors showing yet?

In line with Aaron Wolowiec’s post last week emerging professionals, I’d classify myself as a “re-emerging professional.” In his post Aaron proposed the term “emerging professional” as a label for someone with limited experience yet striving to take his/her career to the next level. In my case, I am not young (I’m 40) and actually have many years of experience in the association world. After I graduated from college, I spent seven years working my way up the career ladder and establishing myself as an association professional. I then took an eight-year detour to stay home with my kids. Five years ago I re-entered the association world and, with my ego firmly in check, started back at square one as a part-time editorial assistant. After a lot of zigging and zagging I’m slowly but surely making progress…but the operative word is SLOWLY.

In the same way a young professional’s lack of experience is hard to overcome, it is perhaps harder still to overcome and stomach the notion of having to “put in your dues” when you’ve already been there, done that. On one hand, titles don’t really matter—it’s more about what you have to offer and what you actually put into a job; on the other hand, titles still totally matter. While you may have all the knowledge and experience in world, having the word “assistant” in your title isn’t exactly a clout- enhancer when it comes to networking.

That is, in “real life” it’s hard; in the world of social media, all bets are off and the concept of titles defining authority, intelligence or experience pretty much goes out the window. If anyone is the poster child of this reality, it’s me. I’m presenting at Great Ideas solely by virtue of online networking. When Debra Stratton contacted me about joining her in her session, “From Boomers to Millennials: Tapping Social Media to Engage (and Excite!) Your Members,” she said I’d been recommended to her by two well-known and respected association professionals. While I was, by sheer coincidence, in a book group with one of them some 10 years ago, both of those people’s sole professional connection with/knowledge of me came from my comments on Acronym, my “tweets” and my blog posts. I’ve never met either of them in real life (save the book group connection, which doesn’t really count).

I love the fact that job title is irrelevant in the social media world; what matters are the thoughts and ideas you share. After all, from a member’s perspective, it’s not your title that matters; it’s the enthusiasm and dedication you—at any stage of your career--bring to the association.

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February 12, 2009

Welcome Great Ideas bloggers!

Now is the perfect time for associations to embrace some great ideas, don’t you think? We’re excited to share the Great Ideas Conference with you on Acronym.

Scott and I will be blogging from the conference, but we’re also being joined by some intrepid guest bloggers, who will be sharing their takeaways and insights over the course of the next several weeks.

Please welcome our Great Ideas guest bloggers: Maggie McGary, assistant content developer for the American-Speech-Language-Hearing Association; Kristin Witters, manager of member services at the National Association of College and University Business Officers; and Steven Stout, director of meetings and special events for the Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals.

Thanks to Maggie, Kristin, and Steven for being a part of the Acronym team, and for sharing their great ideas with us. I’m looking forward to seeing all of their perspectives here on the blog.