July 25, 2012

The 40-Year Lesson: Insights from a Retiring Association CEO

Caught in a deadline jam for Associations Now after a snafu that meant pulling several short articles, I was lucky enough to earn the sympathy and help of one of the great leadership icons of our community: CEO & President J. Clarke Price of the Ohio Society of CPAs.

Price is actually leaving us all after 40 years of service. He gave notice two years ago and will head out of the office in December to hopefully tee off on the golf courses of Hawaii and elsewhere, then delve into favorite cause-related activities. I had to cut a bunch of Clarke's comments because of space limitations in the magazine, so I want instead to share them here as advice and insights from one of our most admired colleagues.

1. Association CEOs must stop complaining about time pressures and embrace the huge responsibility they bear for the success of their association's social media strategy. "Social media is one of the differentiators today," says Clarke, who has been called a "Technology Superstar" by one of his industry's trade publications. "Too many CEOs--and occasionally myself included--dismiss social media by rationalizing 'I don't have time for that' when we really do need to be spending time in the social media universe. Whether it's blogging, Facebook, Twitter, or any of the social platforms, the CEO needs to be vocal as one of the loudest and clearest voices of the association and the profession or industry. I'm critical of myself, because I don't spend enough time being part of the social atmosphere."

2. Being an early adopter of technology tools and applications is essential, too. "It's been fun moving from a two-way pager in the early days to the earliest Blackberry to the Palm Treo to the next gizmo iteration and then to the iPhone and iPad that I use today," Clarke says. "And I still carry an old Motorola Razor that I use just because I'm just more comfortable with that sort of phone, and the battery life is great."

3. In the big, long scheme of things, people mean the most. "As a career accomplishment, being featured in ASAE's 7 Measures [of Success] book was a pretty big deal for the organization and me. But I'm proudest when I think about the people I've hired, some who are still here and some who've moved on to bigger roles in other associations and industries or professions," he says.

4. You never forget some of your earliest CEO mistakes--and what you learned from them. It's apparently a long story, but Clarke says one of his most memorable mistakes involved a simple proofreading gaff. "Proofread carefully," he warns. "... I was almost fired in 1975 because of a very sloppy proofreading job on a bylaws ballot sent to every member!"

5. Have leadership role models--a lot of them. "I don't have just one," Clarke says. "I've learned a lot from colleagues in other organizations (particularly the Ohio State Bar Association, Ohio State Medical Association, and Maryland Institute of CPAs)....[and] just observing and working with John Graham the year I was ASAE chair."

And finally--because who doesn't always want to know this when they talk one of the association world's wise elders--what's Clarke's favorite board management tip after 40 years in the trenches?

"Plan! Think through the likely avenues of discussion and be prepared for the unexpected."

I hope retirement brings you expected and unscripted joys, Clarke. Thanks again for sharing not only your thoughts with me but with so many of us over the years in the association community. I'd love to hear what others have to say about Clarke's tips and observations.

You also can wish him well and hear about the books and information sources that have influenced his past and current thinking as a leader if you join us for the education session "Conversations That Matter: What We Learn From What We Read" Tuesday morning, Aug. 14 in Dallas at our Annual Meeting & Expo. I'll be joining Clarke and another longtime industry leader, Gary LaBranche, to lead a rowdy, fun, and very practical (if last year's version is any indication) discussion of the books, blogs, Twitterstreams, and whatever other info sources (okay, the emphasis is often on books) that have jazzed your thinking in the past year. Leave room in your totebag for at least one free book from our giveaway table!


April 12, 2012

Forward thinking from a century-old shipwreck

ballard3.pngThis Sunday will mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Like a lot of people, I've always been fascinated by the stories of both the sinking of the ship and the discovery of the wreck in 1985, so I jumped at the chance to attend a presentation by Dr. Robert Ballard, the man who found it, at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, DC, Tuesday night.

Ballard is a gifted storyteller and an ardent preservationist, and he argues that instead of removing artifacts from the Titanic wreckage to bring to museums for people to see, people should be taken to the Titanic to see it—but not how you might think. He showed a slide depicting his vision for building a permanent support structure for remote-operated camera equipment around the wreck, enabling visitors at museums on land to view and explore the wreck in real time from thousands of miles away, and he says this "telepresence" technology isn't that far off.

As he talked about the idea, it became clear that we're all fortunate the Titanic was found such a forward thinker. He mentioned the explorers who found the tomb of King Tut in Egypt and said that, if they'd had the foresight to know that the masses might one day be able to easily visit the sites in ancient Egypt—this was before widespread use of airplanes and automobiles—they might not have packed up all the artifacts and sent them to a museum in London. In the same way, thinking about how the world could be brought to the Titanic through technology could help preserve it.

It struck me that that kind of thinking is just what an association needs from its CEO and board of directors: the ability to imagine and plan for not just what is possible now but also what could be possible in the future. When it comes time for long-term planning and developing strategy, an association CEO should guide the board to embrace the anything-is-possible perspective, and it's also a good reason for a nominating committee to seek potential board members who demonstrate that mindset.

The evening spurred a couple other association-related thoughts, as well:

  • National Geographic's package for the Titanic anniversary is an example for associations to follow for creating a multifaceted experience around a story or education. The package has included two magazine features, an interactive iPad app, a museum exhibit, a live expert presentation, and two television specials. The question of money and resources is always a challenge, but most associations engage in all of these types of platforms (or similar ones). Few, however, are so skilled at coordinating a package of resources and events across all of them at once.
  • If Ballard's vision of a telepresence Titanic museum experience ever comes to life, that will remove just about any excuse associations would have for not creating virtual and hybrid event experiences. If live, interactive video of a shipwreck 12,000 feet below the surface of the ocean could be brought to your computer screen, then surely a presentation in a convention hall could be, as well.

The event was filmed, so keep an eye on the National Geographic Events video library if you're interested. I'll come back and embed or post a link to video once it's up.


March 26, 2012

Learning to measure the value of next-generation learning

I sat in on two Idea Labs in the "Next Generation Learning" track this morning at ASAE's 2012 Great Ideas Conference, and in each one, a comment from the audience near the end of the session captured the challenges associations face in adopting new methods for professional development.

In the first session, "Next Generation Learning: Five-Minute Forecasts of the Future of Learning," five presenters each shared one emerging or evolving form of professional development practices. At the end, the audience was polled for which form it thought associations are most likely to adopt, and "bite-size education"—learning that is broken into shorter, more manageable and brain-friendly chunks—came out on top, compared to open-source education, changes in face-to-face programming, or hybrid events. When asked why, one audience member said she thinks bite-size education is most likely because it poses the least risk.

In the following session, "Next Generation Learning: Informal & Social Learning," professional host and moderator Glenn Thayer led participants in discussions on how to engage members in learning from each other. He shared Marcia Conner's definition of social learning as "participating with others to make sense of new ideas." (Kudos to the leaders of both of these sessions, by the way, as they both embraced that philosophy, with far more two-way group discussion than one-way presentation.)

Participants shared examples of online platforms for event attendees to connect pre- and post-conference, networking events that allow attendees to learn from each other, and learning sessions that embrace open-ended conversations. At the end of the session, one participant asked if anyone else in the group was measuring the return on investment of these social-learning features, specifically, in their conference evaluations, but no one said yes.

These comments made it clear that the nefarious "we've always done it that way" attitude remains a road block on the path to the future of association learning. Like any change from the norm, new forms of learning, and particularly the shift of an association's role from source of knowledge to facilitator of connections, will cause a sense of risk. But "just because it's the new wave" is never quite enough to overcome that risk.

Rather, solid metrics that show the positive outcomes of these new formats are essential. If you expand networking time at an event, are you asking attendees in post-conference surveys if they learned something valuable in conversations with fellow attendees during that time? If you build an online group for attendees to connect in advance of an event, are you asking them if those connections enhanced the value of attending?

As with any form of experimentation with new products or services, measuring the value of new learning formats can help combat the inevitable uncertainty that will arise. I'm curious if your association is measuring the ROI of new learning formats it has tried? If so, please share.

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March 7, 2012

Are Your Internships the "Best on Earth?"

I'm sure I'm not the only parent scrambling to set up a summer full of camps, nanny-sharing, sibling-sitting, and bartering in order to cover childcare for the summer months. For those parents with high school and college-age kids, though, the key word is "internship."

Thus, I had to laugh when I saw Sierra Club's funny "Best Internship on Earth" video pitch, designed to recruit older students and young adults to help with everything from trail maintenance to nature education.

I wondered how many organizations--whether associations looking for project assistance this summer or charities needing event volunteers--had taken time to develop creative outreach materials about their internships. I can tell you: Not many. Interns have the strike against them that they are temporary employees and therefore can be worked hard, cheaply, and without too much thought.

As a veteran of many internships in my younger days, I can say that the while the experiences of working briefly in various organizations vary wildly, the impressions made by those companies and nonprofits on me have lasted a long time and have been discussed with many people. Are you leaving your interns with terrific memories of their short time with you? What are they saying to their friends--your potential future employees--once the summer or fall comes?

Make it "good gossip" by asking the intern what he or she hopes to gain from the experience and what he or she most enjoys doing (talking to people? Problem-solving? Working on a team? Generating ideas and then being given appropriate freedom to execute them? "Trying out" a career in association work?). Try to ensure that at least half of the internship allows the individual to do those things while still completing your necessary work.

Give lots of feedback--frequently! Make the person feel like a welcome addition rather than another chore competing for your time. Listen and ask questions. An objective set of eyes and suggestions may be just what's needed to make a project exceed expectations.

Watch the Sierra Club video and think about what you might do to generate buzz and excitement (humor doesn't hurt either) about an often-underpaid temp job. You never know when you may be working side by side with that person on a much more long-term basis.


February 29, 2012

Shaking Up Online Education

In the past few years, associations and their members have been slowly but surely embracing online education. (ASAE will be publishing some new research on that shortly on its economy page.) So I took notice this week when the Chronicle of Higher Education published its list of 12 Tech Innovators, many of whom are trying to change how learning happens online. Among them:

  • Jim Groom, a fierce booster of web-based learning that invites peer collaboration
  • Candace Thille, whose Online Learning Initiative supports hybrid learning through team-built online modules, supporting classroom education while saving costs.
  • Salman Khan, a promoter of self-guided video education
  • Burck Smith, whose company, StraighterLine, partners with other companies to produce introductory online courses.

All different ideas, but a common theme emerges: Education is moving (perhaps rapidly) from a one-size-fits-all, lecture-based model to one that's more fluid and responsive to student input. Interviewees like Khan aren't saying that the classroom as we know it is dead, but the classroom lecture may be. Khan says his model has "made universities--and I can cite examples of this--say, Why should we be giving 300-person lectures anymore?"

Why indeed? Many association leaders might ask themselves the same question when it comes to their conferences or the education programs they support for certifications. (It's OK; you don't have to say that the first answer that popped in your head was a ka-ching! sound.) On the one hand, the authority of a lecturer, especially an in-person one, is valuable when it comes to presenting highly technical information. On the other, the flexibility of online courses can bring in more potential members, and perhaps even be a revenue driver. (Though according to Figure 17 of a white paper ASAE published last year on the economy, online education revenue hasn't matched execs' hopes for it.)

At first glance, Groom's DS106 project looks too chaotic to apply in an association context, but Thille's module-based Open Learning Initiative looks to be a smart, cleanly organized project. I know plenty of associations have been experimenting in this space, so what's working for you? What isn't?

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August 12, 2011

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.


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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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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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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June 27, 2011

Report highlights growing pains of association e-learning

ASAE's past economic surveys have shown that the difficulties for in-person meetings and educational programs in the past few years have led to high hopes for online education to fill the gap. A new report from association learning consultancy Tagoras shows that a high percentage of associations are indeed investing in technology-enabled learning, but they report mixed results in two key categories: overall usage and revenue production.

Among respondents to the Association Learning + Technology 2011: State of the Sector survey, slightly more said they were somewhat or very dissatisfied with course enrollment and revenue generation than those who said they were somewhat or very satisfied.

Usage and Revenue Satisfaction Chart
Source: Association Learning + Technology 2011: State of the Sector. Click to enlarge.
Images republished with permission.

The good news is that 63.5 percent of the survey respondents said they rate their associations' overall use of e-learning as "somewhat successful," and 15 percent call it "very successful." Authors Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele offer some insight into the practices that are common among that 15 percent:

"We found that organizations that consider themselves to be very successful were significantly more likely than average to do the following:

  • View revenue generation as a key benefit.
  • Make use of professional instructional design.
  • Have a formal, documented e-learning strategy.
  • Have a formal, documented product development process.
  • Embrace more interactive forms of e-learning (e.g., facilitated and blended offerings, use of discussion boards, games, and simulations)."

As Cobb and Steele put it, "E-learning has arrived in the association sector but remains far from mature." Surely complicating that maturation process is that the growth in options for learning technology has coincided with difficult financial times for the associations that are hopeful about their potential.

The practices of the ones that are making it work, though, aren't revolutionary, but surprisingly few are deploying those practices: "[R]elatively few organizations with active e-learning programs have developed a formal [e-learning] strategy (22.0 percent) [or] created a product development process (22.9 percent)," according to the report.

I'm curious if this lack of thorough development for e-learning strategy and process is the standard byproduct of the overworked and underresourced association or if the relative youth of e-learning as a discipline makes plotting out a strategy more difficult.

Interested to hear your thoughts. And keep an eye on the Tagoras blog, where Cobb says he plans to explore the report in more detail in coming weeks.

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May 2, 2011

Rosetta Stone for Twitter

What Twitter needs is a version of Rosetta Stone for those of us trying to learn to speak the language.

I have been investing some time recently experimenting with Twitter during live educational events, trying to learn by doing what value the technology can add to the learning experience. I have found that the Twitter traffic during a seminar tends to fall into two categories: there is the virtual equivalent of passing notes in class ("What was he thinking when he chose that tie?" "Where in the food court can I find a good steak and cheese sandwich for lunch?"); then there is the substantive: the serious effort to capture content so it can be shared with others (including those not physically present).

I've learned to just ignore the former as so much useless background noise and focus on the latter. It is utterly beyond me why anyone would waste their time and attention on the sometimes infantile chatter that fills the Twitters-sphere during a session. But it is going to go on anyway and getting annoyed by it just grants it permission to interfere with your own purposes. If you don't find it useful, don't get irritated: just ignore it.

Because your content-based attention to Twitter will be rewarded. I have found some of the tweets generated by others in the room during a conference or seminar really do capture insights from the program in sometimes very compelling ways. I have, more than once, copied particularly brilliant tweets into my own notes from the seminar after the fact.
But as far as actually generating tweets during a conference, I am a complete failure. I am and always have been an obsessive note taker: even the most slender of seminar content is good for a page or two, or for a mind map. Taking notes helps me to focus on and capture the most pertinent takeaways from a session. But I find the effort needed to reduce an insight to 140 characters too distracting. The means (Twitter) interferes with the end (knowledge capture and transfer). I get too busy trying to find the shorthand to express the speaker's previous thought to follow what he or she is actually saying next. I fall behind. For me, composing and sending tweets alienates and removes me from the educational experience, rather than increasing my engagement in it.

Maybe it will be different for you. But for the time being, I will leave the real-time translation of educational content into Twitter to folks more fluent than me. And enjoy the fruits of their labor.

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April 4, 2011

My Twitter confession

On Monday I created a Twitter profile. You might be thinking I'm behind. It's true. I confess to resisting. I wouldn't do it even when my employer started tweeting.

All these communities and email accounts - I didn't want one more site to have to log in to, another password to remember, another type of notification to create a folder for and then not read for two weeks. My 19-year-old brother just created a political community and invited me to join. Nope. Not doing it.

I'm just not convinced that I have to be that connected.

So why did I decide to join Twitter? ASAE's Component Relations section has monthly virtual lunches. I like to sign up as soon as I get the notification. Unfortunately, sometimes I have to work through even a virtual lunch. This month's promo said, "Join the discussion using #CRPLunch on Twitter." I'm sure it says it every month. But this time it made me think, "If I miss it again, I can go on Twitter and see what I missed." The lunch was on Tuesday.

There I was -- a bright and shiny newbie. I uploaded my photo, created a bio that was too long, edited it. Still too long. Edited it again. Three more words had to go! Finally done. Figured out how to follow NJSCPA. Now what is this whole "hashtag" thing? Was I supposed to follow it? I searched for it and Peggy Hoffman's name came up. She was past chair of the Component Relations Section, comments on the listserve a lot, commented on one of my Acronym posts - so, I followed her, assuming that would get me the event discussion. (I hear you laughing at me!) Later, I was alerted that Peggy was following me. Cool. I hadn't even tweeted yet.

On Tuesday, I connected to the lunch and opened Twitter. Where was the discussion? Where was Peggy? I searched for #CRPLunch. Ahh, there it was. I saved the search. I didn't tweet anything to the discussion. I thought I'd screw it up.
It was a great lunch, and I found the tweets to be a great way to record ideas as they happen. And I didn't have to keep tedious notes.

Someone I don't know followed me this morning. Do I keep it all professional or throw in some personal stuff? I still haven't tweeted. I guess I'll figure it all out and come up with something to say, edit it, and finally hit Tweet.

I'd love to hear your Twitter story - why you signed up and how it's valuable to you. And, Peggy, I'll still be following you!

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March 23, 2011

Broadening my comfort zone

Last month I presented a webinar for Higher Logic titled "Engaging NEW Members with Old Ideas". But this isn't about the webinar content itself as much as the process. I had been contacted by Lauren Wolfe, who sits with me on the AOTF board and the Young Association Executives Committee, about submitting a proposal. I did so without really thinking about it; I felt confident about my knowledge of membership and association communications, and thought I could add a new perspective and fresh ideas to the topic. But as the time came closer, I realized what I was getting myself in to. "What am I doing?", I thought. "I'm not an expert on anything."

The idea that, at 28 years old, I would be presenting content to my peer group was intimidating. I have no fear of public speaking, and if you put me on a stage I'll do karaoke in front of any crowd. I've presented to my membership at various meetings without so much as batting an eyelash. So why was I so intimidated by addressing my peers?

It got worse when I found out that it had been approved for CAE credit. I'm not even a CAE (yet)! These people theoretically know so much more than me! And then I was told that the final count was over 450 registrants. Oh, and people I've worked for in the past were registered to be on the call. JUST GREAT.

But that day, I just... stopped stressing about it. Because I knew it wouldn't achieve anything. I had written a presentation I was proud of, practiced it in my head and out loud, worked on my timing, and felt comfortable that I could answer any question that came my way. And you know what? I did just fine. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Being a young association professional can be scary, but I'm so, so glad that I took this risk and put myself out there. We all have to. "Young" doesn't have to mean "inexperienced", and we need to break that stereotype.

What has been the scariest professional experience of your career thus far?

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March 3, 2011

Create a Virtual Learning Conversation for Members

Technology is changing the way we do everything: how we connect, communicate, and—most importantly—learn. Associations are changing the way they think about virtual learning experiences and creating virtual learning conversations for their members.

Event Location: Online
Platform: Webinar
Speaker/Topic: Confirmed
CAE Approved: Yes

But are you ready to host a virtual learning conversation? Does your webinar include tactics to engage attendees, or will attendees be checked into their inboxes? It's time to take traditional learning strategies and incorporate them into virtual learning environments using technology to support. Here are some ideas:

  • Start by referring to speakers as thought leaders and ask that they do less dictating to the audience and provide more thought-provoking exercises.
  • Encourage thought leaders to further interact with attendees by incorporating real-time polling, hosting quizzes, asking questions, including contests or prize giveaways, and providing handouts or worksheets.
  • They can even end with a required follow-up action or session where attendees report back to the group. Hold attendees accountable for their takeaways.
  • Also select a platform that allows attendees to interact during the session via pings in a chat log, or perhaps add a Twitter RSS widget so tweeps can follow and tag tweets.
  • Record sessions so you can market across membership materials and archive these recordings to begin building a learning portal accessible to members 24/7.
  • Request continuing education credit for your sessions; this makes the one-hour time investment digestible.
  • Lastly, ask for personal reflection and feedback; you can learn a lot for very little additional time investment.

Please share your feedback and comments. I'm trying to change the world one boring webinar at a time.

Lauren Wolfe is marketing and communications manager for Higher Logic in Washington, DC. She is vice chair of ASAE's Young Association Executives Committee.

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February 25, 2011

How Would an Oscar Affect Your Organization?

Almost anyone who goes to the movies has probably seen the Oscar-nominated The King's Speech. The remarkable film captures the lifelong battle of the future King George against the serious stuttering that threatens to weaken his leadership at a time when he is ascending the throne and speaking out against the rise of Hitler.

It also shone an unprecedented spotlight on a personal and professional challenge faced by millions of adults and children worldwide.

"We've waited a lifetime to get this kind of interest in stuttering, so it's thrilling for us," said Jane Fraser, president of The Stuttering Foundation and vice president of the Association for Research into Stammering in Childhood, Michael Palin Centre, in London, when I gave her a call today for a pre-Oscars chat about the impact of the film on her organization.

"Our website hits have doubled," she added, noting that speech therapists across the country report a big jump in the number of inquiries from people who stutter and their families since the movie's Christmas Day 2010 release. "One of the therapists we refer to in Chicago said she had a 70-year-old man come in this week.... Across the board, that movie is so meaningful that anyone who has seen it will never laugh at stuttering again."

Maybe that's why one of the foundation's videos, Stuttering: For Kids, By Kids, has been viewed more than 50,000 times in the past week. The charity, which educates and refers stutters and specially trains speech therapists, also "whipped out a poster three weeks ago," Fraser laughs. "We designed ["Stuttering Gets the Royal Treatment] Friday morning, and on Monday at 5, it came off the press. The printer had never done that before. Everyone at the print house was excited." She had no problem securing permission from the independent film company, The Weinstein Company, to use photos from the film in the poster, which also directs viewers to the foundation website.

What have been the biggest impacts of the film on her group? "The exciting thing about The King's Speech is that people realize they can become fluent," Fraser enthuses. "... It's obvious in the movie that speaking is a lot of work, but ... some of the methods you see in the movie [such as learning to speak in phrases rather than entire sentences] are techniques that have been used over the years."

It also focuses on the "beautiful therapist-patient alliance. The king got to the point where the therapist was his close friend. Like all therapeutic situations, there are ups and down, but the beautiful way this relationship unwound is important.... You must have that total trust between the professional and the patient." She thinks film viewers will better understand how that deep relationship works.

You can join Fraser and her staff in rooting for the foundation and The King's Speech Sunday night during the 83th Annual Oscars Ceremony. Watch a trailer and learn more about this Best Picture Nominee here.

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February 4, 2011

Crafting Bold Conversations

For the third time in as many days I've heard of an organization holding a forum about "civil discourse" or "Communicating with Candor but Respect."

Obviously, the recent shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Giffords and fears that it resulted in part from enflamed political emotions and extreme partisanship have rippled across our association community as it has the political playing fields.

It only takes a nanosecond for most of us to recall an instance when heated talk created high drama and hurt or angry feelings at our board meetings, in education sessions, on our list servs, or in committee gatherings. Why else are the decisions about meeting facilitators or list serv monitors and guidelines so vital? Even those efforts are not always adequate at preventing open hostilities versus candid debate.

So what else can associations be doing to build an inclusive, open, and frank environment for the exchange of opinions, ideas, and knowledge? More training of board members, staff, and others? Stronger rules of engagement? Adoption of a tweaked version of Google's "Do no evil," e.g., "speak no evil?" An organizational Debate Team?

The issue is important as we evolve into an increasingly diverse workforce that can either divide us or boost us. Has your organization used this momentary political time-out to check the volume and "vitriol" level of the conversations around and within the membership and staff? I've read numerous appeal letters, for example, that would be worth a harder look in a calmer time. And we all know how quickly blog post comments can ratchet up emotions.

Yes, we want engagement, but do we want all-out war within the ranks or with our current "enemies"--the same ones who may well be future political allies.

I've suggested to several people that they read or re-read Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenney, and Al Switzler to generate some ideas about raising the quality, not the volume, of your organization's conversations. If you haven't read it already, here is the first chapter.

And keep a watch out for an article I'll be writing after I interview Saj-nicole Joni, co-author of The Right Fight: How Great Leaders Use Healthy Conflict to Drive Performance, Innovation, and Value. The book describes ways that leaders at all levels can create, nurture, and manage the "productive dissent essential for achieving peak performance." It seems especially timely now. Click here for a video on the book.

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June 18, 2010

When Learning Happens in Committees and Task Forces

Some of the best collaborative learning experiences in any association or nonprofit can happen informally through volunteer experiences on committees and task forces. Learning belongs on your agenda along with the business of dialoguing, deciding and doing.

Formal learning takes place through leadership development programs, board orientation and officer training. Informal learning can happen through the new ideas and information flowing through our work and as brief "teaching moments" about our culture and practices routinely built into meeting agendas.

When our committees or task forces are charged with analyzing and deciding a critical issue, we can be intentional about using critical thinking processes and tools to be more effective. We could be disciplined about answering certain strategic questions or checking particular perspectives.

When we falter in our ability to communicate or get a project done, we can use action learning practices to reflect on and improve our group interaction and effectiveness.
At the end of each significant meeting, we can evaluate how well we accomplished our objectives and agree on how to be more effective next time.

When we set our goals and plan of work, we can explicitly declare what we want to learn individually and collectively. This should be as important to us as what we want our committees and task forces to achieve. The higher the level of accountability a group has the more open and willing its members should be to coaching and holding each other accountable for the success of the organization.

Instead of seeking volunteers who already have relevant experience and knowledge, we might be wiser to seek volunteers who are excited about learning how to do something bold together. Know-how is not hard to find when we start with leaning to work collaboratively.


June 10, 2010

Easing Content Experts into Collaborative Learning

Few content experts are skilled in designing and facilitating learning experiences so they default to familiar and safe formats like panel sessions when speaking for their associations.

To overcome this weakness, many associations offer content experts basic training in good education design for live, virtual or blended learning experiences. Some associations also rely on their education staffers or consultants to coach selected content experts, especially for technical or professional courses that will be repeated or available in an online curriculum.

If you want to help your content experts become more comfortable with facilitating collaborative learning, here are some simple tactics you might consider:

  • Explain different learning designs in a basic how-to guide. Recommend innovative formats that have worked for your members.
  • Make it easy to set up conference calls for co-presenters to plan a session together. Encourage talking in advance about how to achieve learning outcomes.
  • Give participants an upfront voice in defining their learning needs. Use online registration and social media to make it easy for participants to give this guidance to content experts in advance.
  • Designate one or two people as learning advocates in every experience. Empowering someone to actively represent the learning needs of the group reminds everyone they are in control of what happens in collaborative learning.
  • Celebrate and recognize content experts for amazing learning experiences. Set them up as role models for others to emulate.
  • Work with selected content experts who can help create a tipping point toward collaborative learning. Start with a few people who will innovate and influence others to change.
  • Check out these practical tips on how to turn experts into great teachers.

Your content experts know they stand on the shoulders of other experts. By helping them become facilitators of collaborative learning, you also help them stand shoulder-to-shoulder with others to grow and revise the knowledge in their field

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June 3, 2010

The Hard Work of Collaborative Learning

Let's be honest about collaborative learning for a moment. People who just want an answer--fast--would rather listen to experts or click their way to a solution.

And those experts--well--they just barely have time to spew forth some of what they know before racing to their next great achievement.

And too many association executives are forced to crank out educational opportunities, because they are programming too many sessions, meetings and workshops to have enough time to inspect their products for learning outcomes and quality experiences.

Is this assessment too harsh? It takes time and effort on everyone's part to create a culture for collaborative learning.

For this culture to happen, association members will have to stop acting like consumers and accept their responsibility as co-creators of the knowledge and competencies in their field.

Content experts will have to learn new skills as learning facilitators and give up some control and ego gratification to put learners first.

Professional development leaders will have to take more risks and work harder than ever to create the formats and practices to support collaborative learning.

But that's a big chunk of change for any association. What are some first steps any association can take to lead a change toward collaborative learning? Let me nominate two simple steps here and then share two additional resources from our own community of shared learning. I'll offer more tips for your content experts in my next post.

1. At the outset of a learning experience, presenters/facilitators can set expectations by planning for and explaining the role learning participants will have in creating new understanding, ideas or tools.

2. At the conclusion, instead of only evaluating how the presenter/facilitators did, associations can ask learning participants to evaluate how well the group collaborated in achieving learning outcomes.

3. Use these tips to overcome resistance to active participation.

4. Experiment with new meeting formats that increase participation.

If you've got a success story to share or resources you have used, please share. We're in this transition together.

Collaborative learning does require much more from everyone at the outset. What we gain is a capacity to learn together that should prove immeasurable in creating knowledge, overcoming challenges and innovating for the future.

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May 6, 2010

Quick clicks: Thursdays with zombies

Good morning, and welcome to this week's Quick Clicks!

- Quite possibly the best thing I've ever seen: David Gammel unveils a wonderful cartoon on the Orgpreneur blog. Go see it. Don't worry, we'll wait.

- Laura Otten at the Nonprofit University Blog has a beautiful post on the many people who looked to her father as a mentor.

- A challenging post from Joe Gerstandt on what inclusion really looks like ("Inclusion is not giving everyone a trophy.")

- Shelly Alcorn has strong feelings about the importance of net neutrality for associations and nonprofits.

- Chris Bonney argues that the power of free is in the mind of the giver, not the recipient.

- Carol-Anne Moutinho at the Association Resource Centre blog considers what reverse innovation might look like in nonprofits.

- Jamie Notter is thinking through some very interesting ideas about cultivating strategy without traditional strategic planning.

- Eric Lanke at the Hourglass Blog ponders some potential implications of corporate social responsibility for the association sector.

- I continue to love Jeffrey Cufaude's "Wednesday What If" posts. This week, he encourages us to consider what our members would miss the most if it were eliminated.

- Peggy Hoffman considers ways to make chapters and components more effective.

- Jeff Hurt has a few suggestions for ways to encourage active attendee participation in learning sessions--even from folks who might not initially love the idea.

- Some helpful case study posts: Scott Billey at Associations Live on lessons learned from their first webinar, and Maggie McGary on what she learned on the way to 20,000 Facebook fans. (I guess technically now they're "likers," but as an editor I oppose that word.)


April 1, 2010

Quick Clicks: Think outside the office

Welcome to the latest edition of Quick Clicks! I'm actually on vacation for a few days (Scott has kindly agreed to make sure this post goes live while I'm out), so I'm wishing all of you a good day from a remote location.

Here are some of the latest and most interesting posts from the association blogging world:

- There's been some passionate discussion of the decision to remove a recent post here on Acronym. (All other elements of that discussion aside, I'm personally grateful that we have readers who take Acronym so seriously and care so much about whether or not that decision was a good one to make.) KiKi L'Italien considers several sides to the debate, while Shannon Otto comes at the issue from a journalistic perspective. Elizabeth Weaver Engel added her take to her weekly "What I'm Reading" post.

- Deirdre Reid posted a "New Volunteer Manifesto" (and a great discussion sprang up in comments). Deidre will be expanding on her manifesto in a new weekly column on the SmartBlog Insights blog. Maddie Grant highlights some of her favorite aspects of the manifesto in a SocialFish post.

- Peggy Hoffman continues her "Truths About Volunteering" series with truth #17.

- Jamie Notter makes a case for three new leadership mindsets for the future.

- Marsha Rhea at the SignatureI blog offers some advice for associations dealing with chronic unresolved issues.

- The Plexus Consulting blog has some questions about the line between a working environment that's too comfortable and one that's too stressful.

- Jeff Hurt at Midcourse Corrections has some very interesting thoughts on why you shouldn't crowdsource your next conference.

- Speaking of conferences, Joe Gerstandt would like to ask why your commitment to diversity isn't fully reflected in your conference's speaker lineup. And Lauren Fernandez wants to know why more panel discussions don't include a contrarian point of view.

- Jeffrey Cufaude continues his great "What If Wednesdays" series with a post on expiration dates for new products. I love this idea!

- Tony Rossell encourages us to shift from a cost-control mindset to a growth mindset, before it's too late.

- Kerry Stackpole tells a story about the power of passion when it's combined with persistence.


March 23, 2010

Advice vs. advice


Pictured at right are two business books we have here in the office. I haven't read either of them, so I can't speak to their literary value, but they do make for some good juxtaposing, don't they?

They illustrate an idea that came to mind as I worked on a feature about really bad advice for the March issue of Associations Now:  

For any piece of advice, there is a completely opposite but equally reasonable piece of advice.

Consider these words of wisdom you've likely heard before:

Look before you leap Go with your gut
Save wisely  You can't take your money with you when you die
Make a good first impression Don't judge a book by its cover
The pen is mightier than the sword Actions speak louder than words

Of course, I'm not the first person this has occurred to, as a quick Google search revealed. But I bring it up because understanding advice is vital to association leaders, for two reasons:

  • Any person, CEO or entry level, will seek, receive, and offer both good and bad advice throughout his or her career.
  • Associations, in many ways, are in the advice industry. Your members come to you and to each other to exchange knowledge and learn from others in the profession-—to offer each other advice.

But if every piece of advice has a perfectly reasonable opposite, is all advice a sham? And if advice became worthless, wouldn't associations be in trouble?

Maybe these are silly questions, and I won't claim to have any answers to them, but I do want to point to some more in-depth thoughts on this topic from some people much smarter than I:

"The Dirty Secret Behind Writing Advice." Writer's Digest publisher and editorial director (and blogger) Jane Friedman opines that, despite making a career in advice for writers, some of the best skills can never be put into words and passed on. Some skills are just innate. "I can't teach the exceptions or pleasing eccentricities (or what can boil down to a matter of confidence or nuance)," she says.

"It's Less About Theory and More About Thinking." Association executive and consultant Jamie Notter argues that our constant thirst for outside input actually reduces our critical thinking. "What if we had to explain more of our choices and specifically could NOT cite best practices as the rationale? This requires more thinking, and in the end, I just don't think we collectively value deep thinking enough to make room for it in our organizations."

"A Piece of Good Advice," a feature from Associations Now that fellow Acronym blogger Scott Briscoe, CAE, wrote back in 2007. He offers "an advice strategy" for association leaders that has some great points, but he also cites a psychological study that "demonstrates that people have a tendency to misuse advice and make worse decisions as a result," which puts some scientific evidence behind Jamie's thoughts referenced above.

"Trust in all sources of media declines." We couldn't get through this topic without coming around to social media. The 2010 Edelman Trust Survey showed that trust in a lot of sources of information has declined in recent years. Most notably, trust in "friends and peers" declined significantly (see the slide at 0:58 in the video). This is a new development as the speed of social media continues to increase. While Twitter allows you to pass along 50 links in a day, your followers know you can't have read every single one of them well enough to know they're worthwhile. And how much good advice can you fit into 140 characters, anyway?

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February 25, 2010

Quick Clicks: Home runs

Welcome to another edition of Quick Clicks. Thanks to all the association bloggers who give us so much great stuff to link to!

- On the SmartBlog Insights blog, Rebecca Leaman wonders whether it still makes sense for nonprofits to attempt to drive traffic back to a single website "home base." Her question started a great discussion in comments.

- Andy Sernovitz has some thought-provoking comments on how you can take advantage of changing customer expectations (even if they might seem threatening at first glace).

- Jeffrey Cufaude has started a new series of blog posts he's calling "Wednesday What Ifs?". So far, he's tackled paying for dues and other programs and services in multi-year increments, giving implicit rather than explicit permission, and focusing on consistent quality rather than on the big breakthrough.

- Cindy Butts responds to some recent Acronym posts with her thoughts on the pursuit of perfection.

- Kevin Whorton has a great post at the College of Association Marketing blog on the surprising disconnect between the words and actions of one focus group.

- Jeff Hurt has great advice for pumping up the networking potential of your face-to-face events.

- If you're an "emerging leader" and you've ever thought, "When do I just emerge already?" Rosetta Thurman has a post for you.

- Shelly Alcorn at the Association Subculture blog has launched an interesting series of posts applying the rubric from Jim Collins' new book "How the Mighty Fall" to associations.

- Six is apparently a big number this week: A guest post by Mack Collier on Lauren Fernandez's LAF blog shares six truths of building successful online communities, and Aimee Stern shares six great ideas she got at a recent Super Swap.

- The Nonprofit University blog has some thoughts on the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision and its implications for nonprofit organizations.

- David Patt has some interesting observations about behavorial differences he's seen with older and younger colleagues. What do you think?

- Jeff Cobb at the Hedgehog & Fox blog has four questions whose answers might predict your future success. (And at his other blog, Mission to Learn, he has a post I loved on learning lessons he's gleaned from watching his toddler.)

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February 13, 2010

Winter Olympics Organizers Offer Free Toolkit on Creating Sustainable Events

In anticipation of the next weeks’ of avid TV watching of the Winter Olympics in Canada, I visited the official website in search of potential tools, ideas, and takeaways for association event and meeting planners.

I’m pleased to find that groups involved in sporting events and fundraisers (think golf tournaments, walk- and bike-a-thons, team-building field days, etc.) can download a free Sustainable Sport and Event Toolkit ( created by the Vancouver Organising Committee for the 2010 Olympics and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC) in partnership with the Switzerland-based International Academy of Sports Science and Technology. Topics covered include community and supply chain involvement, transportation, and venue management.

The nine-piece how-to toolkit—aimed at organizers/sponsors of both large and small events--is one of the many social legacy projects completed or underway by organizers and attendees of this month’s Olympics, which kicked off in grand style February 12.

Organizers have spent seven years developing and executing actions and policies aimed at lightening the event’s wide environmental footprint, ensuring an ethical and inclusive competition, and leaving behind a positive social legacy. You’ll find highlights at

However, a summary of 12 of their major initiatives ( provides association meeting planners and

Continue reading "Winter Olympics Organizers Offer Free Toolkit on Creating Sustainable Events " »

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November 6, 2009

Quick Clicks: The quotable edition

Welcome to your first November Quick Clicks post! Here's some quoteable and noteable posts from the past week or so:

- The Digital Now blog reminds us that "the fish out of water has no other fish to contend with."

- Shelly Alcorn tells it like it is: "You are not Stuart Smalley and darn it, some people are NOT going to like you."

- "We followed the best advice we found and marched confidently forward … right into failure." Get the full story from Peggy Hoffman at the Idea Center blog.

- Jamie Notter asks, "As a leader, do you know if you are truly willing to trust your people?" Elsewhere, Judith Lindenau writes on building the bond of trust between staff and members.

- Two association bloggers were recently quoted by CNN. Bruce Hammond blogs about the experience and clarifies a few things.

- The Nonprofit University blog asks, "So how's that recovery treating you?"

- If you missed Joe Rominiecki's recent post on the crazy idea of allowing first-year members to attend your meetings for free, there is some great discussion going on in the comments. One standout for me: Joe says, "I believe every member who joins an association and isn't meaningfully engaged is simply a missed opportunity."

- On a related note, Mark Buzan offers some ideas for keeping association members interested and active.

- "It’s not the inability to move quickly that hampers associations, it’s the unwillingness to do anything outside of the status quo," posits Rebecca Rolfes at the LeaderConnect blog.

- "What's your Apollo program?" Eric Lanke at the Hourglass Blog wants to know.

- Chris Bonney at the Vanguard Technology blog has five reasons why playing it safe is a bad idea.

- Deirdre Reid asks where the balance is between managing staff time wisely and providing member service on demand.

- The SignatureI blog has a fascinating "vision of excellence" for association learning and invites you to add to it.

- Aptify's CEO blog has some interesting suggestions for data points associations can collect that correlate to member renewability. (Is "renewability" a word? Do I lose editor points if it's not? Hmmm.)

- Ellen Behrens at the aLearning blog wonders if association learning is lagging behind other sectors.


October 26, 2009

Quick clicks: Risky business

Friday's Quick Clicks is now Monday morning Quick Clicks--my apologies for the delay! Here's some reading to kick off your week:

- Leslie White, who has written some great guest posts for other association bloggers in recent months, has started her own blog, Risky Chronicles. Her first post is all about risk strategy and polar bears.

- Jeff De Cagna has some strong words about what relevance is not.

- Tony Rossell at the Membership Marketing blog suggests a simple exercise to determine the value you offer to your members.

- Jeff Hurt issues a call for next-generation conference and membership revenue models.

- Michael McCurry has some ideas for how to plan for attrition (or attendance growth) in today's economy.

- David Gammel suggests that growth is a trap associations need to watch out for.

- Elizabeth Weaver Engel points to an interesting "FutureLab" experiment Independent Sector is currently undertaking.

- Has your professional development budget been cut? Rosetta Thurman summarizes 11 tips for do-it-yourself professional development.

- Erik Schonher at the Experts in Membership Marketing blog has some tips from a "master strategist" whose association has grown its membership despite the economy.

- Maddie Grant at the Socialfish blog shares some draft social media guidelines; at the Bamboo Project blog, Michele Martin shares another example of such guidelines, focused around "admirable use" of social media.

- Joan Eisenstodt wants to know if you know how your audience learns.

- David Patt responds to Acronym blogger Joe Rominiecki's post on "blowing it up and starting over." (On a somewhat related note, Lindy Dreyer has a great post about ending the quest for perfection.)


October 16, 2009

Quick clicks: Where's my crystal ball?

It's time for your weekly round of quick clicks from the association blogging community and elsewhere. Enjoy!

- The Signature i blog has a great post describing four ways to think about the future, and advice to help you upgrade your futures thinking. Elsewhere, Kevin Holland has some predictions for the future of associations. (And so do several commenters on Brian Birch's recent Acronym post with his predictions for 2010.)

- Jamie Notter says that the future of organizations lies in being human.

- On the SocialFish blog, Lindy Dreyer writes about the power of clarity.

- Michael LoBue at Association Voices is deleting his Twitter account, but Eric Lenke at the Hourglass Blog speaks up for texting in church (and possibly at education events, as well).

- Bob Sutton shares his top 10 flawed management assumptions.

- The Vanguard Technology blog recently interviewed Greg Hill of the Kansas Dental Association on how his association has become a "multimedia powerhouse."

- KiKi L'Italien posts 10 things she learned at her association's recent conference, while Becky Hadley at the Drake & Company blog posts about attending her association's conference for the first time.

- Jeff Hurt has some research to share pointing to the benefits of virtual education. Ellen Behrens, meanwhile, writes about the differences between training and mentoring.

- Short but sweet: Peggy Hoffman posts the 12th post in her series of truths about volunteering.


July 10, 2009

Difficulties in Managing Web-based Seminars

With the weakened economy, and its dampening effect on member travel, we are all looking for alternative sources of non-dues revenue. Web-based seminars (webinars) have become a ubiquitous presence on the educational front. However, the challenges of hosting value-added programming that actually make money are real.

First, you need to research compelling topics.So you survey the membership and find a few ideas. Then you need to find the speaker. You approach one of the better-known experts in your field and, happily, she agrees.

With your webinar provider already in place, you spend time training the speaker on how to administer her presentation during the actual webinar. You set a price point (deciding on per-site pricing instead of per-person, to encourage broader participation and add value). And as with live events, you spend time managing registrations (even with online credit card purchases, there are always questions) and even more time promoting, promoting, and promoting.

Two days out, you only have two people registered to attend. What went wrong? What could be done to help ensure a win-win webinar experience for associations and their members and customers?

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June 26, 2009

Quick clicks: More to learn

Happy Friday!

George Siemens at the elearnspace blog links to an article on designing education in the "new economy of attention" that could inform some of the discussions happening in associations about Twittering and texting during conferences. In a related post, he announces a new project on social media trends and their implications for learning that sounds like it could be interesting.

Elizabeth Weaver Engel at the Thanks for Playing blog posted some food for thought on simplicity, inspired by engineering principles.

Deidre Reid at the Reid All About It blog has some in-depth thoughts on authenticity, what it looks like, and what it is.

I love this: The Association Rat blog suggests that everyone develop a "bucket list" of what you want to accomplish during your time in any given job.

Elsewhere, Wes Trochlil talks about some of the ways things we now have in abundance are creating new scarcities.

Jamie Notter tells us that leadership is not comfortable, and why it's important to accept that.

The Digital Now blog wonders about the cost of free lunch.

Some interesting social media case studies: Lee Aase talks about what they're doing at the Mayo Clinic, Mark Buzan describes a nonprofit's successful viral video campaign, and Rohit Bhargava analyzes a recent online scavenger hunt held by Virgin America.


The future of learning: Get serious

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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June 18, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The future of learning: The (global) crowd

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

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

What inspired TED to begin translating its talks?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


June 12, 2009

Quick clicks: You live, you learn

In honor of our "future of learning" theme this month, the first links in this week's list are learning related:

Jeff Cobb shares his own definition of learning in a recent post on the Mission to Learn blog. Do you agree? Disagree?

Cindy Butts of the AE on the Verge blog shares the story of an association educating its members through weekly quizzes on Twitter.

Interested in improving your presentation skills, or helping you association's presenters improve theirs? Jeffrey Cufaude has started a series of posts about "powerful presentations." Here's the first three posts.

The Associationrat blogger describes instituting a code of core values in his/her department.

Judith Lindenau at the Off Stage blog has a great post on transparency in associations.

Does your association want to build an audience or a community? Chris Brogan nails the distinction.

On the Socialfishing blog, Maddie Grant posted a few weeks ago to ask, "How can associations be more like Google?" More recently, two great comments have been posted in response to her question.

Pay very close attention to second-year members who don't renew, advises Marilyn Rutkowski in a recent post on The Forum Effect.

I've wondered in the past why some organizations don't allow telecommuting, and finally, an article answers my question (at least in part); the Dear Association Leader blog has more.

Rebecca Rolfes at the LeaderConnect blog wonders if association publishers might have a leg up on for-profit publishers in the current economy.

Beth Kanter posted an interesting list of nonprofit CEOs who are active on Twitter. (The list is expanded greatly in the comments to her post.)


June 11, 2009

The future of learning: Un-learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

It worked extremely well. We got great feedback.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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June 9, 2009

The future of learning: Be brave!

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

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

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

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


June 5, 2009

The future of learning: Experience it

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

Here’s some of what Rhea had to say.

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

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

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

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

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

Are you seeing more associations experiment with different learning formats?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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June 3, 2009

What have you learned?

At my son’s school, the teachers’ lounge has a whiteboard that always asks a question; the teachers (and occasionally other passersby) write in their answers. The question changes regularly, but the answers are always interesting for me to see.

This week’s question and answers really struck me, since we're working on a series of posts for Acronym this month about learning and what the future of learning in associations will look like:

Question: What have your students learned this year?

- To take risks
- To treat others with respect and care
- To understand and appreciate differences
- To love learning
- To trust their own ideas
- That failure is a kind of learning
- That they can make a difference

What have you learned so far this year? (Or, to flip it around, what have you tried to teach others this year?)

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May 12, 2009

Cherry-picking Relevant Journal Articles Adds Value to Membership

Plenty of conversation is occurring about how to add value to association memberships, with much discussion focusing on delivering more knowledge and further developing members’ skills.

One added benefit I like was announced recently by the Web Analytics Association. Its Research Committee has arranged access to four online peer-reviewed journals that may interest its members. To “bridge the gap between industry research and the research conducted within the academic communities,” a project team of the committee reviews and summarizes selected articles to keep WAA members apprised of the latest research and offers an archive of issues as well. The committee also is recruiting members to write reviews.

This example reflects aspects of chatter I’ve heard lately about the need for associations to “get over” their “territorial attitudes” regarding their publications and instead focus on finding and delivering access to the best range of knowledge for their respective professions or trades—and that may mean outside of the hallowed halls of the association. Indeed, it may mean reaching out to peripheral organizations that aren’t a perfect match to all members but may hold attractive information to members involved or interested in cross-disciplinary knowledge exchanges.

A more open attitude also may prompt more association journal/magazine exchanges and wider tapping of for-profit publications and knowledge products.

Frankly, associations aren’t always good at that type of strategy, but if we want to retain the value of our reputations as comprehensive repositories and leaders in relevant knowledge delivery, then we need to re-examine what types of knowledge our members truly need in this changing economy—and whether we have to be the ones to create it from scratch.

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April 13, 2009

Are free events ever really free?

I have noticed that recently I am being bombarded with the offer to attend free education (webinars, seminars, audioseminars, etc.). I have always known that these types of things were available but there seem to be a lot more of them lately or groups are just promoting them more aggressively. This got me thinking about the following.

1. The free education I have heard of is typically given by a vendor. Do vendor-offered free events pose a risk to attendance levels at the association’s (ASAE in this case) own fee-based educational events? In some way are the vendors that are “members” of the association biting the hand that feeds them? Or is this just the price of doing business and is beneficial to everyone involved? Normally I would say that having free education doesn’t really affect the association much, but when money is tight like today, I am curious if the potential impact is much larger.

2. Are free events actually educational or are they just a disguised sales pitch? We all know that nothing in life is free. Have vendors realized that a sales pitch disguised as education is still a turn off even if it is free (I hope so)? Or are we as attendees so in need of education that does not hit our budget that we are willing to take a flier on an educational event that we know may be part sales pitch just with the hope that there is enough diamonds among the you-know-what that it ends up being worth our time?

3. For those of you who are members of other associations, is free education as prevalent in those associations as it seems to be within ASAE lately? I am a member of DMAW (Direct Marketing Association of Washington) and these types of things don’t seem to be offered at all. I was also a member of AFP (fundraising professionals) for a while, and, again, I rarely heard about things like this. Is the association community unique, and if we are unique why is this only happening here?

I am curious to know what this trend is telling us and how it will impact associations today, and in the future, as technology makes it easier and easier to provide educate as well as let potential attendees know all about it. I await your thoughts.

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February 22, 2009

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.


February 21, 2009

Financing Your Professional Development in a Downturn Economy

As I sit in my Michigan apartment, watching inches upon inches of snow fall, I can’t help but admire those lucky individuals attending the Great Ideas Conference and enjoying the warm Miami weather this weekend.

In an article I wrote last September titled, “Transitioning from Young to Young Professional: An Uphill Battle,” I gave five recommendations to help facilitate a smooth and successful transition into the role of “young professional.” Recommendation number five follows:

Manage your professional development. Seek out opportunities to enhance your knowledge and skills. Work toward achieving a professional certification or designation in your field. Stay informed of the latest trends and best practices.

Unfortunately, it’s not a standard practice at my current association to budget for professional development. In fact, my colleagues rarely even express an interest in attending a local, state or national conference. I, on the other hand, am hungry for knowledge. The problem is, as a young professional – or perhaps as an inexperienced, shy young man with a strict upbringing – I’m not very good at asking for things, especially when it comes to money. Therefore, I don’t know what best practice dictates.

So, my questions this week are many: How are you financing your professional development, especially in this downturn economy? How much do you expect to personally kick in this year? What’s a reasonable dollar amount to expect from your association? What’s the best way to garner association support?

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January 12, 2009

Another Association Experiments with Mobile Phone Learning

The Century Council, a social responsibility nonprofit funded by the U.S. distilled spirits industry that works to reduce drunk driving in the United States, is one of the latest organizations developing and piloting tools for cell phones as a way to explore the impact of so-called “mobile learning.” In mid-December 2008, it launched, an innovative, “at-your-fingertips” program for mobile phones that helps people better estimate their blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

The interactive program “takes the guessing game out of the equation and gives the user factual information about how alcohol consumption affects an individual's BAC,” explains the organization in its press release. “Accessible from any mobile device, the user quickly enters their gender and weight and the type and quantity of drink(s) they plan to consume. A few short clicks later they are given their approximate BAC.”

According to Susan Molinari, who chairs The Century Council, the organization developed the tool because “readily available access to such important information will lead to more responsible decisions that can now be made anytime, at any place.”

The site “is an enhancement of an earlier version of the program but is faster and designed to be easily used on any mobile device.”

If your association or nonprofit has been creating mobile learning or other types of campaigns that rely on cell phones, please feel free to post brief summaries on this blog, so others can view your samples.


December 29, 2008

Cheap, Easy, Effective: A Different Kind of Education Tool

The Ethics Resource Center has a cool twist on the usual e-update to stakeholders: a regular series of e-mailed PowerPoint charts or graphics on specific topics titled EthicsStat.

This week’s subject is on “Global Reporting” and shares data in an easy-to-absorb color chart on reported employee misconduct in various countries, urging leaders to “keep their fingers on the global pulses of their organizations.”

Considering that many people learn best through visual representations of data rather than straight narrative, this appears to be a smart, unique approach that would work well for many organizations that regularly share research or trends info with stakeholders.

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October 24, 2008

Quick clicks: Performance reviews, flex schedules, and more

I've been collecting a bunch of links to share with you:

- Did you see the very interesting article in the Wall Street Journal on why you should get rid of performance reviews? I don't know if I agree (although Scott might), but it's definitely a thought-provoking read.

- Elizabeth Weaver Engel started a good discussion about flexible schedules.

- Kristin Clarke's post on associations and the financial crisis sparked some good posts by other bloggers: Bruce Hammond lists some questions we should be asking right now, Caron Mason suggests ways associations can help members impacted by the economy, and Tony Rossell points out that association membership can be a form of unemployment insurance. In addition, Kerry Stackpole writes on leadership in uncertain times

- Kevin Holland and David Patt respond to Scott Oser's post on whether or not attendees at association meetings are really ready for new meeting formats. Both of them raise important points about the negatives of some more interactive education sessions.

- David Patt also points to an interesting blog post, where the blogger in question and her commenters discuss the pros and cons of joining a professional association. It's an interesting glimpse at a potential member's thought process.

- Wes Trochlil is gathering information on associations that use their AMS successfully.

- Lindy Dreyer suggests that both age and generation are less important than we often think.

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October 8, 2008

New meeting formats: Are we really ready for them?

I was recently reading the cover story of this month’s Association Now, Meetings Remix, by Jeff Waddle and it got me thinking. I truly see the value in having less structured and less podium driven meetings but in some way I am skeptical of whether most audiences are truly ready for it. I ask this because of what I see in various situations within ASAE itself.

At ASAE Annual in SD Karen Bresson of the Society of Actuaries, Barry Pilson of Americans for the Arts and I conducted a session on creating a sales culture within your organization. We wanted the session to be truly interactive and wanted most of the content to be audience generated. Not one of us had done this type of session before but we thought the expertise of the audience was much grander than just that of the 3 of us so we went for it. When we first arrived in the room it was set up primarily theatre style, with a few rounds. With the help of Mike Skiados we moved more chairs to the tables and asked people as they entered to please go to a table. It was a busy job since most people migrated right to the back of the room. Eventually we had most people seated around tables and then we described that this was going to be a highly interactive session where they would work with their table mates to come up with solutions to a challenge which they would then present to the room. At that point an amazing number of people walked out. Was it because they didn’t want to participate and only wanted to be spoken at? Or was it because the seminar was not marketed to be as interactive and participatory as it in fact was going to be? Or was it a combination of both?

I also attend a large number of ASAE Idea Swaps on various topics. The Idea Swaps are designed to be interactive forums where people share information, ideas and challenges around a particular topic. I am always amazed at how many people come and do not say a word. All they want to do is listen and take notes. There are always plenty of people to speak but one would think that if you know that it is designed to be interactive you would be prepared to participate when you get there.

I understand that not everyone is as vocal or cares to share their thoughts as openly as I do. However, if you take the shy people out of the equation I still see that a lot of meeting attendees do not want to work to get solutions. Instead they would rather have someone at the podium telling them the right way to do something. Am I hanging out at the wrong meetings? Or is this type of approach not quite right for a certain portion of the meeting population at this time? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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April 30, 2008

Stories as Influencers for Socially Responsible Behavior

Compelling stories have emerged as potent tools in forwarding discussions about what values members gain when their associations are involved in socially responsible practices, programs, and goals. At both my morning and afternoon tables at the Global Summit on Social Responsibility, association professionals barely took a breath between sharing and commenting on each other’s stories, whether they had to do with an organization’s actions or an individual’s choices. Frankly, it’s a challenge to capture every anecdote for later thought or follow up, but one colleague told me that he had taken almost 25 pages of notes in less than six hours!

I’m feeling especially attuned to the power of storytelling today because I’m halfway through the excellent book Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, which I thought would be good prep for the summit. Also, co-author Joseph Grenny—whose last best-seller, Crucial Conversations, was referenced several times at my table today-- is speaking August 19 at ASAE & The Center’s Annual Meeting and Expo.

According to Influencer, “people will attempt to change their behavior if (1) they believe it will be worth it, and (2) they can do what is required.” Stories that guide people to those conclusions must contain both “a clear link between the current behaviors and existing (or possibly future) negative results” and “positive replacement behaviors that yield new and better results.”

Those of us at the summit today heard such “high-point stories” recounted on the stage, in the coffee line, and from attendees at some of the 14 connected sites across America. I liked the examples given by CEO Scott Steen of the American Ceramic Society. First, Scott described the rapid membership growth achieved by the National Association of Counties after it cleverly arranged a deal with a corporation that allowed the association to provide prescription discount cards to members for free distribution in every county in America.

Second, he cited the National Academy of Engineers’ inspiring work with members to identify 14 “grand challenges” such as making solar energy affordable and reverse-engineering the brain. The organization then spotlights research and grant money focused on those topics. “They’re saying to their members, ‘Here is where to go to make a difference as an engineer,” explained Scott, adding that the organization is using the initiative to “define their mission in the world and show how engineers and their industry are making huge differences.” I can’t wait to hear what comes out of Thursday’s “dream” process….


April 25, 2008

Quick clicks: Dithering

- This week, Ann Oliveri had one of my favorite blog post titles in a while: The Knowing-Dithering Gap. I know I've seen that gap before.

- Are meeting attendees beginning to expect more opportunities to engage with presenters? Or can a lack of such engagement driving people away from traditional education events? Jeremiah Owyang at the Web Strategy by Jeremiah blog shares some direct experience with changing presentations based on audience response, and Krys Slovacek at the Gathering blog talks about creating engagement with audience response systems.

- Welcome to another relatively new association blogger: Chris Davis at the Beginning Marketer blog. Chris, thank you for blogging!

- Jeff Cobb at the Mission to Learn blog is launching a newsletter focused on free learning opportunities--great stuff for smaller associations or those forced to reduce their staff development budgets as the economy gets bumpy.

- If you've enjoyed Joe's posts on Acronym from the DigitalNow conference, you may also be interested in the official DigitalNow blog. They're doing some neat things with incorporating photos via Flickr and video into the blog, as well as providing a lot of presentation materials through the blog.

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April 10, 2008

Redeveloping our curiosity

In the March issue of Associations Now, Jeff De Cagna outlines several new traditions associations need to adopt in order to survive. First on his list is a tradition of curiosity and a total commitment to continued learning. In order to infuse the associations we work for with an insatiable hunger for knowledge—whether it provides what we hope to find or something totally different—we first need to cultivate curiosity in ourselves as individuals.

Parents encourage small children to be curious about the world. To explore their physical surroundings and mental space. To ask questions and wonder why. In school, from kindergarten to college, teachers promote curiosity by leading students in conducting science experiments, analyzing historical events, and imagining new solutions. But too often in the work world, curiosity loses priority in favor of increasing productivity or maintaining the status quo. If, as De Cagna says, curiosity will be a necessary component of a thriving association, deeply curious people will be needed to manage them. We have the opportunity to distinguish ourselves now as self-motivated learners who look for knowledge everywhere.

Redeveloping our curiosity can happen through formal professional development opportunities, web-based forums, in-person gatherings, and good old-fashioned reading of books and magazines. To foster curiosity among our teams, we could set up a position swap where staff members provide fresh perspectives on the issues facing co-workers in other departments. Or we could ask the whole office to read a groundbreaking book and discuss it during lunch or happy hour. What other ways can we become more curious and jump-start an environment of learning in our organizations?

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March 11, 2008

Quick clicks: Learners taking over learning

There are a couple of interesting posts about learning up today: Sue Pelletier at face2face blogs about attendees rebelling during a session at the SXSW technology conference. She links to video of the session as well; once you've watched it, I'd be curious to see what the meetings folks out there think. What if something like this happened at one of your events?

Elsewhere, at Mission to Learn, Jeff Cobb blogs some thoughts about a world without courses. How could we tell whether someone has officially "learned" when they are doing their learning unofficially, with no diploma or certificate awarded by an accredited learning provider? Jeff has a few ideas.

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January 21, 2008

Quick clicks: Alternative membership models and more

A few interesting posts I thought I'd share with you all:

- Tony Rossell's Membership Marketing blog always features thoughtful posts (and often equally thoughtful comments from his readers). I found his recent discussion of alternative membership models to be particularly interesting.

- If your association offers webinars or something similar, you should definitely check out Michele Martin's post on what she learned from her experience as a webinar presenter at the Bamboo Project blog.

- Cindy Butts at AE on the Verge posted some really interesting feedback from some new members on what they'd like to see change at their association. I bet a lot of what her members said could resonate with your new members, too.

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January 7, 2008

Video snacking

Elliott Masie's Learning TRENDS e-newsletter today has an interesting riff on ways to use video to reach your members and customers. He cites a New York Times article on the rise of lunchtime video--office workers viewing some news or entertainment highlights with their sandwiches.

Masie suggests, "What if we harnessed the concept of Video Snacking for learning? Imagine your organization producing a short, 5 to 7 minute show every day for viewing during lunch."

Could your association take this idea and run with it in a way that works with the ebb and flow of your members' schedules?

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October 4, 2007

Live conference chat

During ASAE & The Center’s Annual Meeting in Chicago, there was a healthy amount of chatter going on through a text-message backchannel set up by Ben Martin of the Certified Association Executive blog. Ben set up what amounted to a cell-phone listserver—where backchannel participants could text message all other participants with their thoughts and opinions during the meeting (and set up face-to-face meetings as well).

On the Logic + Emotion blog, there’s a related idea that I found quite interesting: Allow text messaging as part of a panel format. Blogger David Armano will be hosting a panel discussion where attendees can text message directly to an interactive screen—so that everyone in the room can see the text messages that appear, and the panelists can address questions that the texters submit. Will it lead to chaos? He freely admits that he doesn’t know, but he’s interested in trying something new and finding ways to increase the interactivity of the panel discussion format—certainly worthy goals!

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August 27, 2007

The personal MBA

Just what I need: Another excuse to buy large amounts of books. (Actually, as any of my good friends could tell you, I need no excuse at all to buy books. But I digress.)

Can an MBA be replaced by a self-study program? The personal MBA site aims to find out. For those of you who haven’t come across the personal MBA before, it’s an interesting combination of self-study through reading and online community discussion, with a blog thrown in for good measure. (Josh Kaufman, the host of the site, also offers coaching to those interested.) BusinessWeek published an article on the history of the personal MBA if you’d like to learn more about how it got started.

I’m personally interested in reading some of the books—and interested to see which books were selected and which weren’t. But I’d encourage you to check out the personal MBA site with your association exec hat on, too. Could your association offer online self-study opportunities like this that members could pursue on their own time, without additional cost? Of course, I wonder if members used to working specifically for CMEs or recertification credits would skip over opportunities without credits attached. Would learning for learning’s sake attract the same interest?

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August 17, 2007

Blogs as learning tools

Rosetta Thurman at Perspectives From the Pipeline, a blog focused on nonprofit leadership from a young leader’s perspective, has a great essay up on her blog about using blogs as low-cost learning tools. It’s a nice take on the value of blogs, since I think a lot us tend to default to thinking of blogs as communication vehicles even as we use them as learning tools ourselves.

She has a lot to say, but I particularly like her ideas for using blogs as a group professional development tool within a nonprofit organization. She suggests starting by distributing a list of blogs for staff to read, perhaps as a hyperlinked Word document (I would add that giving staff instructions on how to set up a feed reader like Bloglines or Google Reader would also work well). She also suggests scheduling regular half-hour “knowledge jam sessions” for discussion of what staff learned from blogs in the past week.

Michele Martin just happens to be posting on a related topic in her blog: how to help staff at your organization create their own personal learning environments. Michele has a bunch of great ideas on how to nurture a culture of learning and on the many tools staff can use to become self-directed learners.

Lots of good stuff—especially as professional development becomes more and more important to professional staffers.

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January 9, 2007

The Really Un- Unconference

One of the great things about blogging is that if you admit enough of your quirks and foibles, you sometimes find out you're not quite as weird as you thought - there are others out there just as weird as you. This is probably not one of those times.

I work in a fairly small state association. I love my job. I love my association. But I don't get to do the traveling of some of my peers on the national level - or at least not for educational purposes. We have a small budget set aside for continuing education which generally pays for a trip to the national meeting of our trade association, a few local meetings and, most years, the ASAE annual meeting.

Throughout the year, I get brochures for many more meetings. Many more meetings with interesting agendas and great speakers that I would love to attend - but know I can't. For example, ASAE's great ideas conference is coming up Jan. 27-30. It promises fresh ideas and to pump my garden full of seeds of potential growth. And my mental garden so needs that right now - creative fertilizer, cranial MiracleGro. But I still can't go.

So here's what I do. I save the brochures - even though I can't go. I read the brochures. I make myself think about how I could make my garden grow right here at home. (Hey, plain old tap water can make things grow too.) I call it my Really Un- Unconference. I close my door. I escape (just not to Florida, unfortunately).

For example, Dan Heath, author of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, is the opening general session speaker. He promises to tell you about the six hooks to get your ideas to stick. (Close your eyes now if you're going to Florida.) Well, here they are, straight from a review in Publisher's Weekly: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions and stories. (The initial letters spell out "success"—well, almost.)

You can read the article in Time magazine about the book. Read an excerpt from the book here. Read their blog. (Dan wrote the book with his brother, Chip.) E-mail Chip and ask him why he's not coming to the conference too. (Maybe he doesn't have the budget either. Or maybe he figures California's just as sunny as Florida.) ;)

Read an interview with both of the brothers here. See their interview on the Today show. Read this article in Inc. magazine about their stickiness. Or just type in Dan Heath Made to Stick in Google like I did and spend the rest of your afternoon stuck in stickiness.

Is this the same as attending the conference and finding some sticky ideas of my own to take home - along with some new friends and some Florida sunshine? No. But it's better than throwing the brochure in the trash can and going on about my day.

It's my very own, personalized, made-to-order, bespoke really un- unconference!

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June 20, 2006

2 things to try

A second post from my experience at ASAE & The Center’s Invitational Forum on Leadership & Management—this one short and sweet.

Claire Guadiani, NYU professor and author of The Greater Good: How Philanthropy Drives the American Economy and Can Save Capitalism, offered these two idea gems:

1. If you have a meeting that will include people from different cultures, set aside a little time and seed a multicultural discussion with the following: “How does your culture express _______?” Fill in the blank with a word such as integrity, generosity, or respect.

2. As a university president, she sent two students, two teachers, two nonteaching staff, and two trustees to a learning environment wholly unlike a university, such as a Saturn plant or Disneyland. The association equivalent might be a senior staffer and a junior staffer together with two board members and two “average” members. Be creative with the types of environments. She said that you’d be surprised how receptive companies and places are to such things.