Business PresentationThis week I’m speaking on a panel at the New England Society of Association Executives Annual Meeting.   I’ll be honest, I’m not entirely sure what the session title is.  But I know it has something to do with “innovations in meetings and programs.”

And while I’m not entirely sure of the topic, I’ve got some thoughts on how meetings are changing.  Here’s my “high five.”

  1. Presentations are shorter.   With the popularity of 18 minute TED talks, the days of the 90 minute keynote session are coming to a close.  People’s expectations and attention spans are shorter then ever—and TED shows how much information can be conveyed in a short period of time.
  2. Networking is more important than ever.   We live in a connected world, but it’s often possible to lose that face to face connection.  It’s critical for programs to provide ample networking opportunity—while keeping in mind that many people are using the first 15 minutes of a break to catch up on email and texts.
  3. End Business Karaoke.   There was a time when Powerpoint was a novelty.  Now it is an often eye-roll inducing requirement at many meetings.  Remember that presentations should enhance what the speaker is saying—they shouldn’t be what the speaker is saying.  If someone is presenting by reading their slides to the audience, get them off the stage.
  4. Innovate with room set ups.   There’s no rule that rooms have to be set “classroom” or “theater” using conventional chairs.  At TED Active last year, I sat on a bean bag chair.  And still learned something…
  5. Connect with the audience.  Apps and web sites give an opportunity to keep a connection with an audience long after a program is over—and allow attendees to connect with one another.  A few years ago, wi fi was a luxury at conferences, today its expected.  The same will be true in the coming year with conference apps.

And if you’re in the Boston area, swing by NE/SAE on Thursday and Friday the 16th and 17th.   I promise I’ll be sure of my session title by then.


Find Talent Association Management CompanyNew York Yankees pitcher, Mariano Rivera, retired at the end of this baseball season.  After all the years Rivera he’s spent in the league—he’s retiring at age 43—it’s easy to forget where he came from.   But I won’t make you look it up.  Rivera is a product of the New York Yankees farm system.   (If you’re not a baseball fan, the farm system is a network of minor league teams that supports the major league teams—it’s where talent is developed).

What does baseball have to do with association membership? Great baseball teams have great farm systems.  And they take talent development seriously.

Great associations need to follow baseball’s example.  Talent development doesn’t happen by accident—your organization needs a member management strategy, to develop talent systematically.

Here are three questions to consider as you do:

1.   Is there a meaningful way for young talent to participate in your organization?

Many organizations ask members to ‘pay their dues’ before they can participate in meaningful ways. Members ascend from volunteer roles, to committee chair roles, to Board member roles, and through a rotation of officer positions.  In some groups, this means the path from first volunteering to leadership can be measured in decades.

For the WWII generation, which was hardwired for loyalty and organizational longevity, this made good sense.  But for Millennials, who are hardwired for 140-character tweets and frequent job changes, can you be confident that a path this long will attract the best talent?

2.   Do you regularly scan your association membership for stars?

Your future association chair may be sitting as a volunteer on a subcommittee.  Or she might be the person standing up to ask a hard question at a meeting.  Or, sometimes, he has nominated himself for the Board. Regardless of the source, the reality is the same: unless you create a focused effort to identify talent, you’re going to miss out.

Here’s a practical way to do so—a pyramid scheme.  Ask your officers to identify the top two or three Board members.   Ask the Board members to identify the top two or three committee chairs.  Ask the committee chairs to identify the top two or three volunteers.  Before you know it, you have a talent bank on your hands.

3.  Is talent development a part of your association’s member management strategy?

Once you’ve identified your stars, be sure you’ve created ways to develop their talent.  Per the first question, this doesn’t have to be a decades-long apprenticeship. Something as simple as assigning a mentor can go a long way toward turning young members into longstanding members—ones with tremendous leadership potential.

Association management vision sharingI recently read a great article in The New York Times about how challenging it will be for Microsoft to find its new CEO, given the diversity of businesses that the company represents. The article ends with a quote from Harvard Business School professor, David Yoffie:

“I think the fundamental question for the next CEO of Microsoft is, what is his vision for Microsoft?”

When it comes to association management, vision is paramount.  But having a vision is only half the battle for associations.  At times, a bigger challenge will be communicating that vision effectively.  Here are five ways to do just that:

1. Repeat yourself

It’s not just about people needing to hear a message over and over again; it’s that new people are tuning in to your message every day.   When you talk about your vision, remember there are always those who are hearing it for the first time.

2. Use every medium

People learn in different ways—some learn by listening, others learn by reading, still others learn by doing.   In a world full of multi-modal learners, don’t restrict the communication of your vision to any one mode—just a written statement, for example.  Why not produce a two-minute video about your vision?   Or create an infographic?

3. Bring it home

Help members make the connection between your association programs and the broader vision.  For example, “Welcome to our training program—our vision is to bring our profession to the next level.  This program is a part of that…”

4. Don’t hide it

I shouldn’t have to look deep within an association’s “About Us” section to identify its purpose. Communicate your vision on key pages of your website. Don’t recycle the same boilerplate material. Push yourself to use fresh, compelling language.

5. Repeat yourself

Get the point?

Strategic Plans for AssociationsWhat’s an eight-letter word for association management? Strategy. And even though it should be the driving force behind your professional association’s agenda, strategic plans are often lacking in their most basic elements—including the imperative to stay current.

Meg Whitman once described the evolution of eBay’s strategic mission in observing that strategy meetings went from being held once or twice per year, to being necessary several times a week.   While that level of planning may be overkill, there’s a strong case to be made for regular strategizing—quarterly planning is a good benchmark.

Why? Today’s professional associations are operating in a rapidly changing environment.  It’s critical that you’re working toward a focused and specific set of goals, with metrics and accountability measures built in. Tapping into professional association management is one way to ensure your organization’s strategy makes sense. Meanwhile, here are some reasons to revamp (and regularly review) your association’s strategic plan:

Competitors are emerging faster than ever. 

The Internet has changed the professional association space in immeasurable ways.  One of its biggest effects has been the impact on association competition.  Twenty years ago, many associations had geographic monopolies.   If I wanted to attend a seminar, I had to limit my search to local groups hosting local events.  Today, as education moves online, I can just as easily attend a webinar sponsored by a California-based association.  And the same goes for everyday information gathering; Google doesn’t limit me to the resources available from the associations I’ve already joined.

New technology brings new opportunity.  

Absent a strategic plan, technology will pass you by.   Fifteen years ago, the conversation was all about, “should we have a web page?”   Five years ago, it was, “do we need a social media strategy?”  Today, associations are contemplating (or procrastinating on) the development of a mobile strategy.  Absent a planning process, none of these opportunities will get addressed.

Missions change.  

The March of Dimes was formed to stamp out polio.  Dartmouth College was formed to educate the Native American population of Northern New England.   It’s important to regularly reevaluate your mission, to make sure you’re still in the right business.

Two last tips: Be sure that your plan is sufficiently documented—that means incorporating formal goals and metrics.  You should also consider the benefits of an outside facilitator, especially for web and technology management—someone who can be sure all the tough questions get asked and answered as part of your planning process.  There’s huge value in working with fresh eyes.