Missed Connections

Missed connectionsI’m still pretty young (by my own standards).  But I can remember the days of pink “while you were out” slips, calling in for messages from pay phones and (gasp) not having email at work.

And every innovation carries with it the same promise—it will keep us more connected.   In many ways, this is true.   When I sit in a far away hotel room talking to my kids over Facetime (when they actually answer), it’s a remarkable display of the promise of the connected society.

But just like the characters in the recent movie Her (great premise, but too long), the technology that brings us together can also be isolating.  I’m struck by how infrequently the phone rings in my office these days—but I’ll look down at it and find 20-30 text messages.   Of course, that implies that I’ve put it down at all.  Too often my phone is my companion in meetings, conferences or at the dinner table.

So what does any of this have to do with associations?  A lot.   At their essence, associations are about connectedness.  Whether its connecting people or companies, associations are about creating the fabric that weaves people together.  And the same technology that enables our doing so in ways we never imagined can also make us more isolated.

Here are three ideas to prevent this.

First, never forget to talk with—or better yet, meet with—your members.    Nearly twenty years ago, at the Massachusetts Hospital Association, I oversaw the “CEO Visit” program.  Put simply, we made sure our VPs visited every CEO in our membership once per year, in that CEOs office.   It was a simple way to stay connected.  Whether it’s just picking up the phone to talk to someone or making an effort to see them at a conference, it’s well worth it.

Second, adopt “in flight” rules.   When I facilitate a Board meeting, I adopt what I call the “in flight” policy—that is, all Board members must put away and stow all portable electronic devices prior to meeting takeoff.   It’s a sign of respect for those in the room to truly be in the room.  We take breaks, and all rush to our electronics, but while we’re talking, we’re really talking.  It’s remarkable how much you can get done with this simple rule.

Finally, go old school.   I get several hundred emails a day.  And more and more, I get tons of texts from our clients.  But I can count the number of letters I get per month on one hand.  I still get them—and read them—but no one sends them.  Sometimes going old school is the way to reach someone.  I still appreciate a handwritten thank you.  I still write tons of birthday cards.  Don’t forget that connecting with your members may be the cost of a stamp away.

At the Ready

Ready to produce resultYesterday I went underwear shopping.

This isn’t usually blog-worthy, but it actually tells you a bit of what we try to do here at Virtual.

One of our clients was due to testify on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.  Due to a massive 4-inch snowstorm that Washington isn’t terribly adept at clearing, his testimony was delayed until Thursday.   Since he was a precise packer, this meant he was out of underwear.

So I went to Macy’s and bought him some.

There’s a lesson here for associations.   Sometimes your members need complicated things…help on Capitol Hill, advice on a key issue.  Sometimes they need the basics.   And sometimes you can’t deliver on the complex items without the basics.   Are you paying attention to what your member’s really need?

Because no one should go commando to Capitol Hill.

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?

Association Conference ServicesToday’s remote conferencing tools and virtual events are great for going green and reducing travel spend—particularly if your working groups, association executives, or Board members are geographically dispersed. But there’s no real substitute for in-person gatherings. When you need to unite key people in your association—for training, strategizing, or promoting new initiatives—professional conference services can help.

What’s the value of conference services? The answer depends on the type of event you’re trying to organize or attend. Here are five that we often tackle on behalf of our clients and association executives:

1.       Working Group Meetings

Email and conference calls are great, but they’ll never replace face-to-face meetings. Working groups are comprised of many different dynamics—different personalities, different expectations, different learning styles. By removing the headaches associated with venues and itineraries, conference services can help you coordinate your next working group session, so all your members are more productive.

2.       Board Meetings

How seamless are your annual strategic planning sessions? How many working hours are co-opted so you can plan for the planning session? Comprehensive conference services can support your Board members by setting the agenda, orchestrating meeting logistics, even facilitating discussions or taking meeting minutes.

3.       Tradeshow Booths

There’s a reason we’ve all experienced the tradeshow circuit at one time or another. Done well, tradeshows still work. Conference services can help you define “done well” for any event or expo you’re considering—from booth marketing to tradeshow collateral. For example, a traditional 10×10 association booth won’t get much traffic next to a display on a 102-inch OLED at the Consumer Electronics Show.

4.       Plugfests

If you’re a standards-setting organization, you rely on plugfests to test the interoperability of different products or services in a standardized environment. Conference services can help you bring together the people and tools for better technical experimentation and collaboration.

5.       Networking Events

Associations are natural “conveners.” They create safe spaces for people to meet, across industries and geographic markets. Hosting a conference or forum carries tremendous potential to grow your membership and your role as a thought leader. It’s much easier to focus on the content of your event if you’re using conference services to manage the logistics.

Remember: you don’t need a full-time events coordinator to handle your association gatherings. Conference services are available as on-demand solutions, customized to fit your association needs.