With the ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition coming up in just a couple of weeks, association executives from across the country are finalizing travel arrangements and preparing for three days of learning and exploration. With more than 120 educational sessions, 400+ booths in the expo hall and several star-studded evening events, attendees will have a myriad of ways to broaden their industry knowledge, find new sources of products and services, and connect with colleagues. Trying to squeeze education, vendor visits and networking into three days will leave many association professionals with the feeling that they’re drinking from a fire hose.
Drawing on many years of managing and attending association conferences, I’ve pulled together some tips that will hopefully make the experience less hectic and more beneficial:
There will be many thought-provoking educational sessions, but are they applicable to you and your organization? Before looking at the schedule, think about your current goals and challenges. Consider the aspects of association management where you’re already strong versus those where you could use a little help. Are you being tasked with new responsibilities for which you need new knowledge? Is there an initiative you want to propose, but need more supporting evidence? Most presenters will cover successes and some will even talk about their shortfalls. Learn from the victories and mistakes of others, and target your learning to the areas where you need it most. Once you’ve checked those boxes, go ahead and plug a “life skills” session into your schedule!
Do Your Research
Once you’ve identified the topics you want to focus on, read the descriptions and speaker bios thoroughly, just to make sure you’re on target and that the speakers or panelists have backgrounds that fit your needs. If the topic is right, but the examples are not relevant to you, you may not get as much out of the session. Also, review speakers’ websites, social media sites, etc. If their bio says they’ve previously spoken at ASAE, ask colleagues if they’ve ever heard the speaker before. The more insight you have into the speakers, the easier it will be to determine if their session will be of value to you.
If you’re attending the conference with a colleague (or colleagues) from your office, see if you can coordinate with them to cover more sessions that will benefit your entire organization. This is especially helpful when there are simultaneous sessions that you need to attend. Divide and conquer! Get the handouts, take good notes and then get together at the end of the day (while it’s all still fresh in your mind) to share what you’ve learned.
Have an Expo Plan of Attack
We all like wandering the show floor and collecting tzotchkes (and even cocktails!) from the vendors, but the ASAE Expo will only be open for a grand total of seven hours out of approximately 24 hours of programming. If you need to visit with someone about a new association management system, or select the right venue for your 2017 show, or find a developer who can build your new online member community for you, you’ll need to use your time wisely. As with selecting which sessions to attend, review the exhibitor list on the conference website before you leave your office and research the vendors who focus on the areas where you need help. You may even want to contact them in advance and set up a time and place to meet at the show. Either way, try to connect with the vendors you need to see on the first day of the expo. Then, you can leisurely stroll the floor and fill your goody bag with key chains and stress balls on day two!
Don’t Be Shy
Still not getting the answers you need from the sessions? You can bet your next paycheck someone else at that meeting – probably several people – have information that could help you. Go to the lunches ASAE will offer in the expo hall each day and seek out people you don’t know to sit with. Attend the evening events and mingle actively. Strike up conversations and, if your new BFFs seem willing to let you, pick their brains! If there’s one thing I’ve learned after more than 17 years of working for and with associations, it’s that association professionals LOVE to talk! We’re all pretty social people to start with, but ask us about our organization or our challenges and successes at work, and you’d better be prepared to stay awhile! It’s fun- and who couldn’t use a few more friends and professional connections?
In addition to gaining information that can help you at work, there’s one other key benefit to making new association friends. While you might be perfectly happy in your current position now, you never know when you might get that wandering feeling and want to look for the next stop on your career path. The professional network you form at events like the ASAE Annual Meeting can be very valuable to you today and in the years to come.
One last thing- If you are attending the ASAE Annual Meeting this year, be sure to ping MultiView at booth #531 to talk about how to best serve your members and keep their dues down!