I recently facilitated two sessions on meeting planning and professional development for the Michigan Society of Association Executive’s (MSAE) Academy of Association Management. It’s again a reminder of the important intersection and relationship between learning and logistics, particularly as it relates to association education programs.
The course content primarily focuses on two chapters of Professional Practices in Association Management, Second Edition: Chapter 26 on education programs and Chapter 32 on meeting planning and management. Additional insights were gleaned from The Meetings Report jointly published by Event Garde and MSAE.
Following introductions and an outline of the day’s learning outcomes, I shared four big ideas that represent the importance of education to our organizations:
- Meetings represent a significant and increasing proportion of association revenue.
- Significant percentages of association memberships attend annual meetings or trade shows.
- Members believe the most important function of an association is to provide training and professional development.
- Six of the top seven reasons identified by association leaders as the reason people join are related to meetings. (Note: The final reason is related to advocacy.)
For a long time, planners have been tasked with coordinating chicken and chairs. Perhaps this is an oversimplification of their role as logistics managers; however, it’s clear that for many they’ve had little to no experience in instructional design, speaker coaching and content development. And most aren’t afforded a seat at the executive leadership table.
I firmly believe that moving forward our meetings personnel must have skillsets in both logistics and learning if they’re to find and cultivate successful association careers. As members become more sophisticated and their options to learn and to network become more bountiful, the status quo is no longer enough to capture their interest or to motivate their purchases.
So it’s time to get back to basics.
According to Ralph J. Nappi, CAE and Deborah B. Vieder, “The very purpose of an association—enabling people to achieve common goals, meet common needs, and solve problems—is realized by sharing information, networking, or joining together for a common good. In many associations, education programs help achieve these goals.”
So, what truly is the purpose of education? It seems like a simple enough question. But if you’re not currently asking it each and every time you plan a program—whether new, recurring or inherited—you’re doing both yourself and your organization a tremendous disservice. Our Academy participants—across both sessions—shared with us these thoughts during an initial carousel activity:
- Apply new skills and best practices
- Better serve clients/members
- Better understand complex issues
- Career advancement/professional growth
- Create a stronger workforce
- Deliver content
- Efficiency (i.e., cost savings)
- Elevate the profession
- Expand the field
- Gain experience
- Hear about developing trends
- Improve ROI
- Increase awareness/income
- Knowledge acquisition/retention
- Learn about the latest information shaping business/profession
- Learn things you didn’t know you needed to know
- Make connections/networking
- Personal growth
- Prepare for certification
- Provide a ready resource for the continuous learning necessary to keep pace with today’s rapid rate of change
- Resource acquisition
- Stimulate innovation
- Workplace transference
Next, we asked the question: What types of education programs do associations offer? At first blush, this question seems elementary: learning and networking or face-to-face and distance. But when we really dig into the available options, the list grows exponentially. This is especially important when finding the “right” fit for our next generation of learners.
- Annual conferences
- Board/committee meetings
- Case studies/reports
- Communities of practice
- Focus groups
- Knowledge-based learning
- Networking events
- Online learning/training
- Printed resources/materials (e.g., publications)
- Regional meetings
- Roundtable discussions
- Social networking sites
- Virtual (e.g., webinar, on-demand)
Finally, we don’t operate in a vacuum. We must constantly survey the environment to evaluate our competition (specifically as it relates to providers of continuing education our members find relevant, innovative and cost effective). Following is a preliminary list of other education opportunities that likely exist for your association members:
- Business groups/counsels
- Community colleges
- Computer-based studies
- Corporate training
- Extension programs
- For-profit groups
- Free information online
- Government agencies
- Home-study courses
- In-house training
- Law firms
- Leadership centers
- Non-profit groups
- On-the-job (e.g., individual unit, corporate office)
- Other associations (e.g., international, national, state, regional, local)
- Personal networks
- Topical conferences (e.g., TED Talks)
The key takeaways here are relatively straightforward:
- Define goals and objectives for each and every program your department offers – and develop unique learning and networking experiences that meets those goals.
- Identify program types and formats your members find appealing and valuable; support your speakers and facilitators both in the planning and the delivery of these programs.
- Analyze your competition; summarize and effectively promote both how your programs differ and the innate value proposition they offer participants.
In the meantime, tell us what you would add to this conversation.