Archive for November, 2011


Thanksgiving weekend takeaways for the association professional

If you’re anything like me (and you probably are), it’s taken a couple of days to get over the rush of the holiday weekend. It all started with Thanksgiving, flush with parade watching, overeating and skillful avoidance of family get-togethers.

Then along came Black Friday. And try as I might, I just couldn’t avoid the lure of 20 percent off my entire purchase at Bed Bath and Beyond. All I had to do was grace the frenzied workers with my joyful presence before 10 a.m. To make matters worse, I also visited three (count them, three) area Pier 1 stores to gather enough clearance dishes to assemble 12 complete place settings.

Finally, Cyber Monday. And although I didn’t indulge in the bountiful bargains, I understand that Cyber Monday sales were colossal. Online sales for the day were expected to hit $1.2 billion, topping last year’s $1.03 billion, according to early estimates. But that’s not even the whole story. More notably, Black Friday sales online were up 26 percent over last year’s numbers.

So, what does this all mean for the association community? Well, I’m no social media maven, but for the average-to-slightly-advanced social media user, it means lots and lots of people are in some way engaged in this space we call the Internet. And if people are online spending billions of dollars annually—let alone over the course of one holiday weekend—there must be a way to successfully engage these individuals with our associations, too.

In fact, I think it should stop each of us dead in our tracks, if even for a few moments, to consider how our organizations are currently engaging and harnessing the power of the Internet and this “fad” called social media. Specifically, how are we engaging members or clients via our Web site or through such communication channels as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the like?

For me, this past holiday weekend offers five key takeaways for the association community:

  1. Mobile goes mainstream. With the number of new apps and mobile-enabled Web sites increasing each day, not to mention the volume of members now turning to smartphones for their news and information, it’s important for associations to stay ahead of this trend.
  2. Cash is king. Or, more appropriately, a good pricing strategy is king. I attended an ASAE-sponsored program earlier this year featuring Rafi Mohammed and he completely changed my perspective on pricing. If you’ve not yet read his book, The 1% Windfall, you should.
  3. Web analytics speak volumes. If you’ve not yet enabled analytics for your organization’s Web site, what are you waiting for? The information gleaned from this data can help you make important decisions regarding your Web site’s ease of use and functionality, not to mention start a broader discussion about long-term social media strategy.
  4. Old habits die hard. And what I mean here is that our members enjoy the path of least resistance. They like the way things always have been, so it’s important to maintain some element of continuity. On the other hand, members also count on you to blaze new trails. In this case, a new Facebook page or LinkedIn group may just be the common ground.
  5. Classics count. That’s right! Many of us have that member directory or industry guidebook that we’d rather not publish again and again, year after year; however, it endures as a mainstay for many of our members. The classics can, in fact, be our bestsellers. So, be sure to keep these publications fresh, innovative, accessible and (as we learned above) correctly priced.

So, my question to you is this: What methods have you found most successful in engaging members online? If you’ve not yet taken the plunge, what’s holding you back? As you consider your social media strategy for 2012, what one goal or initiative could you reasonably commit to pursuing?


What’s your “defining statement”?

On recommendation from the talented Cynthia D’Amour, I recently picked up and read Growing Your Business! by Mark LeBlanc. It’s a whole $7.95 and has fewer than 80 pages. And yet, it packs a remarkable punch. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in building their career through enhanced focus, productivity and proactivity. Following is my favorite concept from the book:

A defining statement

According to LeBlanc, “The easiest way to position yourself by concept [as opposed to by title or by products/services] is to create a great defining statement. A defining statement is a simple answer to a simple question, ‘What do you do?’”

He goes on to ask, “How many times do you answer this question differently? Do your customers or even your family and friends really understand what you do? What if everyone knew? What if your employees [or colleagues, allies, friends and family] could repeat your defining statement?”

In theory, “When you can answer this simple question in a succinct and concise way that attracts more prospects, [LeBlanc believes] you will have reached a deeper level of connection with your prospects and customers.”

Although LeBlanc is writing to business owners and professionals who want to sell more products and services, I think the concept is equally applicable to association professionals and industry partners of all experience levels regardless of position.

Only when we truly understand the goals and objectives of our work, can articulate the benefits and limitations of our own personal gifts and talents, and can easily and clearly communicate this “What do you do?” vision with both current and prospective members/clients, does the ambiguity and frustration begin to subside. The resulting void is then filled with confidence, joy and passion. Identifying and nurturing that sweet spot is sure to make us more productive employees and much more pleasant in our personal lives, too.

So, my question to you is this: What’s your defining statement? How do you know? How do you share this defining statement with others? How has your defining statement changed your life? How do you resolve conflicts between your defining statement and your organization’s defining statement?


Leveraging your gifts and talents

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of co-facilitating with Vince Coraci, director of member services and development at the National Association of Social Workers – Michigan Chapter, an emerging professionals brown bag program focused on professional development. A portion of our discussion focused on identifying personal gifts and talents, as well as successfully leveraging these traits for optimal growth, development and career advancement. Following is an excerpt of my advice:

First, as professionals we must be keenly aware of our gifts and talents. One way of identifying these traits is to create a list of past achievements. This includes achievements that were realized both individually and as part of a team. And it’s not enough to only consider accomplishments at work. This comprehensive list should be expanded to include achievements at school, home and other applicable contexts (both past and present).

Next, we must add to this list our strengths. These are the abilities, either natural or acquired, that make us valued and desired as employees, learners and spouses. To help you get started, try answering each of the following questions:

  • What would your coworkers/supervisor say are your best attributes? What about your members or clients? How would they characterize your most notable contributions to the organization?
  • What do your friends and family members seek from you? How do you contribute in meaningful ways to these relationships?
  • Consider elements of extracurricular activities/hobbies you enjoy. What aspects of these pastimes set you apart from others?
  • Identify your passion; if you could do only one thing day in and day out for the rest of your life, what would you be happiest doing?
  • What have you discovered from past personality assessments, including DISC, True Colors and Myers-Briggs?

Finally, have other trusted individuals (at least one from work, school and home) review your draft list of gifts and talents to provide feedback. These individuals can help identify strengths you may have either downplayed or not considered. They may also challenge items on your list that may not necessarily be strengths (or may require some additional time and attention to convert into full-fledged strengths).

With your final, vetted list of gifts and talents, spend some time identifying commonalities among the various entries. Further boiling this list down to several key attributes (approximately three to five) will provide focus and direction when it comes to selecting targeted opportunities and experiences for further integrating these strengths into your work.

The second step to leveraging your gifts and talents is knowing how best to utilize these traits. In my opinion, there are two possible courses of action:

  1. You can seek out opportunities within your workplace (department or organization) that require little to no leadership support/buy-in. These self-directed experiences may include taking a more active role in staff meetings (if you’re an innovative thinker with creative ideas) or researching a new office supply company (if you’re budget-conscious and a good negotiator).
  2. Or you can seek out opportunities within your industry (professional society or industry organization). In this case, executive buy-in will likely be necessary. For example, you may consider chairing a committee, writing a white paper or coordinating a program. Whatever the experience, you are utilizing your gifts and talents in a way that furthers your growth and development (and may even “give back” to a cause, community or profession).

So, my question to you is this: What strategies do you find most successful when it comes to identifying employee gifts and talents (for you or others)? How do you best leverage these gifts and talents in the workplace? Conversely, how might organizations (associations, hoteliers, vendors) adapt to provide more opportunities that leverage the gifts and talents of their employees?


Best practices in vetting speakers

We’ve all attended programs in the past where the audience feels a significant disconnect with the speaker. I’m not talking about those outlier individuals in every audience who – for one reason or another – just can’t relate. Probably because of my interests and experiences, I’ve been that outlier before. I generally don’t respond well to what I can only describe as cheesy humor or the gratuitous use of props.

No, what I’m talking about in this case is that speaker who’s striking a disconcerting chord with a majority of audience members. Following is only a partial list of reasons the speaker could be severely striking out:

  • Speaker isn’t a content expert – the “meat” of the program is essentially invalid (or outdated) before the program even begins (the program is D.O.A. or dead on arrival).
  • Speaker isn’t familiar with audience demographics – otherwise relevant content is rendered invalid when audience members can’t relate to the speaker’s message or experiences.
  • Speaker isn’t accessible – either perceived or in reality, this individual is unapproachable and, essentially, unsympathetic to the needs of the audience (they may just be in it for the money).
  • Speaker isn’t a skilled presenter – the delivery is uninspired, disorganized and/or confusing.
  • Speaker isn’t a skilled teacher – the speaker fails to play to the strengths of the adult learner and, therefore, the presentation is either boring or disengaging.
  • Speaker isn’t a skilled orator – the pace of the program is either too fast or too slow.
  • Speaker lacks intuition – the speaker fails to recognize during the course of the presentation signs of disconnect, discontent or fatigue.
  • Speaker lacks flexibility – the speaker is unable to respond “on the fly” to the dynamic and changing needs of the audience.
  • Speaker lacks charisma – the speaker is unable to inspire audience buy-in and any subsequent calls to action.
  • Speaker only presents canned programs – enough said.

So, what does this all mean? First of all, don’t underestimate the time, talent and resources necessary to select outstanding speakers for your next program. Second, I’d like to thank and congratulate all of the talented speakers out there who make professionals like me look good day in and day out. You have a difficult job, indeed. Beyond that, it serves as a good reminder that best practices do exist for vetting speakers. A partial list follows:

  • Research your speaker. Track down Web sites, YouTube videos and other collateral that provides some idea of not only the type of content you can expect from a prospective speaker, but also the speaker’s anticipated delivery style. It also helps determine the speaker’s experience presenting to audiences of similar size and scope as yours.
  • Seek client testimonials. Speakers generally have a list of past clients you can contact to discuss the pros and cons of former speaking engagements. Additionally, work your own personal and professional networks to gain additional insight and perspective about the speaker in question.
  • Meet with your speaker. Ask to meet with a prospective speaker before negotiating and signing a contract. Much insight can be gleaned from this interaction, including the speaker’s passion, knowledge and fit (either for your constituents or for a particular program format).
  • Hear your speaker in action. If your speaker will be presenting locally, ask for you and a colleague (maybe even the conference chairperson) to sit in on the session. Observe the speaker’s presentation style and connection with the audience. After the program ends, pay particular attention to the chatter as participants exit the room and the number of people who approach the speaker for follow-up. If books are available for sale, this can also be a tell-tale sign.
  • Demand customization. Absolutely require that your speaker customize a presentation that fits the needs of your audience and the objectives of the program. Any and all personal touches will make the program that much more meaningful, relatable and enjoyable for your audience.

So, my question to you is this: What other strategies do you employ to vet prospective speakers? What one recommendation have you found most helpful in vetting speakers that helps ensure exceptional learning experiences for your constituents?

meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, running, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Digital content manager. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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