Archive for May, 2012


Not just any top five list: Innovative and interactive learning formats according to you

On May 23, Destination Michigan hosted its annual Michigan Meetings Expo at the Bavarian Inn Lodge in Frankenmuth. This year, instead of a traditional keynote session, the opening general session comprised five different speakers – each delivering one of five top Michigan meetings trends in five minutes or less.

Trend topics were solicited from local, state and national media outlets, as well as various social media channels, last year’s attendees and registrants of this year’s event. Once a comprehensive list was compiled, the program’s advisory board added in their two cents and settled on a top five:

  • Hybrid/virtual meetings;
  • Innovative/interactive learning formats;
  • Unusual/creative meeting spaces;
  • Mobile meeting apps; and
  • Comprehensive marketing: using print, web and social platforms.

Industry experts were then secured to speak about each hot topic. The five-minute presentations focused on the following four key areas:

  • What is the trend?
  • Why is it hot?
  • How do you replicate the trend efficiently, effectively and within budget?
  • Resources for more information.

I had the pleasure of developing content for a trend that’s near and dear to my heart: Innovative and Interactive Learning Formats. Highlights of this presentation included advanced instructional strategies, successful transfer of learning activities, how to create an engaging onsite experience and contemporary adult learning principles.

Certainly, the presentation was informative and fun (I somehow managed to compare “learning in the round” with Michael Jackson, Billie Jean and a “dance on the floor in the round”). Nevertheless, the real fun was had in the follow-on idea swaps.

In 20 minutes intervals, participants would select and participate in one of 19 table discussions – each assigned a specific meetings-related topic, including food and beverage trends, green meetings and corporate social responsibility. Throughout the morning, attendees engaged in four different idea swaps. Each table was assigned a facilitator who would pose questions, synthesize discussions and encourage participation, but the bulk of the content was generated by the participants themselves.

Additionally, each table would identify a scribe. This person would take notes throughout the session in the expo’s very own mobile meeting app. Following, I’ve created a top five list of best comments/notes taken during my idea swap related to innovative and interactive learning formats (with a bit of editing and editorial remarks thrown in for good measure):

  1. Check out this resource: How Speakers Deliver Return on Attendance. It will make you think about learning – and how you engage with professional speakers – in a new way. (Thanks Cathleen Hagan for the recommendation!)
  2. Associations should have both a meeting planner and an instructional designer on staff. Learning is as big a part of the meeting and attendee experience as is the food and beverage, a/v and the venue itself. As most associations only have access to a skilled meeting planner, I would recommend enlisting the support of a professional development leader within your industry or a cost-conscious instructional designer/consultant to support your planning efforts.
  3. Understand that the meeting should be more about the attendee than the speaker. In most cases, we’ve got the RFP process all wrong. We should begin by identifying the learning needs of our target audience and then select speakers who can effectively address those topics. Also, we can and must help speakers think more creatively about their delivery options and identify how flexible they are willing to be early in the selection process.
  4. Think outside of the meeting room – and know that the environment plays a significant role when it comes to creating a comfortable and engaging space to learn. Whenever possible, maximize spaces (both inside and outside of your venue) to encourage learning and to promote creativity. Utilize non-traditional furniture (such as club chairs, couches and exercise balls) to get the creative juices flowing.
  5. Experiment with a small event or a small portion of a larger event. Add a new instructional strategy, learning process or session format alongside the more traditional methods and allow your attendees the opportunity to test the waters (as opposed to cutting out what they’ve “always known” and replacing it with something altogether different). Over time, attendees will adjust to and embrace the changes, and will appreciate not having it forced upon them.

So, my question to you is this: If you attended either the general session or the follow-on idea swaps, what other “aha moments” occurred to you as you considered the role learning plays within your own organization’s events? For those who didn’t attend the expo, what other “lessons learned” would you share related to the implementation of innovative and interactive learning formats?


The absolute trap: How the word “never” is holding you back


It’s a simple word that packs a remarkably powerful punch. And if you regularly use this word (or some iteration thereof) throughout the normal course of your workday, you could – potentially – be sabotaging both you and your colleagues without so much as a second thought.

It’s time to stop and take notice.

In its simplest form, the word never means: at no time, not at all, absolutely not, to no extent or degree. In other words, it’s an absolute or superlative word meaning: not ever. If that weren’t already enough, the related idiom – never mind – is equally as telling (and discouraging). It means don’t bother or don’t concern yourself.

So, what’s the point?

Day in and day out, I think many of us – myself included – stand in the way of our own success, and not just personally. I mean for our members, vendors and partners, as well. We’re literally not realizing our (and their) fullest potential because of the barriers we’re so quick to put up around us. And, worldwide, this is resulting in countless missed opportunities to both create and develop superior products and services.

  • “We never allow presenters to…”
  • “We never have the money to…”
  • “We never have the support of our board to…”
  • “We never permit vendors to…”
  • “We never have the time to…”

Do any of these sound familiar? If not, I’m sure you could come up with a laundry list of your own “never” statements you’ve either used or heard within the last month.

So, what’s standing in our way? Do we just not want to commit to the effort, are we afraid of rejection, are we afraid of the unknown, are we intimidated by the key players, do we not want to expose our weaknesses, or perhaps it’s just easier to do nothing at all. Whatever the reason, enough is enough.

Call it a rule, a policy, a culture or “the way we’ve always done it.” Whatever it is, it’s a limitation. It’s a limitation preventing you, your department, your organization and your industry from achieving more. And breaking through this barrier is an important part of the innovation process.

I certainly don’t mean to imply that we should all become extreme risk takers, shamelessly buck the system at every chance we get or eliminate the word “never” from our vocabulary. That would somehow imply that the other extreme – always – is the simple answer to life’s challenges. Quite the contrary. Adopting a yes-man attitude would result in a similar trap with equally unfavorable consequences.

Rather, the goal is to find a happy medium – both at work and at home – where you’re able to develop and adhere to basic guidelines that govern work flow and processes, but that also allow for and encourage both innovation and deviance from the norm. And it starts with questioning the use of any absolute or superlative word such as “always” or “never.”

What would happen if:

  • You allowed presenters to…
  • You either shifted resources or raised the money to…
  • You gained the trust and support of the board to…
  • You encouraged your vendors to…
  • You found time to…

Wouldn’t the future be brighter?

So, my question to you is this: How often do you and your colleagues use the word “never” or other similar absolute/superlative words throughout the course of the workweek? How can you more intentionally draw awareness to these words and play devil’s advocate when they show up in conversation? What outcomes or successes have you, your team or your organization realized as a result of using the words “never” or “always” less frequently in your workplace?


Achieve more: The art of collaboration

As part of my ongoing series titled “Achieve More,” I’m profiling this month the role of collaboration in the development of dynamic, meaningful, and compelling education and networking experiences.

Interestingly enough, collaboration is defined as the act or process of collaborating, as well as the product resulting from collaboration. A few years ago, the Michigan Society of Association Executives (MSAE) introduced a new award recognizing innovative collaboration. This annual recognition continues to spotlight and reward collaboration both as a process and as product.

But that’s an aside.

I was fortunate enough in 2011 to attend ASAE’s Invitational Forum on Leadership and Management. If you’ve never been, I would highly recommend looking into it. Yes, it’s a little pricey; however, it was—perhaps—the best professional development experience of my life (and as a professional development junkie, that’s saying a lot).

In addition to good, quality information that was immediately applicable to my work, I was introduced to and worked alongside dozens of well-respected and seasoned association professionals. Even more than that, I was challenged to think about collaboration in a new and somewhat innovative way.

I’m paraphrasing here, but a few key takeaways/principles that continue to guide my work with others (and which I return to from time-to-time to refocus and refine my approaches to collaboration, particularly in situations involving strongly divergent opinions):

  • When a problem exists (in this case, any challenge your association could and would face during the normal course of business), my solution and your solution are fundamentally different because our views/perspectives on what should be done are based on our own unique skills, expertise, beliefs and values. And this is perfectly okay (and, in fact, to be expected).
  • Simply selecting one solution over the other or creating a compromise somewhere between our two solutions would result in a fundamentally deficient decision or product. Likewise, when one person “wins” and the other “loses,” friction, hostility and demoralization could affect not only our relationship, but our future collaborative work.
  • Instead, a third option should be devised that honors the best parts of my solution and the best parts of your solution, builds upon our respective strengths, and results in a third, more robust solution that elevates the skills, expertise, beliefs and values we each bring to the table.

In my experience, organizations often excel or have strong expertise in a particular functional area. Many resources are funneled into this department to ensure success and, ultimately, to create value and best serve the membership. Naturally, these projects gain the attention of top leadership, are allotted disproportionately more time on the board agenda, and appear first in both the monthly newsletter and the year-end report.

Meanwhile, the remaining departments suffer from inexperienced/undertrained staff members, as well as a lack of resources, poorly defined goals/objectives, board/leadership apathy, and an overall lack of time, attention and focus. Intentional or not, these dynamics have a tremendous impact on staff morale, motivation and productivity.

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as simple as striving for perfection (sorry Type As). If it were easy for every organization to be the best at everything they do, wouldn’t we just strive for perfection each and every day (and be increasingly more disappointed when every association began to look more and more alike or the occasional human error reared its ugly head)?

Therefore, in my opinion, we have at least two options:

  1. Strive to be more balanced. Aim for excellence in the functional areas our organizations excel at, but be more mindful of and fair to the other departments and staff, too.
  2. Be more deliberate about collaboration. Be honest about the functional areas that could use a bit more attention and resources – and deploy them accordingly.

Here, resources include staff (be it full-time, part-time or the often under-utilized intern), supplies, training, recognition and support. Additionally, collaboration is key. Collaborate with a trusted partner (such as a colleague or a consultant) and you’ll undoubtedly infuse new ideas, new energy and a renewed spirit into your department and, subsequently, your organization.

In addition to keeping projects on time, on message and under budget, I think you’d also be surprised by the impact collaboration can have on strategic thinking and long-term outcomes. In terms of professional development and creating dynamic member experiences, it could be the difference between planning the same conference year after year and developing a compelling experience – delivered in a unique and interactive way – that inspires learning, engagement and community.

So, my question to you is this: Do you identify with this model of collaboration? In what ways does your organization encourage collaboration both internally and externally? What outcomes – otherwise unachievable – has your organization realized as a result of collaboration?

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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