Archive for July, 2012


“Final”: The one word that can ruin your presentation

Josh Lord, MBA

This post is authored by guest blogger Josh Lord, MBA. Josh is director of membership and strategic initiatives for the Michigan Dental Association. Email:

Tricking myself into believing the first, second, ninth, or right-before-the-deadline version of my recent Ignite presentation was my “last and best” effort almost ruined the most important public speaking appearance of my life.

I recently had the opportunity to be one of 11 keynote speakers during the Ignite event at the Michigan Society of Association Executives’ annual conference, OrgPro. Thanks to Aaron, I was asked to kick off the inaugural session, speaking first to a group of about 125 attendees, not to mention thousands (I’m sure) of un-named onlookers who were able to catch the talks via the live stream that MSAE had set up. As someone who has always dabbled in public speaking since I took first place in fourth grade for my “When I Grow Up” speech, I’ve always prided myself on delivering a thoughtful, engaging message – usually via a first, or nearly first, draft presentation.

In fact, I’ve always used my first-to-finish mindset coupled with the knowledge that my initial attempts typically rank in the top of the pack as a security blanket for justification that I never, or rarely, needed to go back through and measure twice before cutting once (as my father would always tell me). This (false) sense of confidence has always applied to writing, crafting presentations, reviewing balance sheets, etc. (In fact, I’ve yet to even look  back at what I wrote at the start of this post – maybe I’ll do that later…)

When Aaron first reached out to me about speaking during the Ignite event, I was so pumped about the opportunity that I started working on my slide deck that very day. This would have been appropriate, but since MSAE had yet to formally vet and accept my presentation proposal, maybe I had gotten a little ahead of myself. But, of course, I was confident that I would be selected, so I went forward knowing that I would crank out a slide deck, check it off of my to-do list, and then worry about practicing for the talk for the next 2.5 months.

But, a funny thing happened the night after I got done putting together the draft of my presentation (20 slides with 20 images with a message that I thought was coherent).  While walking my dog and thinking about my “final” presentation, I realized there were gaps in my speech. And, with only five minutes allotted to deliver an ah-ha message to the largest gathering of association professionals in Michigan, I couldn’t afford to miss a beat, or leave a gaping hole.

I returned to the office the next day and started working on V 2.0. Then, with deeper thought and analysis, V 3.0-V 9.0. Within days of analyzing what I thought was my “final” draft, I had revised my presentation several times.

I walked into our first Ignite dress rehearsal in mid-June knowing that my ninth version would be my golden ticket to Ignite success. I was comfortable with the content, with the order, with my delivery, and with my transitions. Within the first 15 seconds of getting feedback from my fellow Ignite newbies, I realized there would be at least a tenth version – if not more. A few weeks later when I returned to speak in front of my peers for our last/final dry run, I realized V 10.0 would end up becoming V 11.0 (at a minimum).

As I kept returning to the drawing board, something I wasn’t used to doing as a Type A, get-everything-on-my-to-do-list-done-now-so-I-can-move-on kind of professional, I realized that for years I had been missing out on opportunities to refresh my message and hone it in just the right way so that I could establish a direct connection with every audience member on at least one occasion. For the first time I recognized that “final” never really can, or should, be “final” until the absolute last moment.

I kept making changes to my presentation until the day before it was due to MSAE for incorporation into their master slide deck. And, I was the better off for it. Now, I did cut myself off from editing with enough time to spare so I could officially focus my attention on practicing my delivery, but not a moment before I could squeeze in my last point to make an impact.

When all was said and done, I had drafted 16 versions of a single presentation that 2.5 months earlier I thought I had wrapped up after Draft 1, and even before I was told that I’d be speaking at the event.

Based on my experience, here are some things to consider when you think your presentation, analysis, letter, etc. is in its “final” form:

  • Have you even considered editing what you’ve prepared? Have you allocated enough time for thoughtful self-editing?
  • Who, besides you, has looked at the content? (Note: Family and friends don’t, or shouldn’t, count!)
  • Have you addressed all of the potential questions that could arise after listening to or reading your piece? How do you know you have?
  • Are there apparent gaps between thoughts and themes? Is there more than one theme?
  • Do your metaphors and generalizations speak to everyone in the target audience(s)?
  • Do your images resonate with everyone in your target audience(s)?
  • How many more weeks/days/hours are between “now” and the deadline? Reasonably, how many more opportunities do you have to make your current version even better?

Now that my Ignite talk is behind me, I’m confident in saying that had I not taken the time to review what I thought was final over, and over, and over again, my talk would have been mediocre at best. As someone who never accepts mediocrity, and certainly doesn’t want to be labeled as such by others, I’m thankful that I spent as much time re-working final versions until I got it just right.

My question to you is this: Why is it that we are so confident in our skills that we become our own worst enemies and miss out on the chance to create something much better than we could have imagined all because we accept “final” as just that?

P.S. I did re-read this post in its draft form, at least once.


Curating conference content to promote member engagement

On Thursday, July 26, at 2 p.m. ET, it will be my pleasure to present a webinar of the same name for Higher Logic. You may know that Higher Logic is the leader in social media and collaboration solutions for associations, not-for-profits and member-based organizations worldwide – and, of course, Lauren Wolfe and I go way back as long-time members of ASAE’s Young Association Executive Committee.

Let me set the scene: Your toes are numb from standing for 72 straight hours. You’ve not slept in days. The most food you’ve eaten is a carrot stick from last night’s cocktail hour and half an egg roll. The annual conference finally draws to a close and the last thing on your mind is the resource and content treasures unearthed throughout the event.

Nevertheless, these are the tangible deliverables that can and should be used to optimize existing engagement activities. In addition to driving the development of timely follow-on educational programs, and aiding learners in linking theory (presented at the conference) with practice (challenges encountered on the job), curated content can also support organizational recruitment and retention efforts (by delivering quality products and services that members value).

Undoubtedly, there is a benefit to enriching the onsite conference experience with the addition of exclusive interviews, video, photos, news about the speakers, vendors and entertainment, and live Twitter feeds and Facebook posts. However, what I’m specifically talking about here is curating conference content that already exists.

Whether during breakout sessions, informal hallway conversations, networking breaks, meals, receptions, keynote presentations, special events or on The Back of the Napkin (à la Dan Roam), we can all agree that learning takes place both inside and outside of the traditional classroom. The trick is to capture those nuggets of wisdom, then curate, repackage, repurpose and leverage them.

Following is a high-level overview of the five simple, but effective strategies for curating conference content I’ll share during my July 26 webinar. Examples and case studies presented during this program will help illuminate real life examples that can be immediately implemented within your own organization.

  1. Schedule follow-on education. Popular education sessions could be repeated in person or online, or content previously presented in a breakout session could be teased out into a half-day or full-day program.
  2. Link theory with practice. A curriculum eliciting a call to action requires appropriate follow through and support. Association resources should be deployed to ensure all barriers to implementation are removed and successes celebrated.
  3. Keep the conversation flowing. Online communities could be formed and moderated to continue conference discussions long after the closing keynote session has ended, encouraging opportunities for further engagement and collaboration.
  4. Develop a library of resources. Speakers, vendors, attendees and staff could be invited to transform important topics presented at the conference into valuable resources such as blog posts, newsletter articles, white papers or videos.
  5. Aggregate social media content. Pictures from the event, as well as Facebook updates and Twitter posts from both the official conference feeds and the attendees at-large could be compiled into a meaningful story and shared.

Wow! Even I’m impressed. So, mark your calendar for July 26, 2-3 p.m. ET, and don’t forget to register (at no cost) by clicking here. By the way, if you’re still not convinced this will be worth your time, you may be interested to know that those attending live will be entered for a chance to win a complimentary 30-minute consultation with Event Garde LLC. Additionally, all participants will receive one CAE credit hour for their full participation in this live webinar.

In the meantime, my question to you is this: What would you add to my list of top five strategies for effectively curating conference content? What have you found to be most useful/beneficial in your own organization? As members of other industry organizations, what have you seen or experienced that’s uniquely piqued your interest?


Return on learning (ROL): More than a boring statistic

Fireworks in Grand Rapids on July 4, 2011.

It’s Tuesday afternoon, the day before Selma’s favorite holiday: Independence Day. He claims to “love this holiday because it celebrates the journey of our country and there’s no commercial mandate for superfluous gifts. No running from one house to the other because of tradition. It’s shorts, t-shirts, beer, BBQ, friends and fireworks.”

For me, it means a much-needed couple of days off as conference season ramps up. Next week I have the pleasure of participating in the Michigan Society of Association Executives’ annual convention, colloquially known as OrgPro. I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to develop a set of concurrent breakout sessions that everyone will participate in Wednesday morning called, “The Solution Room.”

I’m also very much looking forward to Ignite. It’s been many months in the making, but the day of reckoning is nearly here – and it’s go time for 11 very excited association and supplier professionals who are eager to hit that stage and share with the world (yes, we will be broadcasting live!) their personal and professional passions related to the theme of transformation.

The following week, I once again make friends with my mobile office. This time, it’s a road trip of epic proportions (for me, at least). I’m headed down to Muncie, Indiana. A simple check of Google Maps indicates that in relation to Grand Rapids, Muncie is nearly due south – though, of course, the route will be slightly less direct. When you factor in road construction, there’s no telling what to expect.

Nevertheless, I’ll be speaking at the Indiana Society of Association Executives’ (ISAE) annual convention Thursday afternoon. My closing keynote presentation – Return on Learning (ROL): More Than a Boring Statistic – is intended to be a highly interactive session explaining what exactly ROL is, how to calculate it and why it’s important.

I’ll start by defining return on investment (ROI) as a performance measure used to evaluate the efficiency of an investment. To calculate ROI, the benefit (return) of an investment is divided by the cost of the investment. (Hang in there!) ROL is simply a derivative of ROI that sheds a spotlight of laser-like proportions on an organization’s learning investments.

That’s great, but what does it mean in practice? For those who know me well, the concept of bridging theory with practice is one I often preach from my soap box as an essential conference deliverable. So, we’ll use the ISAE annual convention as a case study. This will allow participants the opportunity to experiment with ROL and begin to uncover innovative ways to calculate and market ROL for their own events.

The first step in calculating ROL (or ROI, for that matter), is examining the cost of training versus perceived/actual benefits. Training “costs” may include registration fees, training materials, transportation, lodging and meals, as well as time and lost productivity.  On the other hand, training “benefits” may include session content (e.g., tools, technologies and processes), association contacts, vendor contacts, best practices and skill development.

Obviously, placing a dollar value on benefits such as networking and knowledge acquisition can be tricky, particularly in the short-run. However, long-term value is a bit easier to calculate and generally manifests itself in terms of products and services that are then sold to association members and clients for a profit. In other words, this is where conference learning (unique for each attendee) intersects with his or her organization’s mission, vision and values to create a value-add.

With the volume of education programs available today, it’s clear to see how understanding and effectively sharing your meeting’s ROL with your target audience could impact not only program attendance, but ultimately perceived value and your organization’s bottom line.

Finally, I intend to conclude with a brief discussion about staff learning investments, inherent benefits and tips for maximizing staff ROL. For example, learning organizations accept a set of attitudes, values and practices that support the process of continuous learning that could result in improved decision-making skills, future cost savings, increased productivity, higher quality work and better efficiency.

Conversely, organizations deficient in professional development competencies are unable to overcome poor quality, inefficiency, low staff morale, communication issues and turnover/high recruitment costs.

Ultimately, learning investments are the right thing to do and the effects of learning on business performance are cumulative over time. Organizations can expect a financial return on investment, as well as a multidimensional return on their commitment to learning (e.g., culture, reputation and productivity).

Following are three tips for maximizing staff ROL:

  1. Create individualized development plans for each employee focused on specific leadership competencies defined by the requirements of the position, team, organization and profession.
  2. Establish management champions and mentors that support employee learning.
  3. Blur the lines between classroom, workplace and relationships, ultimately promoting the immediate application of learning within your organization.

So, my question to you is this: How does your organization leverage ROL when marketing programs and events? How does the learning environment of your organization impact work performance? What would you add to this discussion about return on learning?

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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