Archive for the 'Young Professionals' Category


The communications struggle continues

2016-association-communications-benchmarking-report_page_04If you’ve been following this blog for the past five years (heck….even the past year), you know I’m a communications nut.

Seriously. It’s the center of everything I do – from my personal life to my professional life.

Without communication, both internally and externally, there’s no content, no strategy. Nothing.

But not everyone knows how to communicate, at least not effectively. That goes for businesses, too.

Last January, I wrote about Naylor’s 2015 Communication Benchmarking Study. Naylor has been conducting the survey for five years, and last year, the survey found most associations were continuing to struggle with communications. In fact, only 6 percent reported having a communications strategy.

Fast forward: Naylor recently released the results of its 2016 Communications Benchmarking Study. And….you guessed it. Associations are still struggling.

The top two communications challenges reported this year: communications clutter/overload and the inability to communicate membership benefits effectively. Both challenges have increased since 2011, with 69 percent and 67 percent of associations stating those are the largest obstacles.

At the same time, nearly 80 percent of associations said their members ignore their communications – up from 59 percent in 2015.

Also of note:

  • More than half of respondents recognize a serious or significant problem with the lack of revenue generated from their communication vehicles.
  • Most respondents believe they are good at creating relevant content, and more than half are conducting communication-specific surveys at least once every 12–24 months to stay on top of members’ needs. But, as stated above, those efforts are often being ignored.
  • Although 57 percent believe they could improve member engagement by improving their ability to customize for different subgroups, not many are actually doing it.

While under staffing remains a top concern among associations, especially in the communications department, some positive trends emerged in the 2016 survey.

communicateThis year, more associations reported success in helping their members find desired information quickly and keeping them informed about education opportunities and events.

While e-newsletters and print magazines remain top communication vehicles, associations seem to be expanding their communication vehicles. For example, according to the results, Facebook, webinars and online career centers have gained traction.

Finally, again this year, associations reported difficulty with communicating to young professionals. While integrated communication is paramount to success, segmentation and customization of communications is key to enticing young members. As such, Naylor advises associations to develop specific events, communications and mentoring opportunities unique to this group.

“In general, associations are doing a better job at organizing information and making it accessible to their members, as well as keeping their members informed about new events and education,” Naylor says. “It’s more critical than ever to make every message count. And while associations appreciate the importance of segmenting member data to provide tailored communications to combat the ‘overload’ challenge, a relatively small percentage feel they are leveraging technology available to do this effectively.”


Pay attention to what matters most

same-pageThis probably won’t come as a surprise to many of you, but it seems associations and their members aren’t always on the same page.

According to a recent report by Abila, what members want from associations vs. what associations think members want don’t always align.

For example, millennials just starting their careers often turn to associations for job opportunities and career advice. But baby boomers, who are winding down their careers, may instead rely on associations to provide industry news and trends.

The problem: A one-size-fits-all approach to association management and communication doesn’t work, but associations aren’t always good at segmenting their memberships.

Furthermore, many professional organizations take pride in providing numerous meetings and conferences when instead they should focus on job opportunities, credentialing and certifications, Abila found.

“Understanding generations and how they like to engage now is essential for any organization,” Abila said. “And acknowledging that an emerging generation will change the rules of engagement down the road – and planning for that – will help ensure success.”

Some key takeaways from the Membership Engagement Study:

  • Sixty-eight percent of members feel organizations are responsive to their needs, while 91 percent of organizations think they’re responsive to members.
  • Only 63 percent of members feel they’re getting good value for the membership fee, while 81 percent of organizations think they’re providing good value.
  • Seventy percent of members feel the organizations to which they belong are the voices of the industry, while 84 percent of associations think they’re the leading voices.

I alluded to it earlier, but segmented communication is crucial to member retention. In the survey, members said they most want to hear about industry news and trends, followed by professional meetings. Third: networking opportunities.

Perhaps surprising, however, was social media’s influence. While millennials indicated they’re much more willing to use social media platforms to connect with associations, email is still the No. 1 communication tool. Email messages were the most popular, followed by e-newsletters.

In terms of frequency, members said monthly communication is optimal. For social media, weekly communication is satisfactory.

career-journeySo what does this all mean?

“First and foremost, organizations need to have a sharp, well-defined understanding of where members are in their career journey and cater their content and communication strategy to address the needs and desires of their members based on age and/or career stage,” Abila said. “A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach no longer works in the targeted, highly personalized and technologically advanced world in which we live.”

Abila offers some tips:

  • An association should explore data within its AMS to identify new segments of its membership. Doing so will help associations tailor communications and think strategically.
  • Paying special attention to members who are just beginning their careers will reap great rewards – especially in terms of members retention. More than any other demographic, millennials (and in some cases Gen Xers) need career guidance and networking opportunities.
  • When it comes to programs, education and professional development, associations should offer a variety of choices, from hybrid to online to traditional conferences, and they should explore a spectrum of content delivery options. Simply put: Determine members’ career needs and meet those.
  • All the above is moot unless associations know their members. To learn more about their members, associations should engage in dialogue and survey them about their membership preferences.

Associations play an important role in higher education

Higher-EducationWhen I graduated college 16 years ago, times were different. I had a job before graduation and I never questioned the value of my degree. While I had an internship, the focus then on skills (vs. education) wasn’t nearly as strong. Today, students need internships before entering the workforce.

And then comes the price tag. My son is a freshman this year and soon, we’ll be looking at colleges. As some of you may know, I work at a university (in addition to my Event Garde role), so I live and breathe higher education. Yes, it’s expensive. And yes, it’s worth it.

But when I see students struggling to make ends meet and their parents sacrificing to pay tuition, it’s a scary thought: What will happen?

We’re facing a student debt crisis. Recent college graduates are saddled with thousands of dollars in debt and many can’t find a job, let alone start a career. So what should we do?

The answer may lay in associations, according to Elizabeth Weaver Engel, chief strategist for Spark Consulting, and Shelly Alcorn, principal for Alcorn Associates Management Consulting, who just released, “The Association Role in the New Education Paradigm.”

Educators should develop a better understanding of what students need to be learning, and then connect those learning outcomes to employment, they said. According to their research, students and employers agree on the skills necessary to succeed in the workplace: critical thinking, problem solving, oral and written communications, teamwork, ethical conduct, decision-making and the ability to apply knowledge.

However, there’s a huge divide in the readiness of such skills. Many employers report not finding such skills in recent college graduates because earning a degree doesn’t necessarily teach them.

But with credentialing programs, MOOCs, conferences and other online offerings, associations can fill the skills gap.

“With an education system that is being disrupted, college students graduating with degrees that fail to provide them practical job skills and more adult and nontraditional learners than ever, associations stand at a crossroads,” Engel and Alcorn wrote. “There are enormous needs we can meet: creating high-quality, competency based education; fostering social learning; and providing clear pathways to employment for students, the long-term unemployed, returning veterans or those individuals who are about to see their jobs significantly affected by the rise of automation and artificial intelligence. It’s a big opportunity and a big challenge.”

CBEOne example: competency-based education. Students drive their own pace of completion through a program’s curricular courses or modules by demonstrating competencies through learning exercises, activities and engaging experiences. CBE creates opportunities for digital badges, certification and micro-credentials to visually demonstrate ongoing growth and professional development for adult learners who seek career opportunities and advancement without waiting for completion of a terminal degree as the only signal of qualifications for employment.

“CBE offers the flexibility that could bridge the job-skills gap between employers and those who seek employment in professions that are rapidly evolving,” said Tracy Petrillo, chief learning officer for EDUCAUSE. “Because the learning can occur in varied settings and forms, individuals are not restricted by course schedules and access to programs. New business models are emerging, focused on making CBE programs affordable and on filling needs that are not currently well served through traditional post-secondary models.”

In addition, associations represent every industry and therefore can offer college graduates a pipeline to employers. Associations provide niche education – via credentialing and certification – something most grads won’t have entering the market.

But associations should move quickly, while the landscape is changing, Engel said.

“We have a rapidly closing window of opportunity here,” she said. “For-profits and venture capitalists see a $1.23 trillion market (the current level of student debt in the U.S.) and they aren’t going to sleep on that opportunity forever. (Indeed, the whitepaper covers some of the early moves companies are making into “our” space.) We have other advantages they’ll have a hard time duplicating, but we shouldn’t use that as an excuse to waste our first-mover edge.”

The whitepaper offers seven keys to the shift in thinking, which I encourage you to read in detail (page 28) and offers suggestions for conducting workplace analysis (pages 28-29).

At the same time, Engel and Alcorn offer some tips for associations to take the next step in the educational spectrum:

  • Clearly define educational competencies needed, including soft skills
  • Clearly define career pathways
  • Consider alternative delivery methods and new technologies
  • Offer micro-credentialing and badging
  • Offer blended learning environments
  • Professionalize content development and delivery
  • Provide quality certification programs
  • Create effective alliances

“The education-to-employment system is broken and we need to understand why and what we can do to help,” Alcorn said. “There is a symbiotic relationship between education (acquisition of knowledge and skills), employment (economically rewarded activity) and living a ‘good life’ (an ethical, spiritually rewarding existence as individuals and as a collective). After all of the research we have done, we believe the current system may have been sufficient for the 19th and 20th centuries, but not the 21st. We can do better.”

Finally, some advice for millennials reading this:

Shelly img 26 large“You have personal power and more options than you have ever had. You are just at the beginning of an exciting and accelerating lifelong learning process. Focus on developing competencies required by a new employment sphere. Mix and match educational opportunities. Maybe a formal degree will give you the competencies you desire, maybe not. Maybe a certification can get you working while you pursue other educational avenues. Try MOOCs or coding camps. Try it all. The most important thing is to find and maintain a balance between education broad-based enough to help you build the trans disciplinary muscle you need to understand the interplay between systems, and education designed to help you develop a deep expertise in an area you find compelling or personally rewarding.”

– Shelly Alcorn

Elizabeth Engel

“Don’t discount the value of higher education, but also realize that it’s not job training (and it’s not designed to be), and it’s not necessarily the only way in to your desired career field. Consider all your options, including the education and professional development associations can provide. And if the association in your desired career field isn’t meeting your career and professional development needs, don’t walk away – kick a fuss! Get involved! Agitate for change!

– Elizabeth Weaver Engel


Bonus content – Event Garde e-news – June edition


Shana Killips, sales manager, The James B. Henry Center for Executive Development

Q & A with Shana Killips, sales manager, The James B. Henry Center for Executive Development, Michigan State University

Q: Learn: What’s your favorite part about learning something new?
A: The people and our relationships are what I enjoy the most about my job. Learning something new allows me to be creative in finding solutions for my clients and it helps me to see new perspectives and better relate to my clients and my world. It enriches my relationships.

Q: Network: What’s your No. 1 networking trick?
A: I ask a lot of questions in an effort to learn about the person with whom I’m networking. I like to learn about their interests, their challenges and their passion projects and then relate them to my experience by asking questions and sharing stories.

Q: Transfer: How do you think mentorship aids in knowledge transfer?
A: I have had formal and informal mentors who have helped me at each stage of my career. The experience, stories and advice they share are a transfer of knowledge. The goal is to learn from each other so that we don’t have to learn every lesson ourselves. Imagine how long it would take to collect enough experiences to learn every lesson independently!

Q: What’s your favorite summer vacation spot?
A: Anywhere I can glide across a lake on my stand-up paddle board.

Q: Chocolate, strawberry or vanilla ice cream, and why?
A: Yes! Why limit yourself?


Creating Conscious Meetings


Holly Duckworth

This month’s guest blog post is by Holly Duckworth, a keynote speaker and consultant. She’s the author of the award-winning book, “Ctrl+Alt+Believe: Reboot Your Association for Success.” Follow her on Twitter: @hduckworth.

As you look around it doesn’t take long to recognize the world of business is evolving. What used to be “woo woo” spiritual practices like meditation, essential oil and choosing holistic foods, is becoming more main stream.

As such, “same old” meetings will no longer work. Now, participants demand a deeper connection to self and to the experts in their field. And CEOs must create companies that reflect what they believe in order to keep the highest levels of talent.

At the same time, hotels and venue partners are struggling to create open spaces that support connection in this new way.

I have been active in the meetings industry since 1999 so I’ve had a front row seat to watch this happen. The most successful meetings now reflect the societal evolvement toward mindful business, and that’s where I step in. I use spiritual tools (meditation, visioning, affirmations, intentions, essential oils) to shift the consciousness in meetings/business from fear to faith.

Time for a New “Woo & Wow” Conversation

By spirituality, I don’t mean religion. Instead, I approach spirituality as a broad concept with room for many perspectives — a sense of connection to the wholeness of life. Meetings are a universal human experience —something that touches us all. How can we get conscious about co-creating more mindful, meaningful and powerful soul-connecting meetings? First we must give permission to connect to our own soul.

Try this “woo woo” on for size:

Accept the authenticity of your feelings in the moment. Feel your feelings fully and allow yourself to recognize this is how you feel in this moment, without self-judgment. Ask for help. Don’t assume people around you are too busy or unwilling to help. A two-minute closed-eye meditation at your desk can help you get more clear about who you are, what you need and what your meeting attendees desire.

Breathe in and out. Focus on feeling the air come in your nose and out your mouth. Repeat this several times. This can center your energy on what is truly important. Have you tried essential oils? Simply putting a little lemon essential oil on your wrists can elevate your mood; a little lavender can calm you.

Choose compassion toward yourself. When you take a moment to realize just how wonderful, capable and amazing you really are, you inspire others to show compassion toward themselves and it becomes reciprocal. Use an affirmation to focus in a positive direction. My favorite saying is, “Success is all I see; success is all I feel; success is all I know in my business and life.”

I believe it’s time to have a new conversation in the meetings business. Meetings are a key contributor to conversations and social change and we are living in an era when social change is rampant. The illusion of a division between church and state is that — an illusion. Equal rights, marriage equality, globalism and technology are all working to evolve the consciousness of the planet. Younger employees require bringing their heart and spirit to the work they do — and the meetings they attend.

My work as a CMP, meeting professional, CAE, association executive and licensed religious science practitioner trained in using spiritual tools and traditions positions me to be a clearinghouse for this new conversation.


Bonus Content Event Garde e-news – April edition


Emily Thomas

Q & A with Emily Thomas, assistant director and membership manager, Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education

Q: Would you rather sky dive, bungee jump or climb to the top of the Golden Gate Bridge, and why?
A: Bungee jump. It’s a bucket list item of mine that gives me butterflies just thinking about it!

Q: If you could live someone else’s life for a day, who would it be, and why? 
A: Being a fan of taking risks and not afraid of pressure, I’d choose the president. For starters, it would be a humbling experience understanding what the president and his team are tasked with on a daily basis and the obstacles in their course. And due to my curious nature, I’d also be very interested in learning “behind the scenes” tidbits about being president.

Q: Learn: What’s one subject you’d like to learn more about?
A: Coding. HTML, JavaScript, C++, all of them.  

Q: Network: Social media or face-to-face? Which form of networking is better and why?
A: I prefer face-to-face but in today’s world with associations serving communities far from their home office, social media is the way to go.

Q: Transfer: Tell us about an experience in which you learned something new and then applied it to your personal or professional life.
A: I immediately think of the various Stephen Covey courses I’ve taken (think: “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”) One course in particular, “Speed of Trust,” taught me 13 specific behaviors that, when implemented, will promote trust and in turn lead to lasting change within an organization. After the course, I brought the materials back to my office and led my department in focusing on one new behavior each week to build a more cohesive and trusting team. I still look back on the trust cards today for dealing with tricky situations.


And the survey says…we’re scared

paris-attacks-new-york-670-1It was a Friday night and it had been a long week. I was just starting to unwind when my iPhone’s email notifications starting coming full blast.

And then the mindless show on TV was interrupted by horrific images of blown up Paris buildings; streets littered with debris; people scrambling for safety. And I sat there, trying to explain to my children why yet another act of terrorism destroyed lives, trying to assure them the world isn’t a dangerous place.

For days, the images of carnage shaped my thoughts. As I ran errands around town, I hoped that copycat incidents wouldn’t happen on my home turf. As for travel…I couldn’t even fathom the repercussions.

I’m guessing many of you experienced the same awful Friday night and since then have been rethinking international travel plans. Or what about your events? Are you prepared to handle acts of terrorism?

In the wake of the Paris attacks – and other acts of terrorism throughout the years – event professionals have grown increasingly concerned about safety, according to the latest Meetings Outlook by Meeting Professionals International.

The winter edition of the report found 44 percent of survey respondents think the meetings and events industry will change due to the increased threat of terrorism.

And this includes educational programming.

For example, MPI’s Carolinas Chapter plans to bolster its risk management education programs by bringing in law enforcement officials and leaders from the Red Cross to discuss how to best handle disaster.

The organization isn’t alone.

More than a quarter of respondents (28 percent) echo MPI Carolinas’ plans, making sweeping changes to how they run meetings. Measures include working with police on evacuation plans and offering employee training on rapid response.

sicurezzaIn addition, 15 percent of survey respondents plan to add security for the events – especially those organizations that host international conferences. Some are employing security agencies for counsel and preparation.

As for corporate travel plans? Increasing costs and security concerns mean fewer people will attend events. Instead of sending the whole staff, many companies will simply choose to send leadership, especially if an event is overseas.

The visa process will change, as will destinations of choice, MPI says.

The ripple effect: cost.

Nearly 40 percent of respondents believe room rates will rise. Food and beverage rates are predicted to increase 4.6 percent and air travel rates 4.2 percent. And so, organizations are spending much more cautiously.

“It’s not just having people at the registration desk but having a bit of heightened security on site,” said Bob Walker of the MPI Dallas/Fort Worth Chapter. “It’s having a larger security detail that is checking badges and making sure people who are in various areas of a hotel or convention hall have the credentials to be there.”

working-retirementIncreased protocol for security also means changing employee demographics, the report found. Why? The industry needs new professionals who have a better understanding of the current landscape, balanced by more seasoned professionals whose experience is invaluable to the newbies.

“For many meeting professionals, the challenge in coming months will be to balance concerns about lower spending power with the need to take advantage of current opportunities,” MPI says. “It’s not an easy one to tackle, but clearly, it’s an increasingly important one to master.”

The above is a lot to digest and the findings may seem a bit dismal. So to summarize:

  • 48 percent of respondents expect the cost of meetings to rise due to the need for increased security
  • 35 percent think room rates will rise by 6 percent or more throughout the next year
  • 31 percent say the number of full-time employees is increasing
  • 33 percent report online collaborative, interactive learning is important

What do you think? Have terrorism and/or safety concerns changed your event operations? Tell us about it.

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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