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May 23, 2006

Annual Meeting Reflections

Our annual Leaders Summit, a gathering of our most committed volunteers, wrapped up on Friday last week. I’ve been thinking a lot about it over the past few days, since I plan the program every year and I’m trying to learn from reflecting on the experience. A few major take-aways:

1. Get metaphysical. Association meetings have the potential to create a transcendent experience for their attendees, connecting them with the association’s higher cause. For example, it’s a tradition during our annual meeting to read the names of all members who have passed away during the membership year that just ended. A resolution for each of the deceased is also adopted by the board and entered into the minutes for the annual meeting. This year, one of the names read was that of a former chapter officer with whom I had had many conversations, both face to face and over the phone. Not to mention the countless e-mails. Another of the names was that of member who was a homicide victim. Last year, I helped his sister sell his accounting practice after his death. Hearing those names read sent chills up my spine. This might sound like a crass or tactless segue, but fellowship of members is a competitive advantage for associations. We need to leverage it. We also give our newest 40-year members the opportunity to bring their families to a recognition luncheon and to address the membership during the annual meeting. Their good old days speeches elicit nostalgia from those older members in attendance, and a sense of wonder and appreciation in the younger members about the way things were back in the day. How many companies can elicit the emotions of nostalgia or wonder in their customers?

2. Don’t forget the comedy or take yourself too seriously. During our leaders’ summit, we ran a set of videos entitled the “Ultimate Global CPA Challenge” which pitted five of our volunteer leaders and our CEO in extreme head-to-head competitions like juggling and origami and paddleball. Then we allowed members to vote for their favorite competitor at dinner on the first night, and as the conference was about to close, we awarded the winner a gold medal. We made it super dramatic. The winner faked a few tears and feigned a speech to thank “the academy” and his fans. The only thing missing was a swelling Bette Midler underscore and a spotlight. We are blessed with a cool board, but even if you’re not, there are other ways to inject comedy into your meetings.

3. Tell – but more importantly, show – your members how much you appreciate them, and do it again and again. We gave our volunteer leaders the red carpet treatment: Literally. And we did it twice, actually. We rolled out a red carpet on the sidewalk at the restaurant where we held our reception, lined it with cheering and camera-wielding staff, to give our volunteers that movie star feeling. We rolled it out again at the end of the conference and lined it with applauding staff to send them off with another dose of good vibes.

4. Use technology to enhance the meeting experience. Our photographer uploaded all the digital pictures from day one of the summit to our network so that our graphic designer could create a tabloid-style handout to give away to attendees as they walked out the door on the way home. I’m curious to know if these tabloids made it back to members’ offices or homes where they were showed off to co-workers and families. We also ran a looping slide show at the beginning of the conference displaying photos from last year’s event.

5. Brand your meeting, and push the brand hard on-site. Push it harder than you feel comfortable pushing it. Yes, your staff has probably gotten sick and tired of the brand by the time the meeting starts, but your members haven’t. In fact, they hardly noticed the brand in your marketing pieces is my bet. Pushing – nee, forcing – the brand makes the whole event feel cohesive. It holds everything together. We had a stars theme. We put the conference logo at the beginning and end of every slide show. We used a star wipe transition on the looping slide show of photos from last year’s conference I told you about earlier. We had star-shaped candies, star-shaped glasses, the tabloid I mentioned earlier was titled “Star,” and on and on. If you’re beginning to feel you’re pushing the brand too hard, you’re probably just about to reach the appropriate amount of branding.


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