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August 23, 2008

A good time was had by all. ASAE2008 recap. FOGDIROG!

These are the chronicles of my ASAE2008 experience. Read them if you dare:

Arrived Friday night, caught a cab to Hyatt, ironed my clothes (sorry, no pictures this year) walked a few blocks, had dinner with Membership Section Council and hit the sack. I knew I was in for a long week.

Saturday began with the ASAE Volunteer Leadership Breakfast. Incoming ASAE chair Clarke Price and incoming Center chair Paul Pomerantz talked about initiatives coming up for 2009 and allowed time for section councils and other volunteers to talk about their accomplishments from the past year. One of the more significant things I heard is that ASAE is launching a leadership development program for young professionals, those with five years experience or less. The program will run for a year and includes a series of leadership courses and registrations to several ASAE meetings, including the Annual Meeting, Future Leaders Conference, and Great Ideas. There's an application process and a $500 tuition fee per year.

My next duty was to chair the Membership Section Council meeting. We had a whirlwind meeting and still ran over by 30 minutes. Our major projects this year include:

• Improving on last year's Marketing & Membership Conference, which drew its largest crowd ever and sported an overall satisfaction rating better than 4.0.
• Re-writing 1001 Membership Tips, a book written several years ago, the rights to which ASAE recently purchased.
• Refreshing Membership Bootcamp, an online course on managing the membership department originally developed by the Membership Section Council two or three years ago.

The Annual Meeting's opening reception began early in the evening, which allowed Matt Baehr and me to take in most of it before heading over to Petco field for a Padres/Phillies baseball game. Padres won. End Saturday.

Sunday morning the content of the conference officially started with the opening general session. The theme was Celebrating the Individual and began with an original song about diversity. Steve and Cokie Roberts moderated a diversity panel including blogger, author and speaker Patty Digh. It also featured four video vignettes about professionals in the association community from diverse backgrounds. This was probably the best part of the session. The panel content was good, and I'm glad there was an increased focus on learning in the general session.

Together with Jamie Notter, I led a session called "Meet the Association Community Bloggers." 40-50 attendees floated in and out. We talked about the new Association Social Technology survey and the A-List bloggers network. There were several attendees who were thinking about starting blogs, and so we spent a lot of time talking about the tactics of blogging for associations. We talked a little bit about the many different kinds of association blogs, the association social media wiki, tips for effective and efficient blogging, statistics, and how to get started in blogging.

The shrouded in mystery "secret session" was disappointing for me and many of the people I talked to. There was so much hype around the secret session, I think it was doomed from the start. The way high profile speakers turned out to be the association community's top blogger, Jeff De Cagna, and Terrence Barkan, CEO of AGS, an association management company. Quite obviously, Jeff is an association social media expert, but he already had several sessions on the Annual Meeting agenda. Barkan is pretty high profile guy, with a pretty large firm and, from what I can tell, has quite a following with large international associations. But a quick Google search of Barkan's name showed that he has little personal experience in public-facing social media (unless his activities are anonymous or under a pseudonym). I found he has eight facebook friends and one Linkedin contact. (I'll gladly correct this if someone can demonstrate his social media involvement) Which was a problem for me because the session was about social media and associations. Staged as a debate (with Andy Steggles, the secret session's organizer, dressed as a referee), Jeff and Terrence traded blows over the value of social media in associations, open governance, and other topics. It was a good debate, but the only way this session could have possibly lived up to the hype was if Robert Scoble or Guy Kawasaki or someone of that caliber had been involved. I stayed for almost the entire secret session, because it was a good enough session. Cindy Butts has a longer analysis, most of which I agree with. The reason you saw so little post-session blogging and tweeting about it is that most of the bloggers were underwhelmed by the session. But as I said, the hype was simply insurmountable.

Marketing General hosted a very nice membership section reception (thanks, Tony!) Sunday evening and I even saw the This Week in Associations girl after stepping next door to the communications section reception when the membership reception was over. Sunday ended.

The most noteworthy thing about Monday morning's awards breakfast was the poignant goodbye from The Center's Susan Sarfati. She even played a clip of Bette Middler's "The Wind Beneath My Wings" in honor of the association executives she has had the honor of serving for so many years. Sarfati helped lead the merger of the Center and ASAE and rumor has it that Susan's exit from the Center is not exactly amicable. She gave a heartfelt speech and seemed to take a little bit of a jab at those who allegedly are showing her the door by saying she'll never utter the word "merger" again. And of course the awards breakfast featured the CAE walk and many other ASAE & The Center awards.

In the "Decision to...Lounge" I led a 40 minute conversation based on my presentation that crosses the findings of The Decision to Join, 7 Measures of Success, and Mapping the Future of Your Association. When findings from these three projects intersect, they create some interesting combinations that reveal strategies associations can use to cope with and take advantage of today's operating environment.

Monday afternoon I attended Explore the Future: Key Environmental Trends Facing Associations with Rohit Talwar, the researcher whose firm developed ASAE's most recent environmental scan. Talwar spoke for 75 minutes about some of the project's most compelling trends, including the profound international economic shifts and the move towards more sustainable energy and real estate development. I'll be posting a review of this project in the next few days.

We convened the UnBloggerUnCon after sessions ended and talked from 4-6 p.m. A few people who weren't able to attend Meet the Association Community Bloggers were able to join in this conversation. I finally got to meet Bob Wolfe, but the other two people we arranged this thing for (Andy Steggles and Greg Fine) didn't show up. Hmph. As seems to be the case with these meetings more recently, we have decided on some things to help advance issues we feel are important to the association community. A-List bloggers network was born out of last year's BloggerCon and this year we're talking about ways to spread the word in the association community about member engagement through social media. And by the way: This is when fogdirog really took off.

That night was the epic YAP 80's dance party at Whiskey Girl in San Diego's gaslamp district. Monday ended, but many of us were there 'til the bitter end and shut the place down at 1:30 a.m. There are photos (and I fear... videos) of the event popping up on facebook and other places, so I'll just encourage you to seek them out rather than post a lengthy description here. Suffice it to say, it was rad. It goes down in history as the most fun thing I've ever done at an ASAE event. Nice job Lindy & Maddie! Continuing our coverage of Tuesday...

Tuesday was the final day of the Annual Meeting and began with learning labs. I attended a not-as-advertised session called Guerrilla Publicity: Connect with the Media for $50K in Free Publicity! This session was all about traditional PR practices and was, therefore, pretty disappointing.

After this, the expo hall reopened and we arranged a meetup of the backchannel users at the NFI Studios booth. About 10 of the 28 backchannel users showed up. The second iteration of the mobile backchannel was just as fun and useful as the first. A few people left sessions they felt were bad upon hearing how good others were. But of course, the most worthwhile application of the backchannel was rounding up people to hang out with. It's a little like GPS for networking.

My last two sessions were the best of the Annual Meeting for me. The thought leader session based on the book Influencer: The Power to Change Anything was simultaneously full of practical tips and theory about the art of influence. I will be buying this book.

And my final breakout session, another excellent one, was Media Relations is Dead...Long Live Media Relations with Frank Fortin, Chris Jennewein and Brian Solis. I got one great tip from the session that I'm hoping to put into practice in the near future. Lindy and I live tweeted the whole thing. It was an awesome session.

The Annual Meeting's closing session was a bit of a letdown for me, Sue and Kevin too. There were the standard general session speeches and award presentations, preceded by a video about the Global Summit on Social Responsibility and a musical number that was far better than I expected based on the past few tunes that attendees were treated to. This general session had some really bizarre moments, like incoming Center chair Paul Pomerantz using the words "breast implants" in his remarks followed shortly thereafter by an Associations Advance the World award given to an organization with a program related to the pornographic film industry. It seemed like everyone was talking about that later on in the evening. The keynote speaker, co-author of blue ocean strategy was disappointing. She totally failed to connect her content to association work in a meaningful way and she appeared to be speaking from a canned presentation that wasn't customized to this audience. Some people were complaining that she didn't have enough time for her content, but I personally was so disappointed by her failure to connect her concepts to association work that anything longer than her +/- 30 minutes would have been unendurable.

With the educational content of the annual meeting behind us, attendees flowed into the streets of San Diego's gaslamp district for the closing reception. San Diego put together a great party with two bands, several restaurants providing the catering, and many shops along the streets open to attendees. After the closing reception, many of us headed back to Whiskey Girl for an encore of the previous night's YAP party. And many of us stayed up yet again into the early hours to shut the joint down.

I'm writing this from the plane, sleep deprived (and editing on Saturday night, August 23). On as summary level, these are some of the themes for me:

  • Overall the content of this year's annual meeting was about the same as last year's, but the timing of events, the close proximity of hotels, well-placed lounges and small round tables, and the flow of the convention center, along with the many opportunities to socialize (both official and unofficial) made the networking in San Diego far better than in Chicago. I found myself repeatedly bumping into people I wanted to see (those who weren't on the backchannel, of course) more frequently, which was nice. And speaking of nice, I also had more people than ever approach me to thank me for my blog and the 13 CAE exam tips.
  • Many people continue to feel like the general sessions offer little in the way of content and are mostly a means for ASAE's elites to talk about the association's accomplishments and provide its sponsors with a lot of visibility. Most people I spoke with absolutely hated the song about diversity written for the opening general session, and Steve Gillmor, during his thought leader session, said it smacked of inauthenticity. The song elicited 140-character jeers from the backchannelers, even prompting one of them to post "This kind of music makes me want to kill myself." Yeeesh!
  • The interactive mobile backchannel was once again very useful. It's hard to imagine going to another major meeting without it. Basically it works like a text messaging listserve. Anyone with something to say can message the other users. We had about 30 users, and it allowed them to find others in general sessions, at networking receptions, at lunches, etc. It also helped people decide when to bail on a disappointing session in favor of one that was getting good reviews from the backchannelers. I definitely think of it as GPS for networking.
  • There's too much expo time. There should be more education offered. Even ASAE staff were holding sideshow education events that infringed into the expo hours.
  • One attendee said that during this annual meeting, social media jumped the shark. There were easily 10 sessions about social media, and who knows how many more talked about it. There was even a series of social media labs, where you could do hands-on social media stuff. For those of us who have been tuned into social media for a while, yes, that shark is eating waterski spray. For those who are new to this (and there are a LOT of them), they're in a whole new world now. The shark is still miles downstream.
The last backchannel post reads: "best. annual meeting. ever. you know who you are." This actually summarizes the annual meeting pretty well, because what made this annual meeting great wasn't the content, but the people. You know who you are.


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Anonymous said...

OK, ASAE recognized a porn industry association in the Associations Advance America awards? I'm actually impressed - that seems pretty progressive and open minded of them! I couldn't find anything in the official press release listing that looked like it fit the bill - what association was it?

Sandra said...

Great recap! I can personally vouch for the effectiveness of the back channels as communication vehicles. This was my first ASAE conference and through the backchannels I was connected with more people than I ever would have met as a newbie. Through social media, I heard about the "secret session" as well as the YAP party. Good luck trying to top the Whiskey Girl 80's dance party next year in Toronto but I have confidence that Maddie and Lindy are more than up to the challenge. It was so very fogdirog to meet you all and I look forward to next year!!

Greg Fine said...

Super recap. It was a full week! Great job on leading the Membership Section Council meeting and best wishes for your year as chair.

Sorry about not being able to make the second blogger session. I was at another meeting and just ran out of day. That will end up being my theme for this meeting. Double and triple scheduled.

Ben Martin, CAE said...

@elizabeth - I'm not exactly sure, but the program they won the award for was definitely had something to do with pr0n.

@sandra - nice meeting you!

@gfine - thanks, I stand on the shoulders of giants. see you at the next bloggercon.

Jamie Notter said...

Well done, Ben! The porn award was for an organization that somehow was verifying that sites did not have any child pornography on them, I believe.

Lisa Junker said...

Elizabeth: The RTA Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection won an Associations Make a Better World Award; the description I found was that they are a "non-profit organization that works with the adult entertainment industry to ensure the content they create is by adults and for adults only."

Ben: Thanks so much for the detailed thoughts on the Annual Meeting! I'm really glad to hear that you had a good experience overall. I'm just sorry I had to miss the Unbloggercon--it would have been fun to talk to other association bloggers in a smaller group.

Ben Martin, CAE said...

@Lisa, thanks for clearing that up. You missed a good unbloggercon, but you know there will be more!

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

Kudos for taking several of the "futuring" studies and started to look at how they bob and weave with each other.

Seems like the research and forecasts are coming out fast than what most associations can handle, and I think we all need to go back and review some of the previous works that still have lots of relevance and application.

Ben Martin, CAE said...

@Jeff - That presentation is like a cliff's notes version of some of ASAE's most recent studies. And pulling together those combinations is really eye-opening.

KiKi L'Italien said...

Awesome recap and I concur! It was phenomenal to see old friends and make new ones. It was especially wonderful to have an effective means of communication (hello backchannel) which led to requesting more cowbell in the evening. I wrote a seven-page trip report following the meeting and it will be hard for next year's annual to beat this one!

Bob Wolfe said...

Sorry the other unbloggers didn't show to the uncon, but I really appreciate the time and insights you shared

Lindy Dreyer said...

Wow, Ben. This recap fogdirog rocks. So much detail. I especially appreciate the honest feedback on the secret session and the kudos for the YAP party. w00t!

Caron Mason, CAE said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Caron Mason, CAE said...

Hey! Thank you again for the study tips (I still refer people to them).

This is a great recap and a fun read.

That leadership development program for young professionals with five years experience or less sounds great too (but at the same time I admit that I am a little bummed that I just missed the boat on that one by one year).

Tony Rossell said...

Ben -- Thanks for mentioning and attending the Marketing General, Inc. sponsored membership reception. Unfortunely, due to a family medical issue (now resolved), I was a late scratch from ASAE this year. It sounds like it was a great event. Tony