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Apple changed the rules: Here’s how it impacts our event apps

App Store logo 2

At the end of 2017, in an effort to clean up their app store, Apple announced restrictions to mobile app templates. This had a direct impact on the events app industry, as a huge draw for partnering with event app providers is that the development is already done — clients just add their content and branding into app template. This announcement changed the way some of our clients’ conference apps are structured and how our users access them. Now that we’ve begun our meeting season, we’ve been able to see the impact on our apps first-hand.

Here is the main result of the announcement on our client’s apps: our event apps will now be housed in a container app, but in different ways.

Multi-Show app: This essentially functions as a container app that is client-specific. It is premium-branded for the client, meaning the app still has the client’s branding from the app store to download. The client is an app developer and cannot have event-specific branding in the app store, but rather the organization’s branding. However, when you click into the app after download, the current event and all previous events are listed for the user to access, with specific branding for each event.

The pros:

  • The client still gets a branded app with their name on it
  • Searching for the app is very clear
  • Users only need to download the app once. They continue to get future event information for that organization in the app as it’s released

The cons:

  • Apps still to go through the Apple approval process
  • Can be more expensive

Provider container app: This is different because the mobile app provider houses the client’s event apps under their generic container app in the app store. The mobile app provider is the app developer and the container app is branded with their information. The user must download the container app and then enter an event code, search for the event name, or access it via an email sent to them for easy download.

The pros:

  • You do not need to budget time for Apple approval as the container app has already gone through the approval process.
  • It’s cost effective.

The cons:

  • The client loses some branding opportunities.

We are still learning how this change will impact event mobile apps, but we continue to learn more as our providers navigate the change and we build more apps for 2018 events.

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Is Squarespace right for your association's website?

squarespace stories

If you’ve ever listened to a podcast, chances are you’ve heard of Casper Mattress, Blue Apron or Squarespace, the website design company that built their platform so that anyone can build a beautiful website. Their marketing was effective because I threw them into the mix of solutions to consider when two of my clients needed a quick and simple solution for a few websites. We looked into it and ultimately decided to try it out.

This was my first time working with this platform, so it was an exciting opportunity to learn a new way of building a website. Over the span of one month, I built three websites on Squarespace for two clients: one main association website, and two event websites, here and here.

Here is why Squarespace worked for these specific sites:

1. No integrations – None of the websites I recently built needed to integrate with an association management Sastem (AMS) or a learning management system (LMS). To be honest, I wouldn’t have even considered Squarespace if this wasn’t the case.

2. Limited content – The websites had really limited content, making Squarespace a great solution. At the minimum subscription level, you get 20 pages included in the template you choose. This did not restrict me from making the website I wanted; in fact, we were hoping to specifically make one of the websites more effective by removing excess content and adjusting the layout, so the page limit forced me to strategically layout the website.

3. Simple design – The sites I built needed fairly basic features. They did not need pull in multiple social feeds, include custom coded features or tools, have a blog, differentiate between member/non-member content or include sub-sites for association chapters or events. Again, if these had been requirements, I would not have even considered Squarespace.

4. Cost effective – The lowest subscription comes out at $144 a year (if you pay upfront). This includes 20 pages, mobile optimization, a free custom domain, integrated e-commerce and hosting fees. They do offer another level that allows unlimited pages, promotional pop-ups, and other features for a little more. Depending on your website needs and the designers you work with, sometimes a website redesign can cost upwards of $8,000!

A few notes on why it is not a solution for everyone:
1. Integrations and custom coding – If you have an AMS or require a single sign on for your association to offer member benefits, this is probably not the solution for you. If you have a lot of custom coded tools or features on your website that you would like migrated to a Squarespace site, you might want to do some research and/or contact support to see if that is possible before making the jump.

2. No access to html – I didn’t realize how much I depend on html to make quick changes if things are not formatting properly, until I was unable to. Squarespace does not really function like this, and that was definitely something I had to get used to. Luckily, you can still add blocks of code onto the pages. For example, I like to use tables when laying out our event schedules or listing the board of directors and Squarespace does not have a table block. I ended up entering a code block onto the page and just designing the entire page with html.

3. Limited templates - There aren’t a ton of templates to choose from, so if you have a specific vision for the design of your website, this isn’t the platform for you. You have to take what they give you and build your vision around that.

Here are some cool features about Squarespace:
Permissions – You can assign different administrative roles to users. The site makes it extremely easy to grant and restrict access to anyone. For example, if you just want to give the chair of your website subcommittee access to review the reporting in Squarespace, this is a permission you can easily setup.

Forms – You can easily create customized forms in Squarespace which are built with blocks, just like the pages. We used the form feature so that our attendees could request meeting space during our event.

Block layout – You create your website by simply adding blocks of content. Squarespace makes it easy to add blocks between other blocks and reformat them on the page with drag-and-drop functionality.

Mobile responsive – One of our websites really needed to be upgraded; some of the features were breaking each time we added a new plugin or update, and the site was not mobile responsive. All of the Squarespace sites are mobile responsive and you can edit how the site appears on mobile devices. This ended up being a HUGE upgrade for that client at a reasonable cost.

Support – Squarespace has a great support team available to email or chat any time. I’ve been able to resolve questions through their chat support and felt that they were responsive and attentive.

I really enjoyed learning about Squarespace through this process, but it is not the answer for all website needs. For many, it can a quick and easy solution toward a beautiful website. And if it isn’t a good fit for your association, perhaps it could be a solution for a personal website.

 

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Badges on-demand: A game changer for attendees and staff

badge on demand

As my wonderful colleague Brittany Marsala Olson suggested in her recent blog post [March 23, 2017], once you make the transition to badge-on-demand printing, you’ll never go back. I agree so strongly that I decided to rave about it, too! As excited as I am about how smooth the onsite registration attendee experience was, I am even more excited about how this technology changed staff’s experience as well.

1. No more organizing badges onsite – No more badge organizers, no more alphabetizing, no more pulling VIP badges or badges with open invoices, and no more printing badges onsite for last minute registrations. As you might suspect, this saves you A LOT of time to focus on other things – like stuffing registration bags, organizing your daily signage and making sure your speakers have everything they need.

2. No more fussy reprints – Is an attendee’s name in all caps? Was their name misspelled? Did they lose their badge the night before during your awesome welcome reception? Having on-demand badge printing eliminates the hassle of juggling reprints with limited badge stock on a foreign printer and trying to remember which way to load the tray.

3. No more guessing and counting – This one is my personal favorite. When you move to this registration model, you have access to amazing data collected when your attendees check-in. Instead of an attendee walking up to the registration counter and giving you their name, they are given a personalized QR code and registration ID for check-in. Having that assigned information allows the system to track when they check in. This is powerful information when applied to your whole meeting and it gives you important statistics for planning future meetings. You can track how many of your attendees checked in, how many did not and who those attendees are. You can see what date and time registration check-in was the busiest. You can see how many attendees staff assisted and how many onsite registrations you had per hour - which leads me to my next point…

4. No more paper registration forms – With our badge on demand partner, Expo Logic, the kiosks allow for check-in and badge printing for both pre-registered attendees and onsite registrations. This was a huge improvement from last year where staff processed onsite registrations. While it was amazing to have roughly 100 onsite registrations in 2016, it required the use of paper registration forms just to keep the lines moving and staff spending hours processing those registrations so that we could print their badges and assign their registration IDs. With the new setup, registrants entered their own registration information quickly on the self-registration screens and then our system printed and assigned registration IDs for us in real-time, freeing staff to assist registrants with questions.

5. No more data clean-up for badge printers – Our vendor offers integration with AMS or registration systems, which means that your registration information automatically flows to their system for on-demand badge printing. This eliminates the need to pull a final registration report after online registration closes and spend hours formatting your data before sending the information to a badge printer. It also means that the onsite registration and payment data flows back into your AMS or registration system. We were unable to use their full integration this year, so we still had to dedicate time to data clean-up, (as advised by the data expert at Expo Logic, because in his words “garbage [data] in, garbage [data] out”), but the clean-up took place within our registration system. We understand how powerful the full integration is and are excited to see what next year will bring. Regardless, clean-up was much easier than it had been previously and some of the stress was taken out of the process knowing that reprints would be hassle-free.

The badge-on-demand printing service was convenient, seamless and efficient onsite for both attendees and staff and I whole-heartedly agree with Brittany when she said that it is “AN. ABSOLUTE. MUST.” I am excited to continue using this technology and hopefully implementing it for all of our clients!

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7 tips for selecting the right abstract and speaker management for your meeting

abstract management

One of the most important components of my job is abstract and speaker management, because our meetings wouldn’t be anything without the invited speakers and the submitters interested in presenting their research at our meetings. There is a trick to finding the most efficient and intuitive way to collect your submitter and speaker materials while still getting everything your planning team needs. And while I think I have room to grow, here are a few things I’ve learned:

1. Revisit your contract and review any new or updated features
Revisiting your vendor contracts is important to see if you have features that you were contracted for the previous year but never used, or if there was a feature you wished you had previously. Also check with your vendor to see if there are any new features you should know about, because their technology is always being updated. Consider how these changes to your contract impact the build of your system. For example, this year we are using a feature that allows system access to volunteers so that they can schedule the abstracts into the program. And while it slightly changed the meeting timeline, this is going to be a HUGE time saver for everyone in the long run.

2. Consider the requirements and the type of people who are submitting
Do you have an extensive application where each question requires a text box with character limits, or do you have something as simple as one file upload? Do you need to have header validation in a text box because there are five criteria that a submission must respond to? Does it make sense to ask award questions on the "author information" step because the awards are author-specific or separately because it is submission-specific? Do you need skip logic that only asks certain questions dependent on speaker roles or do you need separate submission portals for each speaker type?

I don’t really have a roadmap to figure this out; I just know that this forward thinking is crucial for your submission system from start to finish. The magic lies within creating an intuitive system that asks the submitters the questions your organization or committee wants to ask, while being mindful of limitations your vendor might have.

3. Have your colleagues/committee test
I work in our abstract management systems day in and day out, so sometimes I gloss over steps that might appear confusing for submitters because I understand how the system works (and I’ve already tested it 18 times). One of our clients had pretty significant changes to their submission site this year, so I had six people in my office test the new version. This was extremely helpful because the associate director tested from the perspective of what the committee wanted, another colleague tested from the perspective of functionality, while yet another looked for spelling or grammar errors, and they collectively made the submission site better with the variety of edits and suggestions they provided.

4. Do not launch until your submission site is complete
This seems self-explanatory but in an effort to meet deadlines, we’ve made this mistake. Some systems allow you to make live edits but I’ve learned that this isn’t in our best interest. This might be my best piece of advice (next to having everyone and their brother test) for those working with a new vendor, doing a complete overhaul of the submission system, or creating a new submission process for a new meeting. In our case, we were creating a new submission system for a new meeting with a new vendor from the ground up. We realized as we went along that there were items that we would have wanted our submission site to collect and when our vendor updated the site live, it impacted those who had already submitted. It all worked out in the end but that experience now impacts how early I build and/or review the submission site before opening.

5. Build your review system in tandem with your submission system – or at least keep the review process in mind
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Forward. Thinking. Even though review comes after submissions are received, it behooves you to either build the review system side-by-side or at least know your review process. Why? Because this will help you determine if there are any crucial questions your submitters need to answer during the submission process to pair them with an appropriate reviewer.

We pair submissions to reviewers based on topics or keywords and we determine those lists prior to opening the submission site and build them into the submission process. Once our submission site launches, we also promote our “Call for Reviewers” and request the reviewers to indicate which topics/keywords they feel qualified to review. This helps us prepare for when the submission site closes and automatic review assignments are made, which saves us time.

6. Keep track of withdraws outside of the system once the submission system closes.
You can track withdraws in your abstract management system and you should. However, in addition I keep an Excel document to track withdraws so that I can include a date, reason, session they were originally scheduled to, and any other information I know my colleagues and Board will want to know. This is also a helpful tool to reassign presentation dates or times because I know where there is space. But I think the biggest reason I do this is so that I can double check my work in the abstract management system, as well as in any meeting publications or mobile app.

7. Think about output: mobile app, proceedings, web apps
Unless you’ve found the unicorn vendor that does it all and does it well for your meeting, this is important because what you gather during the submission process is ideally what is used for everything after that point: mobile app, proceedings, web app, website, etc. For example, one of my vendors allows me to collect speaker information in a speaker portal after a submission is accepted, while another requires all information to be collected during the submission system and this determines how each system is built. Just keep in mind what you may want to appear in the meeting materials so that your vendor can provide thorough reports or API feeds for any other third-party vendors you may have.

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Going green in 2016: How we ditched paper and went mobile at our association meetings

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Meeting season is winding down here at AMPED and aside from our usual awesomeness, I am pretty proud of our success in transitioning most of our clients to paperless meetings. Gone are the program and abstract books, restaurant lists and printed maps. We moved all of that information (and more) to mobile or web apps. Andoverall, the feedback from attendees was positive. Here is what I learned along the way:

Native vs. web apps: Three clients utilized a native mobile app that was downloadable via app stores. The upside to this is that, generally, once these apps are downloaded to mobile devices, attendees are able to access the schedule, speakers, maps, etc. without Wi-Fi or eating up their data plans. That said, providing strong Wi-Fi is crucial for a paperless meeting, especially for those attendees who download onsite or if the app houses external links.

One of our clients used a web app that was built for mobile devices and was provided free of charge through their abstract management system. This app was not downloadable and required Wi-Fi to access. It offered many of the same features of a native app, but was a little more complicated to access regularly. As this client had not originally planned on going paperless, this was the most cost-effective alternative to a native app.

Scheduling: All of our apps offered a personal scheduling tool, which is (in my personal opinion) one of the biggest benefits of moving away from a printed program. Allowing attendees to schedule their participation at the meeting and view it all in one place is more convenient than taking a pen and circling sessions in a program book. Whether this feature is solely housed in the app or connects to the calendar on the user’s phone, attendees are able to receive reminders and enter in personal meetings or events that are not listed in the formal program.

More information, less space: There is a limit to the amount of information we can print in a program book before it becomes excessive; with a mobile app, we can include it all and it remains compact and robust without taking up a lot of storage space on our attendees’ phones. The app we used for our client Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ACTRIMS), housed session titles, presentation titles, authors, bios, photos, abstract texts, presentation slides and/or electronic posters. Imagine trying to carry a print version of that!

The social network: Event mobile apps provide a method to easily engage attendees and allow for networking — directly linking to social platforms, offering a photo gallery or incorporating an in-app newsfeed. Our client Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) used a mobile app with a newsfeed that promoted discussion and photo sharing, and a way to measure the most “influential attendees” based on their activity.

Doing it live: In event planning, there are ALWAYS last-minute cancellations and requests. The beauty of a mobile app is that it can be updated in real time and eliminates the cost of printing a program book that might be outdated the moment it gets off the press.

Easing the transition: Some attendees still prefer something tangible. In lieu of a full program, we designed a “pocket program” with a very high-level schedule of the session titles, names, and rooms that fit in the back of the registrant’s badge sleeve. Attendees really appreciated this as an alternative and loved that it wasn’t bulky.

After working with four clients, three platforms and two mobile app vendors for this transition, I learned so much from going green in 2016, and am excited to grow and improve the process for 2017!

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The search for the perfect AMS

AMS search

If you are in association management, then I’m betting you are familiar with Association Management Systems (AMS). They are catch-all software systems that are crucial to tracking everything from membership dues to event registrations to e-communications. Whether you are starting a client on an AMS for the first time or find yourself in the market to switch over to a different AMS, whatever you choose is a crucial decision that impacts your day-to-day operations. Here are some things to consider when searching for your perfect AMS:

1. What is the strength of the AMS and how does it compare to the goals of your association?
Unfortunately, no one product will work for all associations. In fact, according to Effective Database Management, there are at least 52 different AMS vendors to choose from and each AMS has its strengths (and weaknesses) that should be considered next to the goals of your association.

Are you a member-based organization that needs an AMS with the abilities to track member renewals and activity? Do you have a robust volunteer structure with a lot of committees that need to be tracked? Are you a meetings-based organization that needs a system with a registration module and an easy way to track event revenue? Your answer to these questions will narrow the pool of vendors you should consider for your AMS

AMPED has used the same AMS product for all its clients with the exception of one: the Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ACTRIMS). AMPED staff are currently in the process of acquiring an AMS for ACTRIMS and, while it might have been easier to just go with the AMS that we are most familiar with, the strengths of that AMS did not match the goals of ACTRIMS. Where our other organizations are member-based, ACTRIMS is a meeting-based organization, priding and sustaining itself on holding educational meetings, therefore, it needs a product that can support meetings technology.

2. What is necessary vs. desired with the new system?
As part of our search for an AMS, we hired a technology consulting firm, DelCor, to guide us through the selection process. To narrow our vendor pool, DelCor set up three meetings with ACTRIMS staff that lasted 2+ hours to discuss our day-to-day operations, how the meetings are structured, and other vendors the AMS might need to integrate with. Taking the time to thoroughly discuss these items clarified our “needs” versus our “wants” and helped us prioritize our selection criteria. These criteria have been the backbone of our, so far, seven-month search and we have found it helpful to reference them throughout the process as our priorities change.

3. Do you need a second demo?
Or a third? While we have not finalized anything yet, we are confident that we know which AMS vendor we will be using. I believe that we were collectively able to make a decision because we had requested a second demo. The preliminary demo process was extensive, with staff sitting through five different vendor demos. After that, we selected finalists to submit proposals. However, during the review process when we consulted our notes from the demos, we found that our memories of the different products were a little fuzzy. Setting up one more demo answered any burning questions or hesitations we might have had going with the vendor.

Plus, in the time between the first and second demo, upgrades had been made to the software, resulting in an AMS that ended up being an even better fit than expected!

 

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Client/vendor relationship excels with face-to-face meetings

Viles with Conference ExchangeGreetings from 38,000 feet! I am currently traveling home from Providence, Rhode Island where I attended a day-long educational conference hosted by Conference Exchange, the vendor some of our clients use for abstract, registration and speaker management. Annually, Conference Exchange holds a user’s group meeting with educational sessions on how to use the product, previews of features that are new or in development and scheduled one-on-one time with support staff.

As a new user of their product, I still have quite a bit to learn about its capabilities. Knowing more about what the product can and cannot do will help me better understand how to develop our client’s systems to suit their needs. In addition, learning more about what is coming down the pipeline was both exciting for what it holds for our clients and reassuring that the Conference exchange team is growing and expanding to meet the needs of their clients.

While the educational portion of the meeting was helpful, the most beneficial part was meeting with the support staff who work hard on our systems. When I arrived in Providence, the Conference Exchange team hosted attendees at a local restaurant and I was seated alongside my corresponding support staff. We talked a little about our projects and the company, and a lot about each other. This opening “getting-to-know you” event was great for both new and seasoned “users,” and gave me the opportunity to develop a rapport with my support staff that I believe will make my communication with them in the future more effective and meaningful.

Regardless of the vendors you choose for your clients or yourself, if you have an opportunity to meet your contacts in person, I highly recommend it.

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4 tips for a smooth AMC-to-AMC client transition

transition
Last week, AMPED was excited to welcome in a new client: The Environmental Design Research Association. While our work officially began with them on April 15, there was a six-week transition period where my colleagues and I spent learning all that we possibly could to ensure a seamless hand-off. Here are a few things I found to be extremely important during this time:

1. Do your research: This seems self-explanatory, but it extends beyond reading their files or looking at their website. It includes monitoring their social media accounts regularly to see what content is posted and how often, reading their publications and blog posts, and reviewing any online community the client may have. All of these give perspective on the association and the level of involvement there is from staff, volunteers and members.

2. Communication: Over the span of the transition period, my colleagues and I listened in on or participated in over 30 conference calls with our new client and their old management team. These calls ranged from weekly check-in meetings regarding the upcoming annual meeting, to committee calls, to one-on-one calls to meet each individual board member. During this process, we utilized screen share technology, which ended up being an invaluable tool. This allowed our counterparts to visually walk us through the files and programs that the new client uses and made learning so much easier.

3. Have a checklist: In order to make sure certain operational tasks, like the transition of phone lines, files and financial accounts, are not lost during the bustle of the transition and are completed in a timely manner, create a checklist before the transition begins. AMPED had a well-developed checklist that was tailored for our new client and presented to them at our first meeting. This way, they knew exactly what to expect from our team during the transition. In addition, our counterparts also had a list that we could cross-reference. Having both lists kept us all accountable.

4. Stay positive: While we engaged ourselves as much as possible before the actual transition date, we continue to learn more about our client every day, and honestly, it can be a little overwhelming. Fortunately, the old management team is still willing to help and be a resource whenever we have questions. That support, plus our ability to maintain a positive and upbeat attitude makes the process more fun and less daunting!

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8 realistic New Year's resolutions to make this Year

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I like the idea of New Year’s resolutions, but I tend to set the bar pretty high with unrealistic goals that I rarely follow through on. That’s why I resolved to come up with achievable goals this year. Here are eight easy and fail-proof resolutions that everyone can make.

1. Clean out and organize email inboxes regularly
It is so important to have a clean inbox or, in my case, inboxes, because then important information is never lost or forgotten. I answer my emails daily, but I really only reorganize and clean out my inbox in desperate times when I am looking for one particular email. I sometimes find that the folders I created to file away emails are also outdated, because what I had originally developed the folder for has become more complex and now requires subfolders. Regardless, I will be cleaning and reorganizing my inbox once a week to ensure that I can easily find any information I need at moment’s notice.

2. Delete all the out-of-date files
In the process of compiling a final report from a recent, very large meeting, I found we had saved quite a few revisions of the same files, so I had to dig to find the final versions. Now that the meeting is over and the year is ending, I made it my personal goal to clean out the files so that we only have the most up-to-date documents saved and everything is in the correct folder. We won’t be hosting a meeting like this for another six years, so when we revisit the files again, I want them to be organized and a helpful resource.

3. Update your office/work space
Rearranging or reorganizing your office could reenergize your work space and help your productivity. Evaluate whether your current set up is the most functional or whether your desk might be more organized with the help of letter trays or shelves. Updating your office could also be as simple as adding a new piece of décor, like a new painting or a plant.

4. Use social media…more
Social media is a powerful tool. I continue to learn more and more about its power, both in my personal and professional lives. Whether it is deciding on whether to start using social media for your company or clients, or reevaluating the platforms that you currently use, make fun and realistic goals for your accounts. These goals could include exploring a new social media platform, reaching a certain number of followers by the end of the year, or starting a hashtag trend.

5. Streamline your mornings
I find that when I am rushed in the morning, my whole day feels altogether hectic. It would be so much easier to lay out my clothes, pack my breakfast and lunch, and get my gym bag ready the night before, so that when I get to work, I am calm, relaxed and ready for the day. I know that another alternative would be to just get up earlier, but if I am going to make realistic goals here, getting up early is not one of them.

6. Take the stairs
Regardless if you make any fitness goals this year, this is a resolution everyone should just do. Luckily, I work in a building where an elevator is not an option, but I have had jobs in the past where it was way too easy to take the elevator over the stairs. Think of all the calories that could be burned WHILE at work, not to mention it is great for your legs and your heart!

7. Bring a lunch
It is really easy to eat lunch out every day, especially if you forgot to pack one the night before and you are running late (see resolution 5). And if you work in downtown Madison like I do, where there are a plethora of wonderful restaurants to choose from, it is even easier. But if you bring a lunch at least once a week, you will not only save money, you’ll probably choose healthier options, too.

8. Learn a new skill from your colleagues
Work is where we spend most of our time during the week, so we spend quite a bit of time with our colleagues. Whether you want to learn a new recipe or how to use a computer program, your colleagues may have a skillset to share, you just have to stop and ask. My colleagues happen to have diverse areas of expertise, so I look forward to working with them over the next year to learn new things and get to know them better!

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