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Moderating a webinar? Some tips for a successful presentation

webinar

I recently had the opportunity to moderate a webinar for the first time. Over the years I have participated in many webinars and panel discussions as a member of the audience or a presenter, so I anticipated this experience would be similar. In many ways it was, but serving as a moderator did come with a unique set of considerations and preparing for the sessions was certainly a learning experience! Looking back, I realize how much I did learn from this opportunity and since many of us in association management may one day find ourselves in the position of session moderator, I thought I would share some of what I learned.

1. Do your research. As the moderator you are probably familiar with the subject(s) being discussed but don’t take that for granted. Take some time to study and read about any of the latest news or developments. This will make you more comfortable and able to take an active role in the discussion.

2. Check in with the panelists. Once you have assembled panel, don’t forget to check in with them prior to the event. Presenters are working diligently to prepare for their own participation, so consider putting together some information to assist them. This gesture will almost certainly be appreciated! Some examples of information to provide:

  • Introductions: It’s always nice to know who you’ll be working with. If these individuals don’t know each other they will appreciate a bit of background on their fellow panelists.
  • Reminder of Event Logistics: Date, time and anticipated length of the webinar; whether slides are required or encouraged (if so, submission instructions); event format.
  • Anticipated Subjects: What is each presenter expected to discuss and for how long? If registrants are submitting questions ahead of time, consider sharing those to help speakers plan their remarks.

3. Have a plan to encourage discussion. It’s possible that the audience will not immediately engage in dynamic conversation with the panelists. Have some questions or talking points ready to help encourage discussion and audience participation.

4. Be ready for the unexpected. Despite all your best planning, something unexpected may come up. While it isn’t possible to prepare for every possibility, try to think of some that may be most likely. Do you have a plan if there are audio or connectivity issues? If a panelist cancels at the last minute can you or another panelist cover his or her talking points? If you are able, consider doing a dry run with the panelists/presenters to help identify technical glitches ahead of time and give everyone a sense of how the session will flow.

5. Review the tapes. If the session is recorded, take some time and watch/listen to the recording. It’s a terrific way to see yourself in action, see what went well and identify improvements for next time.

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How to manage and administer a meaningful certification program

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When it comes to a certification program, perception is important! If the program is not seen as being meaningful and valuable to those seeking certification and to the industry in general, it probably won’t be successful. The value of the program extends beyond its content; how it is administered is also a factor. Having assisted in managing several certification programs over the years my focus is often on program administration: guiding candidates through the certification application process, maintaining files and serving as a resource for anyone with questions about the program. Here are some of the practices I have found most helpful when it comes to program administration.

Facilitation of a consistent experience for candidates is a primary goal. From application through certification achievement, the intent is that everyone has access to the same information, follows the same steps and completes all the required paperwork. How? One word: routine! Following an established routine has proved indispensable. Not only does it help ensure a uniform experience for those going through the certification program, it makes it much easier for staff to be certain that all necessary steps have been completed.

One side note about routines, though. As a program administrator one should not be afraid to modify the procedure to make it work better. In my experience, something might seem perfect in the development stage, but once in practice some adjustments may be needed. Keep an open mind, listen to feedback and make adjustments when necessary.

Closely related to following an established routine is documentation and record maintenance. When it comes to managing a certification program I’ve found that the details are crucial. Keeping notes and consistently maintaining a step-by-step application checklist in real time have been worthwhile practices. This is especially true if there is any variance from the routine or if any unusual circumstances occur. It is true that note taking and checklist maintenance are not the most exciting tasks and may be easily overlooked. Yet, time and time again they have proved to be incredibly beneficial, especially in the long term. If questions or issues arise later the notes will be there to provide answers.

Serving as a reliable resource for anyone with questions about the program is also important. To accomplish this my focus is on consistent and responsive communication. Keeping the application process moving along by turning around forms quickly, promptly communicating any delays in the process and responding to individuals’ questions or requests as soon as possible are just some of the ways effective communication contributes to program quality. It is also helpful to remember that communication extends beyond those seeking certification. Making sure that all interested parties are informed about the certification program is beneficial, so regular, proactive communication with a larger audience (e.g., colleagues, the general industry) should never be neglected.

How a program is administered matters. Having a cohesive administration strategy goes a long way toward delivery of a high-quality program that is viewed by all parties as valuable to their own experience. Perception is important and in the end, even the smallest details and tasks matter!

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Certification program is opportunity to recognize key members

CSIA Accessories Photo anon

Working in association management, it is important to find ways to connect with and recognize association members. The certification program offered by our client, the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA), provides a great example – the chance to recognize member companies that have achieved CSIA Certification or certification renewal.

Recognition of companies that successfully complete an audit is a good way to boost the visibility of the certification program. More importantly though, we understand the amount of hard work and dedication that members put into preparing for a certification audit and are eager to acknowledge this achievement!

These are some of the ways CSIA members’ certification success is recognized.

Social Media Recognition
One of the most immediate ways we acknowledge CSIA Certified and recertified companies is through social media. In a matter of minutes, a post announcing a company’s certification can reach so many people. In terms of simplicity and effectiveness, social media is certainly one of the most successful recognition tools we use.

Certified Membership
Upon successful completion of the certification audit, a company is classified as a Certified member. By providing this membership category CSIA Certified companies are easily recognizable. This membership category also provides unique benefits such as access to certification-specific materials and a larger discount off the purchase price of an online profile on CSIA’s online marketplace, the Exchange.

Certification Materials
Certified companies receive a packet of information from CSIA soon after their certification is processed. Materials sent include:

  • Certification plaque (sent to companies certifying for the first time). 
  • Date bar showing the current certification term that is attached to the company’s plaque. A new date bar is sent each time certification is renewed. The plaque is designed so that a company can attach each date bar in order. 
  • A certificate is sent via email (so that the company can share it electronically with clients and post it on their website) and in paper form for display.
  • Stickers – These have proven to be popular with members. We often receive requests for additional stickers and companies have enjoyed sharing photos of the creative ways they have found to display their stickers.

Annual Conference Recognition
The annual CSIA Executive Conference brings the industry together and we have found that it is an ideal time to recognize Certified members. Conference recognition methods have included:

  • Slides/signage listing CSIA Certified members
  • Name badge ribbons
  • Recognition of CSIA Certified members during a conference event (such as a dinner or awards ceremony).
  • Photo ops

We are always searching for new, creative recognition methods to try. No matter our approach, the primary intent of certification recognition is to connect with the member and to demonstrate that we take their accomplishment seriously. It is our experience that members who feel appreciated by and connected to their association add a great deal to its success!

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Marketing automation: Using sequenced emails to onboard new members

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Welcoming new members into an association is exciting! Their new ideas, enthusiasm and fresh approaches add a lot to the vitality and dynamism of an organization. When it comes to welcoming new members, one of our first priorities as association professionals is to make sure they feel engaged and encouraged to participate in ways that are meaningful to them. To accomplish this, it is important to get to know new members and to take the time to understand their backgrounds, experiences and values and then use that knowledge to help them personalize a membership experience that works for them.

It is also important to develop a new-member onboarding process that is both dynamic and effective. To enhance our already robust new-member onboarding process, I have recently been developing a series of automated emails to send to new members during the first few months of membership. This project is still in the development stage – we have yet to implement the emails. But I wanted to share my approach.

My first step was to evaluate our entire process and how the new email sequence would fit into that process. After all, our new emails are intended to complement and enhance our existing welcome messaging. To evaluate whether the email sequence would accomplish this goal, I asked myself some basic questions: Would adding this component improve the effectiveness of our communications with new members? Would reaching out to new members in this way help them feel involved in the association and welcomed? Do the new communications reinforce our intended messages without being redundant?

Once I had determined that the new email sequence would provide value to our process, I turned my attention to the substance of our messages. When I began composing the emails I decided to work with content we already use in existing new member communication. This serves dual purposes – it saves time by not requiring us to draft messages from scratch and, more importantly, it reinforces the messaging we already have. Since we know the topics highlighted in our existing messages are of interest to new members, the emails provide an opportunity to present the information in a fresh way. We have added a bit of new content and tried to customize some of our messaging to specific membership categories. However, the bulk of our email content mirrors existing messaging. My hope is that by introducing members to certain topics in multiple formats (such as an email and then a mail piece) they’ll be more likely to take notice of and act on the information being shared.

With our messaging in place my current area of focus is implementation. I am very conscious that our members are busy working professionals with their own hectic schedules. Since we are establishing an automated sequence of emails, my primary consideration is setting up the system in a way that avoids potentially inundating members with too much too soon. We want the emails to be spaced so that they capitalize on a new member’s enthusiasm, while allowing them enough time to take in the information being presented. Emails sent too close together might overwhelm the member. However, spacing the emails too far apart runs the risk of the messages getting buried in a busy inbox.

I am thinking very carefully about the best approach to sending these emails. One idea I’ve had is setting up each email in the sequence to be sent based on action taken from the previous email. For example, our first email encourages new members to visit a certain online community and they receive the second email only after they have visited that community. Whatever the implementation approach ends up looking like, I will be paying close attention to member feedback and adjusting as needed over time.

What are your experiences with new member onboarding? Have you worked with automated email sequences or other automation tools? I would certainly welcome your thoughts or advice!

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So much to learn: Tips for gaining association know-how

embracing elearning

“There is a first time for everything,” as the saying goes and my career in association management has yielded many examples of this. I have always enjoyed the wide variety of tasks and responsibilities involved in this work because there is always something new to learn. However, I’ll admit the prospect of facing anything new can make me a little anxious. Given that this was not a career I planned for while I was in school (my degrees are in political science and political management) virtually everything about association management has been a new experience at one point or another. This has meant a lot of learning on the job. Luckily over my 10+ years in this field I have been able to figure out some strategies that make taking on a new experience a little less intimidating.

Go back to school. Ok, maybe not literally but there have been many instances when I have sought out some extra educational resources to help me better understand something new. I have found this especially useful in cases where I am required to learn a new program or skill. For example, once, early in my career, I was asked to learn html coding to help design and maintain a basic website. Having no background in this kind of work I did a little research and found a great online course. It was comprised of six weekly sessions and some “homework” that I could complete based on my schedule. I walked away with a much better understanding and enough knowledge to get started. A more common occurrence is the need to learn new software or web programs. A habit I’ve gotten into is checking out the program’s online help/training component. These types of resources usually prove very beneficial as I’m initially learning how to navigate the program and later if more in depth assistance is required.

Ask someone. Working in association management means I have the privilege of working with some very amazing people! Over the years I have worked alongside attorneys, journalists, economists and graphic designers. Basically I’m surrounded by people with an amazing variety of backgrounds and skills. My colleagues are always eager to offer guidance or advice. It’s an incredible pool of knowledge! In addition to colleagues I find online forums to be helpful. Even if I’m not submitting a question myself, a quick search often yields answers to my exact inquiry.

Be confident. Learning anything, whether new skills or about a new project, can be daunting but it is possible! No matter the assignment I’m facing, I have confidence in my ability to learn new skills and to effectively apply these new skills to achieve a successful result. Taking time for some training, research or collaboration can go a long way toward making a new program or project more manageable and a successful outcome easier to achieve.

My career in association management has certainly been a series of “firsts” and these are just a few of my strategies for managing them. How about you? Any tips or tricks for handling the many new experiences and assignments we face as association management professionals?

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Not Everyone Gets the Spotlight

But behind-the-scenes roles are equally important to pulling off a great event!

Wicked at the Omaha Orpheum theater


I was in Drama Club in school and one thing I remember our advisor telling us over and over is that every role is important. Whether on stage or behind the scenes, everyone has a part to play to create a successful production. Over the course of my career I have helped manage numerous client meetings and conferences. It is exciting and challenging work and an aspect of association management that I truly enjoy. There have also been many times when I have not been directly involved in the planning or on-site management of an event. Instead, I’ve found myself in more of a “behind the scenes” role back at the office. No matter what, I always want to be as helpful as possible so even if I am not directly involved in planning or traveling to the conference, I have found ways to contribute and help make an event great.


Stay informed: An upcoming client event usually means an increase in inquiries from potential attendees. Knowing as much as possible about the event is important in order to effectively and efficiently answer questions. In particular, make sure you are familiar with aspects of the event that are most likely to generate inquiries. Examples include registration policies, schedule highlights and sponsorship and exhibit opportunities. If there is an event website make sure it is bookmarked on your browser for easy access and that you are familiar with the information and where it is posted. If you are going to be processing registrations over the phone, familiarize yourself with the process and be aware of different registration options, fees and deadlines.


Offer assistance: Leading up to a conference there are numerous tasks to be accomplished, and the simple act of offering assistance or support can be incredibly helpful. Maybe you can help print name badges or pack up supplies. Even running out to grab lunch or a cup of coffee for a stressed colleague might make their day a little easier. During the event, make it a priority to stay in contact with colleagues who are on-site in case something comes up. Also, remember that the time immediately following a conference can be hectic, too. Catching up after having been away and dealing with the event wrap-up is a lot of work. If you have the time and opportunity to assist with post-meeting tasks such as unpacking or organizing and archiving conference files, definitely do so.


Take notes: Throughout the meeting planning and management process you may find yourself making mental notes about things that have worked exceptionally well or things that could be improved next time. Perhaps it’s a suggestion or comment you heard from multiple callers. It might be your own observation while navigating the website or processing registrations. Write these down! If you do end up with a list, make it a point to share it with your colleagues after the event is over. This is a useful exercise for everyone on the team and your notes may provide valuable insight when planning the next event.


Conference planning and management is a group effort and the advice my drama coach gave me definitely applies - every role is important. Whether on site or “behind the scenes” at the office, the ultimate goal is a successful event and everyone’s contribution matters!

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Preparation takes the panic out of public speaking

underwear

The thought of public speaking is enough to make even the most composed and confident among us a little nervous. While public speaking is often ranked among people’s worst fears, it is also an experience that many of us encounter at some point. Over the years I’ve been given a lot of advice on the best ways to approach a public speaking opportunity. These are some of my favorite tips.

Be prepared…but not too prepared. It goes without saying that practicing a speech is beneficial. I’ve known some people who can practice once a few minutes prior to speaking and they’re ready to go, but I need a little more preparation. If possible, I’ll practice in front of a group and ask for feedback. Am I talking too fast or too slow? Am I using awkward hand gestures or not making enough eye contact? Is my speech too long or too short? Also, I like to practice with any technology I’ll be using, like a wireless mic or slides. In the course of practicing a presentation I have found that there can be such a thing as over preparation. There often comes a point where I find myself second guessing my remarks and wanting to make a lot of last minute changes. This is the point when I’ll stop, put the speech away, and focus on something else for a while.

Keep slides simple. My husband does a lot of presentations that involve the use of slides. His advice when it comes to slides is “less is more” and I tend to agree. Text heavy slides or slides with a lot of graphics or animation can distract from what the speaker is saying.

Be comfortable. The colleague who gave me this advice was referring to physical comfort. The day of a presentation is not the day I choose, for example, to wear a new pair of shoes for the first time. I make sure to carefully choose an outfit that fits the event’s dress code (if there is one) and that I’m comfortable in. Clothes can be a great confidence booster but they can also be a huge distraction if I’m onstage tugging at my jacket or thinking about how my shoes are pinching. Being comfortable with the place where I’ll be speaking is also incredibly helpful. If possible, I’ll do a run through on site to get a sense of things like the size of the room and how much space I’ll have to move around.

Finally, I try to remember that I’m the only one in the room who knows what I’m going to say. The audience doesn’t have my speech memorized so if I forget a line or make a small mistake, chances are I’m the only one who will know.
I have found public speaking to be great for building self-esteem and each of my experiences has certainly been a terrific learning opportunity! How do you approach public speaking? Have you received any particularly helpful tips or advice?

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Communication is key to transitioning back from work leave

with NorahOver the past few months I have been transitioning back to work after having been on maternity leave. When it comes to welcoming a new baby to the family there is a lot of excitement and joy. There is also a fair amount of stress and anxiety. I have been very fortunate to have some flexibility in my transition back to work. The encouragement I’ve received from my AMPED colleagues has been really incredible and I can’t thank them enough for their support!

Going back to work after maternity leave is a deeply personal experience and there is certainly no “one-size-fits-all” approach. However, there are a few things I’ve done that have helped make it a little easier.

Frequent and honest communication has made all the difference. Prior to going on leave my coworkers and I made a point of meeting several times. These meetings served as an opportunity to figure out who would cover my workload while I was out and to formulate a plan for my return. We made sure to spread these meetings out throughout my pregnancy — not just at the end — so that we had plenty of time to plan for everything that needed to be covered. While I was on leave, my focus was on my new baby, recovery and family, but as the date of my return to work approached my anxiety level increased, so I made a point of checking in with the office. Getting a quick update on what had been happening while I was out made my first few days back less stressful.

I have been extremely fortunate in my transition. One thing that helped was to come back to work gradually in the first few weeks. I’ve known several people who have taken this approach in different ways. A friend of mine who was going back to work full-time made her first day back in the office a Thursday which gave her a couple of days to readjust to the office, a few days for her baby to adjust to day care, and a weekend to work out any schedule adjustments. Another friend whose day care was nearer her home than her office arranged to work from home the first week back at work. Her son went to day care and she followed a normal work schedule from home. That way if her son needed her during those first few days she was close by. This decreased her stress and she was able to get more work done. I realize that this gradual approach may not be a realistic option in all cases but, if it is possible, it can be extremely beneficial.

As I mentioned a “one-size-fits-all” approach to returning to work post maternity leave doesn’t exist; everyone’s situation is different and unique. But, my final suggestion for everyone going through this experience is to be patient. Figuring out a new routine and a workable balance between family and professional obligations takes time and it won’t be without its challenges. For me, it has definitely been an eventful few months and I’m still adjusting to my new “normal.” But so far, it’s been a smooth transition.

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How to be “in the moment” in a “to-do list” world

in the moment

In January I made a New Year’s resolution to be more “in the moment.” My goal is to appreciate and focus on the present and spend less time dwelling on the past or future events that I can’t control. Since we’re almost halfway through 2015 I thought it would be a good time to step back and evaluate my progress.

In general, I would say I’m doing a pretty good job sticking to this resolution. Some days are better than others and it is definitely an ongoing challenge, but I’ve been able to employ a few daily practices that help me follow through on my goal.

One thing I try to do every day is prioritize my “to-do list.” I’m one of those types who keep a written list. It’s usually pretty varied and almost always long. It’s easy to become overwhelmed when I think about everything I have written down. So, I don’t. Instead, I look for items that must be completed immediately. If something has a hard deadline or if I have a pre-arranged appointment or meeting I will make it my focus in that moment. There aren’t usually too many of these tasks in any given day so once they are completed I can move on to ones with softer deadlines. If I get through those, there are always more general tasks on my list. These types of tasks have a deadline of “I would love to get this done someday.”

To further encourage myself to stay in the moment I’ve been working on being flexible. I have kids. Not only are kids always in the moment, they are good at forcing us, as parents and caregivers, into their moment. When my toddler decides he’s hungry it means he’s hungry now, not in an hour from now when I planned to make lunch. I have to adapt accordingly. I know that plans can change in an instant and I have to be willing to temporarily set aside my carefully prioritized task list to deal with the situation at hand.

At the end of the day I usually do spend just a few minutes mentally reviewing the day’s accomplishments. I admit that I can be my own worst critic and feeling like I haven’t gotten through as much as I should can lead to a lot of self-doubt. So, on those days when I don’t feel as productive as I want to be, I try hard to maintain a realistic perspective and to be forgiving. Sometimes I need to remind myself that the world will not end just because I didn’t get through every email in my inbox or if there are still three loads of laundry to be folded. It just gives me somewhere to start tomorrow.

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Make an effort to learn about your association's industry

learn about industryIn the course of my career I’ve worked with a variety of industry associations. I love the opportunity to learn about so many interesting and dynamic industries and anytime I begin work with a new association I try to learn as much as I can about the industry being represented. I’ve found that, not only is this an interesting learning opportunity on a personal level, but it actually makes my work with the association easier.

The first thing I did when I began working for AMPED was to attend an industry conference for one of our clients. It was an incredibly valuable experience and looking back I’m so glad I was able to take part. Not only was I able to meet many of the industry leaders I would be working with, but I gained first-hand knowledge of many of the issues important to the industry. Any opportunity to interact with the industry on a face-to-face basis is a worthwhile one!

Another great way to learn about an industry is to read. Working for an association I often find industry publications at my fingertips and I make it a point to at least skim them. This gives me a good idea of what’s going on and what is important to industry members at any given time. There are often great resources online as well. Familiarity with industry websites is incredibly helpful. Many of our associations host online discussion forums and it can be worthwhile to pay attention to questions and discussions that are posted.

So, how does all this education make the job of association management easier? In general, my experience has shown me that knowing something about the project I’m working on or the client I’m working with is a good thing. As an association management professional I am constantly aware that I am representing the industry I’m working with, so familiarity with that industry can only be beneficial. I’ve also found that members really do appreciate working with someone who is interested in their industry and the work they do.

Learning more about the industries I’m working with has always proved helpful on a number levels. It’s an activity that I find incredibly worthwhile and one that I will definitely continue in the future!

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What summer break? New technology keeps us studying all year round

studying technology

It’s back-to-school season, and even though I’ve been out of school for a while now, I’ve found myself doing a lot of studying lately. Two of the online programs I use on a daily basis have come out with new releases so I’ve been spending some extra time participating in training sessions, reading release notes and occasionally, just staring at my computer trying to familiarize myself with the new layouts and features. After using a program daily it’s easy to become comfortable with the way it looks and operates. I try not to get too comfortable though. One thing I’ve found is that, even in the absence of a new version's release, there is always something to learn. Here are some of the ways I stay up to date with our frequently used programs.

Participate in training webinars. Anytime a training webinar is offered I make sure to listen in. I find these webinars to be extremely useful. They usually focus on one topic at a time so they’re not overwhelming. Most are scheduled to last an hour or less so they’re easy to fit into the schedule. The best part is they’re usually archived so I can always go back to them for reference.

Take advantage of the online support community. I log in to the online support communities that are set up so I can check for new tech support documents and learn about any upcoming training sessions. I also take a few minutes each day to read through the daily emails that arrive in my inbox overnight. These emails are compilations of daily support community activity. It can be very informative to see what other users are commenting on or issues they have run into.

Finally, one of my colleagues had the great idea to establish a how-to file. Anytime we learn a new procedure it is documented with quick step by step instructions and (when applicable) screen shots. Anytime I encounter an issue, the first place I look is the how-to file. When a new release comes out or a procedure changes we just update the existing instructions. The how-to file is a great resource for everyone in the office and a real time-saver!

I’ve found that these resources really help me stay up to date and provide me with the information I need to keep using technology programs effectively. How about you? Do you have any tips for staying up to date on technology and programs you use?

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Database management: It's all in the details

database

Take a second to think about all the ways information in a membership database is used: email communications, membership renewals, event management, certification records, merchandise purchases and statistics are just a few of the possibilities. An organization can use its membership database in numerous ways, but in order for a database to be truly useful it must be maintained. Keeping up with database management is a big job and shouldn’t be taken too lightly. Here are a few tips I always keep in mind when working on a database.

Attention to detail is a must. It might be tempting to rush through updates but typos can lead to missed communication opportunities and even lost revenue. I’m all for efficiency, but there is no point in having a database if the information is inaccurate. Taking a little extra time to make sure information is entered correctly is well worth the effort.

Format consistently. This is especially important if the database is used to generate items like membership directories or event registration lists. Abbreviations, address information and punctuation should all be entered in a consistent format. Otherwise, those lists and directories may end up looking unprofessional and unpolished. If multiple individuals are responsible for entering and updating records make sure everyone involved is aware of these formatting guidelines.

Keep up with database maintenance. On a busy day it’s easy to set database updates aside for another time, but in my experience it’s more practical to add or update records right away. If I absolutely can’t get to an update that day, I put it in a designated folder in my inbox. I have a calendar item set up reminding me to check that folder each morning.

The database will never be complete and can always be improved. Membership is always changing so database management is an ongoing project. As membership evolves, the database should too. Don’t be afraid to make changes to the database setup to better meet the needs of the organization. The database is a powerful resource but it must work for an organization!

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How do you foster creativity?

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The other day my three-year-old son ran up to me with his face and t-shirt covered in squiggly marker lines and exclaimed, “Momma, look what I made!” When I asked him why he had chosen his face and shirt as his canvas he shrugged and said, “I didn’t have any paper.”

I had to admit, this was a pretty imaginative solution to his lack of drawing paper and it got me thinking about creativity. In an increasingly busy life dictated by obligations, lists and tasks to complete, does creativity take a back seat? Would being more creative in my approach to a project lead to a more successful outcome? How could I incorporate more creativity into my daily routine without compromising too much on efficiency?

Creativity really can’t be planned but as I thought more about it I realized there were small things I could probably do to foster more creativity each day. This was emphasized a few mornings later. As I started out on my drive to work I found my commute brought to a halt by a big traffic back up. Rather than idle in that line of cars impatiently waiting for it to move, I took a deep breath, turned around and went a different way. To my surprise, I found myself at the office a few minutes earlier than usual! It was a small change to my usual routine and it actually gained me some time, teaching me that under the right circumstances, a creative approach can improve even the most minor of daily routines.

Encouraged by this first successful outcome, I am determined to continue my exploration of creativity’s impact on more of my projects and daily tasks and I’ll be sure to keep you posted!

I’m lucky to work with a group of very talented, innovative colleagues here at AMPED so I’ll certainly be looking to them for new ideas and inspiration. I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic as well! Do you feel like creativity often takes a back seat in our busy lives? Have you had the opportunity to take a more creative approach to a project lately? Anyone have a particularly creative way to get marker out of a t-shirt?

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A crash course in project management

Last year, we began developing a new certification management system for the CSIA Certification program. When I was asked to assist, my first thought was, “Great! But how do we start?” Getting this project off the ground took a lot of hard work and focus on the part of everyone involved. Looking back I realize that it was also an opportunity for me to take a crash course in project management. These are some of the most important lessons I learned.

Collaboration was vital. From the beginning, it was clear that this was not a one-person assignment. Successful completion of this project called for a great deal of collaboration. We had a core group of staff and industry members who undertook the day-to-day work and it was incredibly helpful to be able to rely on each other for fresh perspectives as we moved through the assignment. At times, the ability to talk an idea out was the best way to solve a question at hand. We also relied heavily on member/industry input. After all, this was their certification program and so their time and expertise was essential.

Establishing deadlines improved our focus. Before jumping in to the main work of the project we took some time to set up a schedule and set deadlines. We started by determining a target project completion date. With our start and end dates in place we could fill in the rest of the schedule, deciding on target deadlines for different parts of the project, all the time moving toward our completion date. Having this schedule in place provided structure to the work and allowed us to plan ahead. Rather than getting overwhelmed by the project as a whole we were able to focus on meeting each deadline as it approached.

Flexibility was essential. For all of our planning we figured out pretty quickly that this project was going to change as we progressed. We absolutely had to be flexible! We adjusted our schedule a number of times and our collaborative approach to the project meant we experimented with several management structures along the way. Even now, after the system roll out has been completed, we are still making changes to documents and procedures as we learn what works and what doesn’t.
Being part of this project has definitely been a great lesson in project management! It was a challenging assignment, but by working collaboratively, setting deadlines and staying flexible we were able to bring the development of the new certification management system to a successful conclusion. As we move the new system into practice I will continue to learn from these important project management lessons.

What about you? Have you been faced with a big project recently? What tools did you find most helpful?

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