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I was asked recently what my leadership philosophy was and how I exemplify these qualities in my work and community. I reflected on the various jobs I had the great privilege to work on and I summed it up in four basic beliefs.

I believe in leadership by example. When your staff see you converse with your members and lead in an engaging manner and when you keep your staff accountable by measuring progress against a goal – you set the bar.

In 2010, I was hired to be the executive director for a small town business association that had been wrecked by unprofessionalism and factionalism reaching even to the board of directors. To mitigate the issue and allow for the organization to move forward, I scheduled face-to-face meetings with each member and leader in an effort to get to know them, their business, their frustrations, their hopes for the association and services they needed. I took the time to listen and understand each perspective. I found out that most everyone had two things in common: love for their community and a desire to help each other. After two months of these visits, I reported to the board what I had learned, and how we might want to make changes to the programs we were offering.

Hearing about the common goals everyone shared, the board came to appreciate the value of reaching out to perceived critics. Soon, board meetings transformed from sessions of member complaints to issue-driven collaboration, then member meetings transformed into interactive and positive places to be. We designed programs that met the needs of the broad membership, including a business expo which allowed all local business owners of the town to promote themselves. It became a win-win-win situation.

I believe in leadership by positive reinforcement. Every successful parent knows how to get children to repeat good behavior: Praise! I believe we never out-grow the desire to feel recognized and valued. Do you see your staff producing an extremely well-written communication piece? Write a quick note to tell him or her what you thought was done well. Praise where everyone else can hear, and pretty soon everyone else will be encouraged to do better as well. In this digital age, the hand-written note is a dying art form. I have a stack of “Kudos” cards in my drawer ready to be shared every time a team member does something effective or exceptional. It never fails to motivate my staff and vendors to do more for and with me.

I believe that success is in the details of communicating vision. The secret to insanely awesome Apple products is in working-out all the details so that the product confronting the consumer provides a complete vision. If Apple glossed details, it could not convince us that a product we never even considered before is the one thing we need.

A few years ago, I volunteered to lead an event marking the culmination of a 50-year effort to restore Lake Belle View. Long-time residents and municipal leaders had great interest in recognizing those involved and announcing that it was safe to begin enjoying the lake once more. The organizing committee initially planned an afternoon of speeches. I had never organized a community event like that before, but was sure a program of mere speeches would not translate into community engagement and excitement. I researched lake events, and found several around the country — one 30 miles from our town. I personally visited the organizer, interviewed her, and requested a copy of the poster they distributed. It listed activities like canoe rides, water education talks, and a sunset activity. Showing these possibilities to the town’s leaders opened their eyes. Then I presented a list of similar activities paralleling the items in the Lake Belle View mission statement. Belleville Lakefest was born!

We held a photography contest, brought in naturalists to explain the ecosystem, worked with DNR folks to showcase local fishes and birds, held a pre-K lake-themed story time organized by the public library, and brought in a fitness instructor to teach Tai-Chi by the lake. There were canoe rides hosted by the Boys Scouts and a mini-triathlon. Add live musicians, local businesses showcasing themselves in 10 x 10 pop-up tents, and we had a community success! I planned the grand opening in minute detail, and the people in attendance witnessed a vision of how a lake can bring a diverse community together. What was supposed to be a one-time event has been repeated annually for the last three years by other organizers.

I believe in leadership by action. Analysis of data helps provide clarity for one’s decisions. Thoughtful pre-work, including research and due diligence, clears the path toward a desired end result. Discussion among stakeholders elicits support and endorsement, giving the go signal to pursue bold decisions. Only action is real. Only action can improve performance. Only action allows one to achieve. I believe that an effective leader is a leader who goes to work with a sense of urgency. With clear purpose in mind and a deep intention in the heart—a leader works the hardest and gives the most. She leads by example – through action.

I have been fortunate to serve various companies and organization in various capacities, roles, and cultures; I left each better than I found it. From my starting job in cable television, where the channel I created became the most watched channel, to spearheading a marketing department for a shopping center, where I was the youngest department manager ever promoted, to the USAID-funded program in the Philippines (even to this day, the credit co-ops band themselves based on the work we did), to the business association whose culture changed to professionalism, to a fundraising organization, where the previously untapped leadership giving donor segment I organized is now leading the charge, to a dozen international meetings I organized, each of which achieved new heights in attendance or attendee satisfaction ratings – I am a turn-around artist. If I am to be honest about my secret to blooming wherever I am planted, I must admit it is less in a leadership philosophy than in my drive to make things happen.


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CSIA staff group 2015

If you haven’t noticed, most of our AMPED blogs are posted in the form of some sort of “How To” or “Helpful Tips” guide. Can you blame us? While we may not be experts on every single topic, many of us do have a lot of experience and we want to share our knowledge with you! I have my own long list of helpful tips and lessons-learned that I’d like to share, but those lists can wait for now. I’d like to share a different aspect of our work with our clients.

It’s been two weeks since we wrapped up the CSIA Executive Conference in Washington, D.C., an annual event held each year at the end of April. It was a long week filled with early mornings and late nights, leaving us staff members in a bit of a blur. But now that things have settled down, I am able to look back and truly appreciate just how rewarding (and fun!) these events can be. So, instead of sharing thoughts on how to improve your mobile app, complete follow-up efficiently, etc., I’d like to share my favorite things about being onsite instead.

First, I love the face-to-face contact. It’s so fun to see old friends while also getting the chance to meet new people. We spend the majority of our time communicating with members via email or phone so it’s extra special to see them in-person. I’ve found that the members really enjoy this aspect of the meeting as well. We get a lot of “Oh! You’re the one I’ve been emailing all week – nice to meet you!”

Second, I find it exciting to learn more about the various topics that are of interest to our members. As staff, we aren’t necessarily experts on the industry side of things for our clients and so we appreciate the opportunity to be able to learn more through the educational programming. Sure, we are busy running the logistics of the meeting, but every once in a while we get the chance to pop into a session or two. When we have this opportunity, I think we’re able to better understand and appreciate the challenges our members are facing.

Lastly, it’s so fun to see all of our hard work come together. We spend almost a year preparing for these annual meetings and to be honest, it can get exhausting. The hard work really becomes worth it when we get to see it all come together and, more importantly, when we get to see the attendees enjoy the meeting.

We spend a lot of time figuring out how to improve ourselves and our meetings – what can we say, we’re perfectionists! But sometimes it’s important to just enjoy and reflect on all of the good things. Plus, we have to enjoy the results of our work while we can since there is only a small window to do so. It’s only a few days after the meeting before we’re on to planning the next!

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Google “Millennials” and you’ll find more than 11,000,000 results. A lot of them will claim to tell you what this group of young people is interested in, what motivates them and their attitude toward everything under the sun. Why should we care? Well, they’re the largest generation in the U.S., the first one to have had access to the Internet during their formative years, and their impact on the economy continues to grow. All of those things will also impact our associations and how we attract and engage them.

I’m definitely not a Millennial (I won’t reveal my generation here), but I work with them, live with one, and, in the role I play with our clients, I need to know what attracts them to associations and events. I want to hear directly from them and I had the opportunity to do just that when I attended a recent panel discussion.

The entire panel consisted of Millennials and they shared it all: how to get them to join an association, what they need from you in order to get engaged, how their career and workplace should make them feel and what motivates them to attend an event. I’ll focus on meeting attendance here because that’s where I found the most food-for-thought when planning for the future.

When it comes to meeting attendance, all panelists agreed that it wasn’t the price, location or keynote presenter that drew them. Here’s what does:

  • A majority of the education at an event should be relevant to their current position. Although they are willing to spend time on something out of the scope of their responsibilities, if it’s new to them – perhaps something they can see themselves doing in the future.
  • Networking with colleagues using the same tools, sporting the same titles and dealing with similar issues is important to them. And, if you also provide access to senior executives, they’ll be there.
  • Marketing collateral should be exciting and contain “like faces.” They want to know that they’ll identify with other attendees and have fun.
  • If they can get the information online or from another association, you’d better try harder with your overall program. They want a unique experience.
  • If your event ends with a final “thank you” from the moderator, then try adding opportunities to keep the discussion going after the program closes. They know they can easily stay connected and keep the learning going.
  • Considering a presenter that gives a three-hour presentation? Think again. These professionals grew up with the Internet. They like to learn in short snippets with pictures and 140 characters or less.
  • Once you get them there, you’ll need to make an effort to make them feel connected and valued. Do this and they’ll be back. Skip it and don’t count on a return appearance.

Millenials – is what I’ve shared true of you? Other generations – chime in and let me know what you’ve found when trying to engage them.

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Hotel sign

I just came back from Tampa and New Orleans where I did site inspections for our association’s inaugural 2016 annual meeting.

I saw two very different properties in Tampa: one was a magnificent 300-acre resort hotel away from the city; the other was five-minutes from the airport and sitting on 35+ acres overlooking the Old Tampa Bay. In New Orleans, I visited three properties: a historic hotel located right in the French Quarter; a 2,000+ guestroom hotel with views of the riverfront, connected to a convention center and an outlet mall and across from a casino; and a new 1,600-guestroom property located in the Central Business District. As expected, the properties who hosted me had sales team members who were generous, welcoming and enthusiastic.

Just like many of the site inspections I have done in the past, the visit was quick and a whirlwind. You have three-to-four hours to spend in a property, perhaps two-to-three hours more if you’re sharing a meal with their sales managers. If you’re lucky to stay overnight in the hotel you’re considering, you have overnight through the morning-after to get an actual feel for service, the check-in/check-out experience and the state of the upkeep of the hotel and its amenities.

Successful site inspections start with a thoughtful pre-work. In our case, we had our executive committee share with staff their desired cities to host the meeting. The committee first identified over a dozen possibilities. To narrow down the list, I went back to the committee to provide general city information such as a sampling of flight arrival times from major nearby airports (access), weather probabilities on the chosen month (comfort), and the number of association meetings held in the city (experience and attractiveness). From there, the list was narrowed down to eight. Then, I sent out an RFP to all the cities’ convention and visitors bureaus and a few of our chain hotels’ national sales office contacts asking them to forward the RFP to properties they thought had the capability to host a meeting of our size and budget.

The RFP was written with background information of the association, the goals of the meeting, the expected number of attendees, the projected F&B expenses, the detailed program, sleeping room requirements, square footage of and when each meeting room was needed, the concessions requested and the decision factors. I also added custom questions that determine ancillary costs of AV, Wi-Fi and transportation, including questions asking for marketing and sponsorship sales ideas should their hotel be chosen.

I received over 80 responses. Two thirds were declines. To me, this was a good sign. It meant the RFP was thorough enough to weed out properties that didn’t meet the criteria and our budget. In the end, 11 hotels from five cities submitted a bid. After a comparative analysis of the hotels that proposed in each city, I recommended three cities for consideration to the committee. Two of the three bubbled up as choice cities. This led me to pursue hotels in Tampa and New Orleans, the top two cities voted on by the committee.

After four days traversing two major cities, walking through five properties with a combined meeting space of over 600,000 sq. ft., I returned to the home office in Madison with an informed recommendation. The recommendation will be presented during our upcoming program committee and executive committee calls in a couple of weeks.

How did I arrive at my conclusion? What are the factors that a planner might want to consider to suggest a future meeting venue for an association meeting?

Does the venue meet the program goal and match the attendee type?
Yes, the chef’s food sampling could be the tastiest, the property is magnificent and a meeting planner might have been given the chance to sleep in one the hotel’s grandest suites. But does the hotel offer an atmosphere that meets the program goal of the meeting? In our case, the goal was to provide networking, mentorship and collaboration to young, up and coming specialists and researchers. It’s an inaugural meeting for attendees who have a formal work nature. Is the venue conducive to continuing education or would it be distracting? The choice of venue dictates the tone of the future meetings. There are two sayings: Do it right the first time. And, first impressions last. I believe these two apply.

Does the property offer a meeting space that is fluid?
On paper, a property might say they have all 30,000 sq. feet of space you need. But onsite, you discover the meeting rooms suggested require close to 400 steps to navigate between them. If you only have a 20-minute coffee break, the time spent going from and to distant rooms is a time-waster and the opportunity to network is lost.

Is the property accessible?
Access here includes having a good number of fly-in options from various airports, the affordability of the flights and the amount of time it takes to get from the airport to the conference hotel. If the flights your attendees will likely take don’t arrive in the city until noon and your conference opening session is at 1 p.m., going to a property that is 30 miles away and needs to beat noon-hour traffic might not be a good meeting venue choice.

Are the costs within the budget and what’s the value for the money?
Unlike incentive travel or private corporations, an associations’ budget is not unlimited. The hotel must be able to offer costs that meet the budget. A planner should consider not only the big bucket costs, like sleeping rooms, meeting room hire and F&B, but also ancillary costs, like transportation, Wi-Fi and room amenities. It’s possible that a hotel might quote a slightly higher sleeping room rate. But if the hotel offers an all-inclusive rate that covers the guests’ Wi-Fi, access to the fitness center and airport shuttle services, or gives you a complimentary room of 1 to 40 instead of 1 to 50, the extra $10-$15 might be better for the over-all bottom line.

Are there other meetings taking place while your meeting is ongoing?
While it is not reasonable to expect yours would be the only group at a large-sized property, it’s good to know how busy the hotel is going to be while you are holding your meeting. Onsite, you can casually probe hotel staffing levels and preparedness. Their answer will give you a glimpse of their capabilities to handle multiple meetings with the level of service you hope to receive.

Are there renovation plans on the dates you plan to hold the meeting?
While renovation plans aim to please hotel guests in the end, holding a meeting in a property while it is undergoing renovation is not ideal. Find out the gravity of the renovation and how it might affect the meeting and sleeping rooms. As a general rule, I don’t recommend choosing a hotel that has planned renovations, regardless of their extent.

What is the state of the upkeep and maintenance?
The website pictures are breathtaking. The descriptions are superbly written. But is the actual state of the infrastructure and maintenance up to par? Nothing replaces a personal site visit to see and imagine for yourself. In one to two years, will this hotel stay the way you’ve seen it, be better or worse?

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Are you debating whether or not to attend your professional association’s upcoming meeting? Perhaps a long to-do list at the office or a tight budget is making you question your participation? Don’t make excuses. Go. You won’t regret it.

I recently joined the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) and attended their Convening Leaders meeting in Chicago earlier this month. I found this to be an incredible experience on so many levels and here’s why.

It was top notch. In fact, there were so many great sessions to choose from that it was hard to pick! The opportunity to learn from my peers was priceless. I walked away with countless key takeaways and simply felt inspired overall. What a great feeling!

There was a perfect mix of both educational and networking opportunities. Becoming aware of the importance of building a professional network of fellow meeting industry gurus was quite possibly my most valuable takeaway. The educational sessions themselves are crucial, but developing relationships to eventually have a “go to” group of peers to bounce ideas off of and learn from on a day-to-day basis is just as vital as attending the educational sessions.

Professional Development
It was very interesting to experience an event from the attendee perspective rather the planner side. For example, seeing how other groups utilize the latest technology or manage the overall logistics increased my motivation to positively impact attendees in the meetings I organize. Obtaining CEUs that will count toward my aspirations of earning the CMP designation was an extra bonus, too!

Personal Growth
It goes without saying that attending a 4,000+ person meeting can be intimidating, but as you can see it was a very worthwhile “push” out of my comfort zone.

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