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Starting the New Year with a clean slate

Marechiel family for New Year 2016

Aah, a new year! When I think of a New Year, I think of making New Year’s resolutions. Google “New Year’s resolution” and 140,000,000 search results come up. Before I could make my own resolutions, I needed to reflect on the year that passed. This process would hopefully guide me toward making new goals. I have so much to be grateful for. 

Professionally, I had the privilege to be assigned an executive director role for a new client account. To me, this meant I’m trusted in my ability to manage an organization. I received a recognition from the association community with the ASAE DELP scholarship. I interpreted this as: my contributions and leadership capabilities are appreciated.

In my family life, three of our four kids in college are doing well. (Yep, they are all on the Dean’s List!) Our youngest who is a senior in high school is enjoying a banner year himself organizing an Ethics Symposium to address bullying, self-esteem and moral standards among his peers — an encouragement that my husband and I must have done something right in our parenting . Everyone in the family is healthy. When many folks are experiencing health issues that limit their ability to live and enjoy life, we couldn’t be more thankful.

There were also things that didn’t go as I had planned. Did I achieve my weight goal? No. Did I participate in all the socio-civic and volunteering opportunities that came my way? No. Did I spend time with that one girlfriend I wanted to continue deepening my friendship with? No. Did I make enough time with my husband to continue to strengthen our marriage? No. Did I fret when I didn’t achieve the goals I set? Yes. Should I? No.

A wise mentor has told me, the year that has passed is done. The New Year is an opportunity to start a new slate. She asked me to declare to myself that the year 2015 is over. What’s done (and not done) is done. I need not worry and carry the baggage of what should have, could have, and would have been. So, in this spirit I am planting the seeds of greatness by letting go and celebrating this new beginning by creating new intentions in 2016. Here are questions to ask yourself as you begin the process of starting anew.

What are you committed to accomplishing this coming year in all areas of your life? Strengthening your marriage? How about a date night twice a month? Improving emotional connections with your children? Can you spend one-on-one time with each of them? Attaining a professional certification by year-end? (I plan to commit one hour a week to professional development training to hit the prerequisite hours before applying to take the Certified Association Executive exam.) Want to improve your stamina and endurance? How’s about starting at 6,000 steps for five days and increase in time to 10,000 steps?

In order to produce the above, what do you need to develop in yourself? The answer to this question is different for everyone. It can mean having a set schedule plotted on one’s calendar, or imbibing internally motivated traits like staying determined, or practical tricks like creating visual reminders.

As you consider relationships that you wish to enhance or develop or things you need to develop in yourself, what do you think could stop you or be the reason at the end of the year that you would not fulfill them? Is it an issue of time? Will lack of sleep inhibit you to adopt healthy habits to develop your stamina? Reflect on those and you’ve won half the battle.

What is this year going to “be about” for you? Is it going to be a year of learning? A year of forgiveness? A year of peace? A year of prosperity? Declare it!

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Why I applied for the ASAE DELP Scholarship Program


On August 10, 2015 I and 11 other 2015 ASAE DELP scholars stood in front of hundreds of association professionals as we were recognized for our achievement during the ASAE 2015 Annual Meeting in Detroit. The Diversity Executive Leadership Program (DELP) for the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) is a two-year program that recognizes individuals from under-represented identity groups who demonstrate exemplary leadership skills and a commitment to advancing the association community. Our class will participate in an accelerated leadership program of education, mentoring and volunteer service in the association community and I couldn’t be more excited. What motivated me to apply?

Someone believed in me. Every now and then in one’s life you meet someone along the way who exudes deep enthusiasm, and you can’t help but be excited with a project or endeavor that he or she is sharing with you. I met that person a year and half ago. She’s my boss, Lynda Patterson and the owner of the association management company, I work for. I didn’t know about DELP until Lynda told me about it and enthusiastically offered to sponsor me. She recognized my leadership abilities, was proud of my accomplishments, and thought that applying for the scholarship will usher in more opportunities for professional growth, allowing me to go even further in my association management career.

The goals align with growth needs. I am impressed by ASAE’s commitment to support diversity and to provide opportunities to under-represented groups so that we may access professional education and a deep network of strong leaders. Having over a decade of association management experience but not much exposure to continuing education, I would benefit greatly from DELP’s benefits.

Far reaching benefit. Association managers in Wisconsin do not have easy access to continuing professional education. DELP would provide learning not just for me personally, but also, indirectly, to other professionals in Wisconsin. I would be able to help broaden the reach by passing on the knowledge with colleagues I interact with in my place of work and also in the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives (WSAE) in which I am currently a member.

Surround myself with rock stars. I believe that if you want to get better than you think you already are, and learn new ways to live a successful professional and personal life, surrounding oneself with people you want to emulate will provide the encouragement and example that will help you reach the next level.

Be an inspiration to others. My eleven years of experience with helping associations live their missions have been very successful, and I am on track for even greater success. I want my success to serve as an inspiration to others who might otherwise think their race or gender is an insurmountable obstacle. Already, I know of some people who have been inspired by my personal story, how I moved over 3,000 miles across the globe while a single mother with four young children. I think DELP can help stories like mine be shared broadly, inspiring many to greater dreams and achievements.

The benefits go both ways. Much as I would learn from well-experienced, connected professionals through DELP, others may benefit from the global experience and attitude of purposeful action that I bring to the table. Three of my top five strengths from the Clifton Strengths-Finder — Activator, Maximizer, and Achiever — identify me as a candidate who would “maximize” the opportunity, continue to advance the goals of the program, and, when given a project, get it done.

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By example: A leadership philosophy

Marechiel quote

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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7 questions to ask when selecting a meeting venue

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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The end is the beginning: Next steps when a meeting is over

start finish

You thought you were finished, but the work has just begun . . . for the next one.

The quintessential mark of professional meeting planning is the ability to facilitate continuous improvement. If you don’t think of the next one NOW, it will be too late. The longer you wait to start planning the next event or conference, the less opportunity you have to improve it.

We just concluded organizing the largest MS meeting in the world. Close to 9,000 MS specialists, researchers, clinicians, advocates and allied health professionals from 92 countries convened in Boston in mid-September.

The wrap up involves not only making sure we pay all the bills and collect all outstanding receivables, but also making time to reflect on and document the success and lessons learned from the meeting to position the organization for greater success in its future meetings.

Here are five things to keep in mind as you conclude your meeting.

Hold a debrief. Find out how each member of your core team felt about what just transpired. Review stats of demographics and responses in attendee surveys. Meet with your vendors and reflect on each aspect of the meeting planning. Share the results with the leadership. Ask your committee members what they say were valuable lessons learned and what were worth repeating. Between the various stakeholders’ comments, you’ll see a pattern of laudable aspects and not-so-ideal scenarios that may have taken place on the show floor. Plan to repeat aspects of the meeting planning that worked, re-strategize and re-think clunky processes or services.

Document. Once you know what’s replicable and what needs to be changed, write a memo outlining the recommended changes. Keep photos of the rooms to help you remember set-ups. Record data of usage of services (Wi-Fi, web clicks, access views) and specs of technical requirements. Consider writing three report levels: one for sharing to anyone who asks; one for the board of directors with outlined suggestions; and another for the staff with the nitty gritty details to help in future planning, vendor hire, contracting and negotiations.

Celebrate. Have you written personal thank you notes to key team members and vendors? Leave voice mails of thanks for that special touch. Throw a get-together with staff and vendors, if they’re local, to tell them how much they were appreciated. Share photos of the events among staff to reminisce the outstanding work that everyone just did. Write letters of recommendation to vendors’ staff who did an outstanding job.

Purge. Go through your network and paper files and remove doubles of draft copies. Save the final version of any print material. Delete unnecessary emails. Sort emails and save only problem-solving or communication threads where decisions were made. Label the inboxes and file away.

Rest. When everything is finished, take time off to recharge. Shut down your phone and don’t check emails. When you come back to the office — your energies will be renewed. You will feel more confident. When you have everything recorded, you won’t need to remember how you want to execute the meeting next time because you’ve already thought about it. You will have more excitement for the next one and the cycle of excellence continues.

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A working mom can have it all . . .

full time job . . . That is, if you’re working for a woman-owned business that understands the challenges of managing a job that impacts lives and a household where lives depend on you. Hats off to our owner and president Lynda Patterson for offering her team members a work environment that is enabling, flexible and supportive. 

I started working for AMPED full-time seven months ago. For much of it, I worked the usual 40-hour week. For the past several weeks, however, I have been clocking in at 150-200% due to the fact that the largest scientific meeting of our company’s largest client is a mere 27 days away.

We budgeted for an attendance of 6,185 scientists, researchers, physicians, investigators and patient advocates who focus on multiple sclerosis — 6,455 have since signed up with an expected 15-20 percent more by the conference date. The work behind the scenes is voluminous; the coordination levels immense; the back-and-forth between the organizing leadership, logistics specialists, speakers, vendors and attendees are incessant. Our scientific programs are all set and on schedule. We exceeded abstracts submission from past years by 115%. We are compliant with all ACCME rules and policies, even with changes that went into effect April 2014.

While ensuring that all our service providers from Montreal, the UK, Hannover, the East Coast and Madison, Wisconsin are in sync, I managed to have one son graduate from high school (with highest honors, ahem); prepare two kids for college (college dorm shopping and new student orientations, anyone?); celebrate four of five family members’ birthdays in a big way (thanks to frequent flier miles); send off and welcome back two of our kids to and from France, Sweden and Spain; cheered on our youngest in almost all but two soccer games for the season (they were conference champions); saw through the knee surgery of our oldest son; and personally volunteered as AV tech for our church and emcee at a fund raiser to raise awareness on the Typhoon Haiyan’s recovery efforts that claimed thousands of lives in the Philippines last year.

I credit my faith in helping me endure all these (I’ve been blessed with good health), but I must say the kind of work environment I am lucky to have and the lovely home I get to go home to at the end of each day have allowed me handle it.

Are there days when I’m just completely exhausted? Yes, of course! How do I cope? I catch up on sleep. I watch a favorite TV show while snuggled with my husband in the couch. I cook Filipino dishes. I connect with friends and family through social media. I hang out with my multi-cultural girlfriends. And then there are emails to answer, contracts to review, payments to process, doctor’s appointments to escort kids to. It’s endless.

I’m typing this blog entry while on a plane en route to a final walk-though of our upcoming scientific meeting of 6,000+. Yesterday was our youngest’s birthday. I scheduled this trip so I can be there for the celebration; to let my son know, he is loved. It’s possible. A working mom can have it all.

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Holding a meeting overseas? Be flexible.


I’ve been very fortunate to travel the world because of my profession of putting together special events and various types of meetings for international associations. I’ve met so many people, experienced different cultures and seen marvelous landscapes. I’ve also met hard-working convention services staff, tour operators and logistics experts — all with the focused desire of helping a meeting planner’s event to be successful. I’ve learned a few things along the way. I learned that trivial things like paper, holidays and break time mattered.  No, it’s not written in any meeting planning books or convention services manual. Here are a few I’ve learned from experience.

If you prepared hand-outs of a presentation and need extra copies, know that the 8.5” x 11” letter-sized paper we’re so used to is not universal. It is rare in some parts of Europe and the Middle East. They use A4 paper. So, be OK with having different sized hand-outs. Better yet, bring enough copies or print onsite.

Especially in the Middle East, some countries have generous vacation leaves and holidays to as much as 60 days a year. If you send a question to your local contact, don’t be surprised that it doesn’t’ get answered for some weeks. Allow plenty of time in your timeline, clarify and communicate expectations ahead of time.

They say that U.S. workers log in the most work hours among other industrialized countries. We eat our lunch at our desks and seldom take breaks. Early on, when I set up vendor meetings abroad, I packed them by the minute in the hope I could get work done quicker and return home sooner. I learned that I need to be culturally sensitive and avoid scheduling too fast of a lunch meeting or too early of an afternoon meeting. I’ve discovered that taking it easy is one way to encourage vendors to work hard on your behalf.

The key is being flexible and adaptable. When faced by a disruption in schedule or process, relax and smile. As Julius Caesar said, “experience is the teacher of all things.”

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When in-person meetings aren't an option: Three tips for smooth communication with international volunteers and vendors

Having executed several international meetings for various association clients in the past ten years, I have learned that clear communication is key to getting a project moving along smoothly.

I would be lucky to meet the board of directors, executive committee members or vendors in person twice a year. Once is more realistic. So, what to do when you rely so much in communicating via email or a phone conference to an audience with varying cultures, time zones and language? Here are a few tips.

Know your audience. When setting up a conference call, specify the time zones of your meeting participants. So, 8 a.m. CST is 9 a.m. EST, 2 p.m. GMT, 3 p.m. CET and so on. This helps your meeting participants respond quickly to your invitation or poll without having to convert the time themselves. If you are polling participants through Doodle, know that Doodle automatically sets the correct time-zone for each participant. Your time options will display according to where they are located (per their IP address or Doodle account setting). When participants open the Doodle request, they’ll see a time-zone drop menu above the poll. They can change their time zone here if it is incorrect. Advise your participants to check this before replying.

Clarify. There are various nuances in culture and local slang. Take time when reading email or listening on a call to fully understand what has just been said. If you are not sure what your volunteer or vendor is telling you, try rephrasing it and ask if you understood it correctly.

Keep it simple. When sending email communications, use simple, straight-forward language. Avoid long sentences. Avoid slang or idiomatic expressions. It’s not a “cool” idea but a good one.

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