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The search for the perfect AMS

AMS search

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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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When your association moves to a new AMC . . . and so do you: Tips to stay focused, positive

NAFA team
No one likes change…or do they? Recently, our group, The National Air Filtration Association (NAFA) transitioned to a new management team — AMPED! Luckily, I was asked to join the AMPED team so I could continue to support NAFA, where I have worked for over 10 years [photo: Core NAFA team]. This is a great group of people, dedicated to education and professionalism in the air filtration industry.

Was I scared? You bet! But excited too. I was determined to make this change with a positive attitude, so I developed a mental check list:

Embrace new technology. It keeps you young! Learning new programs and apps is like going back to school. It increases your value and worth and, in the end, it usually does make your job easier.

Own up to your mistakes. Admit to them, fix them and move on. This is hardest for me. I don’t like to be embarrassed by acknowledging a mistake. But I actually found a comradery in having a team that can help you fix an error. You learn something new. Be thankful for the talented and educated team in your arsenal.

Never let them see you sweat. I knew some in the organization were concerned about my future. I let them know right away what a great team we were getting with AMPED. Projecting a positive attitude about a new situation is infectious.

Don’t forget the past, but don’t dwell in it. Explain procedures, listen to the team suggest new and better ways of doing things. Get the phrase “We’ve always done it this way” out of your head.

Jump in with both feet. I knew I had to do things I may not be comfortable with (writing a blog, for one!), but I took my nervousness, set it aside and plunged in. Sure the water was cold, but I soon warmed up and was able to start enjoying the swim.

Finally, appreciate your value. Stop focusing on all the ways things are changing and, instead, embrace the positive that you are getting from your new team. I had to set my ego aside quite a few times as more experienced people made changes and implemented new ideas. I focused on the positive comments. I found there were quite a few if I listened hard enough. I keep those in the forefront of my mind like a mantra; this allows me to keep from getting in a negative mood.

There will be bumps along the way, but negativity will affect the people around you. Give your team members the respect they deserve. Even if you aren’t feeling particularly positive, focus on the bigger picture. You’re a part of the team and your attitude matters. A little effort goes a long way.

If you project a positive attitude, chances are it will be reciprocated. Negative people see walls, but positive people look for and find solutions. Instead of seeing a problem, see a puzzle; move the pieces and solve it.

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When I grow up I want to be an association manager… said no one ever

when I grow up

When I meet someone for the first time and I’m asked what I do for a living, the exchange usually goes something like this.

Me: "I manage associations."
Them: [confused look]
Me: "Do YOU belong to any trade or professional associations?"
Them: [nine times out of 10 they do]
Me: "Well, someone has to make sure the conferences are well planned, promoted and executed; the newsletters are written and distributed; the membership database is managed; the website is up-to-date; dues renewals go out on time; financial records are kept; and that the board stays on its strategic path. — That’s what we do."
Them: [clearly impressed] "Wow! I’ve never heard of that. How does someone get into association management?"
Me: "Well . . ."

It’s an excellent question — with answers as varied as the associations we manage. From my experience, there really is no direct entry into this profession. I mean, no career counselor ever looked me up and down and said, “Hey! You’re organized. You’re a great communicator. You like working with people and improving products and processes. You’ve got what it takes to be a great association manager!” 

In school, when I was thinking about career goals, association management wasn’t even on my radar. I landed here out of chance. I wanted to be a journalist, so my advisor hooked me up with an internship at what was then the Wisconsin Innkeepers Association, managing their monthly magazine. That six-month internship turned into a full-year job. And that opened the door to my first “real” job out of college with Executive Director Inc., as a communications manager for the National Christmas Tree Association (proving once again that there really IS an association for everything!). Later I would go on to do communications and marketing work for the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin and now AMPED.

Everyone else I know in this profession has a similar story. They had no aspirations to go into association work. By happenstance and good fortune, they simply fell into it.

I'm thinking about this now because my teenage daughter is exploring job options as part of her career planning class. As she shows me the top ten results from her career exploration exercise, I'm betting that nowhere in any student’s results did association management show up as an option. Which is too bad, because there is a great need for new talent and strong leaders in associations. The next generation’s skills in communications, finance, technology and governance will help advocate for and advance the careers of millions of professionals and academics around the world.

“To work for an association is to choose a varied, challenging and rewarding career path that will give you a chance to grow professionally while helping make the world a better place,” says the American Society of Association Executives.

Who wouldn’t want that?

Who do you know who would make a great association manager?

For more information on association management careers, see:
Through the Maze: Careers in Association Management; American Society of Association Executives
FAQs: Careers in Association Management; Association Forum of Chicagoland
Career Headquarters; Wisconsin Society of Association Executives

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Nailing it: Understanding association culture and history starting day one

hey girl

Next week marks three months since I began working at AMPED, but it feels like I should be celebrating six months. That is NOT a bad thing. Fortunately, with guidance from seasoned AMPED staff, I was able to jump right in!

On my first day at AMPED, Owner Lynda Patterson handed me two postcards: one for a local Madison event and another for IMEX America (a worldwide exhibition for meetings and events) in Las Vegas. I was excited to learn that I would represent AMPED at both events, but then swiftly panicked realizing I had so much to learn! Both provided opportunities to network with meeting industry professionals — local and national — and I had my work cut out for me to become knowledgeable of our company and diverse clients.

I made a point to learn the history of our client’s annual meetings as well as future goals to prepare for one-on-one appointments with exhibitors at IMEX. After 22 appointments and presentations in just two (long) days, I returned home more confident in my job and excited for potential meeting destinations and partnerships for our clients. Additionally, after repeating the “About AMPED” speech 22 times, I can say that I successfully have it down!

Just two weeks after I started, one of our clients held their annual summit. A few weeks later, we brought a client board to Madison for a retreat. And this week we host a leadership training program for yet another client. I quickly learned that there is always something going on at AMPED. It can be overwhelming, but these face-to-face opportunities allow us to get to know our clients better. I may not be fully involved in the details of these meetings but being present allows me to soak up information and help me understand how to work with each client to be successful.

One of the reasons I was drawn to AMPED was the importance of company culture — a professional environment that is fun, flexible and rewarding. Within days, I felt that to be true. Each Monday morning, AMPED staff comes together for a meeting to discuss the week’s top priorities allowing us to get a glimpse into each other’s busy schedules as well as offer up help and suggestions. It is a great way to start the week and prepare for big projects and deadlines and know that your colleagues have your back if needed. On Wednesday mornings, you will see the AMPED team walking together to a local coffee shop for “$2 Latte Wednesdays,” giving us the chance to get out from behind our desks and get to know each other on a personal level. And being new to Madison, I’ve started a new tradition called “Food Truck Fridays” so I can experience all the delicious options found on the Capitol Square. These touch points throughout the week help me get to know my colleagues, both professionally and personally, while also getting a sense of the overall work we are doing as a company.

Sure, there are days when I am reminded that I have lots to learn and wishing that I could be in the shoes of seasoned AMPED staff, but I am grateful for the experiences, both good and not perfect, that help me become a better meeting planner and colleague. Don’t be afraid to jump right in, professionally and socially. It makes those pesky Monday mornings much easier to deal with when you enjoy your work and those who work beside you.

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