A Walk-Through Guide to ASAE’s Annual Conference: Pre-Conference Prep

After my previous post, Five Tips for an ASAE Annual Conference First-Timer, I decided a more in-depth guide might be helpful. So I bring to you, A Walk-Through Guide to ASAE’s Annual Conference. This will be a three-part series focusing on what to do before, during, and after this year’s ASAE Annual Conference. This first post will focus on what you need to do before you arrive in Dallas to make the most out of your time while you are there.

Download the Conference App

ASAE continues to provide an app for their conferences; you can download an iPad version from the iTunes Store by searching for ASAE12. I’ve heard that there will be an iPhone app but as of this posting I have yet to find it through the App Store. If you are on a non-apple smartphone check out your app store. The app is helpful in keeping track of the sessions you’ve selected for the conference and for the finding information about the exhibitor hall. However, it doesn’t replace all the information in the conference program.

This year they’ve added integration into Collaborate, ASAE’s social community for its members. There’s also twitter integration for the conference hashtag, #ASAE12, the ability to tweet from within the app, exhibitor information, and a floor plan for the expo hall only. It’s worth the download — even if it’s just to have quick access to a schedule at a glance. You won’t be able to enter any events not found in the app though — so all those meetings you schedule and social events will have to go somewhere else.

Review the Conference Sessions

This year’s annual conference hosts more than 130 sessions, 137 to be exact (as of the preliminary brochure). That’s a lot of choices for even the most veteran conference attendee – and you only get to pick seven of these learning labs. You will have some tough choices to make, to ensure you make some good ones take some time going through the preliminary brochure you were sent, or review session descriptions online.

Typically I go through each Learning Lab time slot and pick three or four sessions that I’m interested in attending. I try not to pick sessions solely in my responsibility area, I encourage you to pick some sessions that seem interesting even if it’s out of your practice area. You’ll be amazed at the ideas you can pull in from other topic areas. In my next post I’ll share with you the sessions I’ve selected for each time slot.

Also, if you end up in a session that isn’t interesting you; don’t feel like you have to stay through it. I know everyone gets nervous about leaving during the middle of the session. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, and I think it depends on the person. It’s possible the session description didn’t match what they are talking about or you thought it would be something completely different. While I’m all for being polite, I also realize I only have 7 sessions to pick from and I can’t afford to “waste” a session just to be polite.

Download Session Handouts

ASAE’s conferences have been paper-free/green friendly for a while now so all of the provided handouts are available online. It’s a shame they don’t make the handouts available through the iPad app. You may want to consider pre-printing handouts for sessions you want to attend. ASAE will also have printer stations located throughout the conference floor with access to the handouts that you can print onsite. I would rather spend time in-between sessions meeting new people than running off to print handouts. You can always access these handouts online after the conference.

Line Up Your Social Events

Attend social events! Association professionals definitely know how to let their hair down, and you never know when you’ll make an amazing connection. As I’m writing this I’m talking to friend I met at last year’s annual conference – in fact, we probably talk multiple times a week (on g-chat of course).

You can meet quite a few people at social events, such as the Opening Night Celebration at Cowboys Stadium on Saturday Night, Section Receptions on Sunday evening, Awards & Recognition Breakfast, ASAE Foundation’s Classic VIP Reception and Classic, or the Closing Night Celebration at the Fair Park on Tuesday night, just to name a few. Of course there are always vendor parties to attend on Sunday and Monday evening. I’ll let you know which social events I’m attending in my next post.

Before You Go

Packing Tip: Before placing your clothes in your suitcase, encase each outfit or item (on its hanger) in a plastic dry-cleaning bag. I’m told your outfit will arrive wrinkle-free – but I’ve never tried this.

Research Dallas: I’m sure most of us have never been to Dallas anymore. Find a few items you might be interested in checking out while you’re there. I’m a big fan of the New York Times, 36 Hours in <city name> series, see their page for Dallas.

In my next post, I’ll provide a detailed walk-through guide for Saturday through Tuesday evening, including top three sessions I’ve picked for each time slot and what evening events I know about.

What pre-conference tips do you have to share with your fellow attendees?

Online friends turned offline at ASAE’s annual meeting

This week, I attended the ASAE (American Society of Association Executives) annual meeting in St. Louis. I can’t begin to express how excited I was to be there as a first time attendee. Adding to the excitement (and a little nervousness too) was the fact that I presented an Ignite talk; my first professional presentation and my first stand up presentation since grad school. For those of you unfamiliar with Ignite, it’s a fast-paced 5 minute talk with 20 slides set for auto-rotate every 15 seconds.

My talk was titled How Twitter Saved My Life; Not Really, But Maybe? It was the story of how I used Twitter to meet new people in DC and develop most of my social circles. I’ll write more about the Ignite talk in a future post. The focus of my talk was about connecting to people and building relationships; both online and offline.

Developing online relationships

One of the reasons I was excited to attend this conference was because I was eager to meet all of my association twitter friends. People I had been connecting with through #assnchat, #asae11, #asae, and #asaeyp. There were so many I was looking forward to finally see in person I don’t dare name all of them for fear of leaving some out. Chances are if I approached you, or asked you to meet somewhere you were one of them.

Photo of John Chen & Mandy Stall Online relationships and connections are great; I value every single one of them I have. Trust me, it’s the only way that I’ve been able to manage in DC. It’s how I’ve met new friends and connected with old ones. It’s how I’m able to keep in touch with so many people and not miss a beat when we hang out offline. We spend hours reading each other’s content, sharing links, and conversing online.

It is one of the main reasons I have such a large community of association colleagues and friends. I can’t imagine what I would do if I didn’t have #assnchat on Tuesday, or the likes of @Laurenhefner, @ElizabethB, @ewengel, @ltwhite, @chatterbachs, @teritally, @maryvig, @gmeliaCAE, @laurenawolfe, @kikilitalien, @maddiegrant, @maggielmcg, @sfeuer@mandydc, or @hduckworth (just to name a few, there are so many more out there) to help me through this association journey. Sometimes, we need to take it one step further.

Isn’t an online relationship enough?

During my Ignite talk, I spoke to the fact that the real power of twitter is when you take it offline. As much as I love all of my online friends, there’s something to be said about taking that online relationship, offline. Here’s the strange thing, we expose more of our inner selves through online relationships while at the same time hiding (or perhaps just sharing less) of our outer selves. Like John Graham, CEO of ASAE said during the annual conference, those of us tweeting are certainly not shy.

Photo of John Chen & Lauren Hefner As much as we are open with each other. As much of a social media junkie as I am. As much as I love to connect and share with friends online. I know it can never fully replace the power of an in-person interaction. I need that physical presence that you get from a friend sitting next to you. I need the warmth of a hug from you and to be able to read your body language, and the tone in which you speak to me (how many times arguments and misunderstandings have happened because we can’t convey tone through text? BTW, I like to use a lot of emoticons but apparently they’re not appropriate for work emails). My online association friends mean so much to me and they fulfill a very special role. Why are the important to me?

What makes association friends special?

Our happiest, saddest, and scariest moments are shared with your friends. My recent scariest moment was presenting my Ignite talk on Monday. I can’t believe how much support I received before, during, and after the talk; the number of people that came to the room to cheer me on was unbelievable. They help me learn, lift me up when I am down, and support me in more ways than I can imagine. They’re proven themselves time and time again to be a huge resource in my life.

Photo of John Chen & Andrea Holovach The association friends I’ve made online are just as important as the ones I have made offline. The young association professionals I have met through ASAE’s Association of the Future Project, Leadership Academy (Go class of 2012!), and veterans through conferences such as Great Ideas or Marketing, Membership, & Communications and Annual Meting & Expo 2011 have been amazing. I truly cherish each one of you.

Beyond being there to support me, I know they understand me as well. They face the same things I face everyday in their own jobs. As association professionals we’re all doing what we can to serve our members. Sometimes, it’s not as easy as it sounds and there are lots of things that get in the way of us being able to do that. The support of this community (evidenced by the 5,000+ attendees at the conference this week) is what helps me each and everyday in career.

Thank you

My association friends comfort me when I am sad, laugh with me when I am happy, and cheer me on when I succeed. They always give me good advice, help me solve my problems, and I can always count on them to treat me nice. Thank you to all my association friends past, present, and future. I wouldn’t be where I am without you all.